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How Exercise Works on the Brain to Reduce Stress & Anxiety

Princeton scientists have found that mice are less anxious about experiencing stressors, such as entering a pool of cold water, when they are allowed regular exercise.

What’s the Latest Development?


Princeton scientists have found that mice are less anxious about experiencing stressors, such as entering a pool of cold water, when they are allowed regular exercise. The report, recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, explains the experiment and how the “[mice’s] brains exhibited a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety.” Princeton’s Elizabeth Gould said that by helping researchers pinpoint brain cells and regions important to anxiety regulation, the study will work to create a better understanding of human anxiety disorders and help treat them in the future.

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What’s the Big Idea?

A larger trend demonstrated by the study, according to Gould, is the brain’s ability to adapt and tailor its own processes to an organism’s lifestyle or surroundings. “A higher likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage for less physically fit creatures. Anxiety often manifests itself in avoidant behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous situations would increase the likelihood of survival, particularly for those less capable of responding with a ‘fight or flight’ reaction, she said.” Understanding how the brain regulates anxious behavior could yield potential clues about helping people with anxiety disorders.

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