Our understanding on the mental and emotional health benefits of exercise continues to grow each year. Research studies have shown not only an association between higher levels of mental health and physical fitness, but also an ability to improve mental health variables including depression, anxiety, cognition, and memory in affected individuals. Exercise has a positive impact on the neural and chemical events in the brain which many of us experience when we utilize physical activity as a stress reliever. A recent research study highlights how repeated bouts of exercise may make our brains more resistant to the effects of daily stressors and help us avoid the over reactions our nervous systems display under chronic stress.
Tillage and colleagues documented their findings on exercise and stress responses in the Journal of Neuroscience (2020). Authors built on prior research showing a diminished fight or flight response in aerobically trained animals compared to their sedentary peers. The beneficial effects of exercise against stress are due in part to a neuropeptide produced in the locus coeruleus in our brains called galanin. Acute bouts of exercise increase its’ production and higher levels of the peptide are found in brains of trained animals. In this study, authors showed daily self selected wheel running in rats (a common animal utilized in experiments on exercise and brain chemistry) created resiliency to repeated daily stress among these trained animals. Although this was an animal study, the results may help explain why daily human exercisers are better able to tolerate the negative effects of stress and avoid the exaggerated reactions found under chronic stress conditions.