Jogging Benefits: Ultimate Stress Defense
A new Princeton University mice study that investigated the effects of cold water stress on sedentary and runner mice has found that running calms anxiety by creating vibrant new brain cells and then shutting them down when they should not be in action. This is wonderful new information because the long list of already known jogging benefits just got a little bit longer.
Jogging Benefits: Stress and the Brain
Scientists have known that physical exercise reduces anxiety in both people and animals but can also prompt the creation of new and very excitable brain cells, especially in the ventral hippocampus which correlates positively with anxious behavior.
In the new study, one group of adult mice (6 weeks of age) were given unlimited access to a running wheel and a second group had no running wheel. All the mice in the study were then injected with a substance that marked newborn cells in the brain. The mice with running wheels would run about 2.5 miles every night. After six weeks, all the mice were exposed to cold water for a brief period of time and their brains examined. The study researchers found that the runner mice had a reduced response to stress in that their brains were better able to stop the response to stress by preventing neurons from firing in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region of the hippocampus that regulates anxiety and emotional processing such as stress.
Mice brain imaging results showed that runner mice generated more new neurons in the hippocampus over the six weeks than mice who were sedentary. The new study found the hippocampus of runner mice to be very different from that of sedentary animals and that physical activity reorganized the mice brain so that its response to stress was reduced and anxiety was less likely to interfere with normal brain function. In short, the researchers found that running for 6 weeks prevented the activation of new mice brain neurons in response to stress.
The researchers also found that in both runner and sedentary mice, large numbers of the excitable cells had fired in response to the cold bath stress but the brains of the runner mice, unlike those of the sedentary animals, showed evidence that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical, had been released, calming the excitable neurons’ activity. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and is often referred to as “nature’s VALIUM-like substance”.
Jogging Benefits and the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response
There is a defined system which regulates our response to stress. The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress ResponseSM is a description of the mind-body relationship that is responsible for our reactions to stress. When we experience stress, one of the most important hormones that our bodies release is called cortisol. Cortisol acts as an agent to prepare our body’s fight and flight response and ensure survival. When this particular hormone is released, blood-sugar rises, blood vessels constrict, and digestions grinds to a halt as the body becomes ready for action.
When you exercise, there is an immediate effect on your NEM Stress Response and cortisol levels. Jogging benefits you by reducing levels of adrenaline and cortisol while simultaneously producing endorphins which are natural mood elevators and pain killers.
Lowering cortisol is imperative if you suffer from what’s known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands which operate as the last part of our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Once we have secreted high levels of cortisol from our adrenal glands and it is not given a chance to dissipate, it is extremely easy to fall into a state of perpetual anxiety which in turn triggers further production of cortisol until the adrenal glands reach a state of adrenal exhaustion. It is easy to see the cyclical nature of this problem.
AFS results in a multitude of symptoms which range anywhere from improper nutrient uptake to chronic pain and lethargy. If it is possible to incorporate a routine of jogging into your life as a segment of an overall plan to decrease stress, the facts speak for themselves, you should do it. This is not something that can work for everyone, there are some people who are in unique circumstances which make them unable to participate in certain physical exercises and that is understandable. For most of us, however, that is not the case and it is time to get out there and take an active role in reducing our stress.
Evaluating Your Options
Jogging may not be for everyone but there’s a strong link between AFS and lack of exercise. There always needs to be a multi-level approach for how one deals with stress and anxiety. For most people, jogging will be just one step towards the goal of reducing stress and recovering from AFS. Proper diet, sleeping patterns, and also mindful awareness are all necessary for helping your body cope with all of the external factors which we encounter every day.
Source: May 1 2013, Journal of Neuroscience.