STUDY: Exercise May Make It Easier to Bounce Back From Stress

Exercise makes it easier to bounce back from too much stress, according to a fascinating new study with mice. It finds that regular exercise increases the levels of a chemical in the animals' brains that helps them remain psychologically resilient and plucky, even when their lives seem suddenly strange, intimidating and filled with threats.

The study involved mice, but it is likely to have implications for our species, too, as we face the stress and discombobulation of the ongoing pandemic and today’s political and social disruptions.

So, for the new study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Weinshenker and his colleagues decided to work with frazzled mice and to focus on the possible effects of galanin, a peptide that is produced throughout the body in many animals, including humans.

Galanin is known to be associated with mental health. People born with genetically low levels of galanin face an uncommonly high risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

Multiple studies show that exercise increases production of the substance. In the rat experiments, some of which were conducted at Weinshenker’s lab, researchers found that exercise led to a surge in galanin production in the animals' brains, particularly in a portion of the brain that is known to be involved in physiological stress reactions. Perhaps most interesting, they also found that the more galanin there, the greater the rats' subsequent stress resilience.

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