Scientists Find Important Clue to How Exercise Reduces Stress

Exercise already has a reputation as an effective stress buster, and researchers now have some vital clues to why working up a sweat is such a good stress management tool. A study by neuroscientists at the University of Georgia shows that its magic may lie in a neuropeptide called galanin that protects neurons from degeneration.

Galanin is linked to exercise, and it's just as effective in rats as it is in humans in terms of making them resilient when faced with stressful situation. However, when galanin's action was blocked in rats that exercised, they reacted to stress as anxiously as sedentary rodents.

Protection for the Brain

"We were able to show that stress, just a single exposure to stress, caused a decrease in synapse formation," said Philip Holmes, a psychology professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "The hypothesis was that maybe what galanin is doing, and what exercise is doing, is maintaining neuroplasticity in the prefrontal cortex."

The prefrontal cortex is linked directly to stress resilience, as well as complex cognitive behaviors like emotional regulation, decision-making, and planning. By protecting it, galanin allows it to function more effectively.

Just 180 Hours a Week

You can put the stress-fighting benefits of exercise into play by getting at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week in accordance with government guidelines. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), getting regular exercise in tandem with taking medication is an effective treatment for many people with high stress and anxiety. For some, exercise alone works just as well as medication.

In addition to building up your ability to resist stress, exercise also produces endorphins that have a relaxing effect. This makes you feel better and may also improve your sleep. Getting more rest is also an effective stress fighter.

See this article for more information on stress and how to fight it. You can even use wearable technology to alert you to the need to relax, as this article explains.