Exercise actually rewires your brain, and that’s really why we work out right? So that our brains look organize to potential mates?
In a new report from a team at Princeton University has found that when you exercise, your brain actually reorganizes itself to handle stress better. We’ve known for a while that exercise can help your mental help, but it’s sort of been a mystery as to why. It almost contradicts physical findings.
While previous psychological studies have shown that physically active people are less stressed, studies on the actual structure of the brain show that exercise promotes the growth of neurons in the ventral hippocampus—the area that regulates anxiety. Young neurons are usually more easily excitable than old ones so really, exercising should give you more anxiety. So why doesn’t it?
In the study, the researchers took some super active mice and some super lazy mice and surprised them by dunking them into cold water. The brains of the two groups behaved differently: the lazy mice had an increase of what’s called “immediate early genes.” These are genes that get turned on instantly short-term when a neuron is fired. The active mice didn’t have those genes turned on even though they had more excitable neurons. And it’s because their brains release more of the neurotransmitter called GABA, which is known to keep the excitable bits of the brain in check.
GABA probably sounds familiar to you because it’s an important part of getting your brain to chill out and get tired at the right times. Evolutionarily speaking, this is a pretty amazing thing and here is why. Think about “fight or flight” instinct. If you are in better, physical shape, your body doesn’t need to go into overdrive to give you the strength you need to get out of trouble. You have already got it. But if you are in bad shape, your body wants to get you into the most worked-up state it can so you have a better chance of getting out of trouble safely.
Here in modern society, those old survival triggers can get activated by simple day-to-day stresses, especially since our lives are spent sitting down at work, school, or home. Regular exercise could be a good way to get your brain better acclimated to the little stresses of everyday life.
I have been making a point of getting more exercise lately and it’s definitely been helpful in me dealing with everyday anxiety.