Tag Archives: Physical exercise

Evidence-Based Stress Management – Physical Exercise – Part 5 of 5

Michael Hopkins-David Bucci

Michael Hopkins-David Bucci

“The positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” argue Michael Hopkins, FC DavisMichelle VanTieghemPaul Whalen and David Bucci of Dartmouth.

Michelle VanTieghem

Michelle VanTieghem

They compared effects of a single exercise session or repeated sessions on non-exercising volunteers who were genotyped to determine brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a nerve growth factor important in long-term memory.

Paul Whalen

Paul Whalen

Participants were measured on novel object recognition (NOR) memory and mental health dimensions before and after engaging in a 4-week exercise program or a single exercise session.

More frequent exercisers performed better on object recognition memory and said they experienced less stress, but only when their 4 week program included a final test.
In contrast, a single exercise session did not affect recognition memory and resulted in increased perceived stress levels.

This study found no relationship between exercise-induced cognitive benefits and changes in mood and anxiety, suggesting that perceived stress is controlled by a different neural system.

Timothy Schoenfeld

Timothy Schoenfeld

In contrast, Princeton’s Timothy Schoenfeld, Pedro Rada, Pedro Pieruzzini, Brian Hsueh, and Elizabeth Gould, reported different results with mice.
They investigated the paradox of exercise:  It promotes new, excitable brain cells that can aid learning and memory, yet exercise can induce calm in various brain areas.

Elizabeth Gould

Elizabeth Gould

Schoenfeld and team controlled for pre-existing nervousness in adult mice and allowed half to exercise and half to remain sedentary over a six week period.

Exercisers were more willing to cautiously explore and spend time in open areas, suggesting they were more confident and less anxious than their sedentary counterparts.

Brian Hsueh

Brian Hsueh

The runners’ brains developed new, excitable neurons in the hippocampus’ ventral region, associated with processing emotions and releasing GABA, which inhibits brain activity such as the subjective experience of anxiety.

All animals encountered the physical stress of cold water for five minutes, and showed many immediate early genes indicating neuron firing.
However, the runner rats calmed more rapidly due to their release of GABA after this physical stress.

Though this study was conducted with animals, the findings suggest that physical exercise builds capacity to recover more rapidly from stress by regulating anxiety through ventral hippocampus inhibition.

Brett Klika

Brett Klika

Like other stress management recommendations, regular exercise is difficult for many to adopt as an habit.
For reluctant exercisers, Brett Klika and Chris Jordan of Human Performance Institute offer a rapid but challenging solution: “Seven Minutes of Steady Discomfort.”

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan

Their Scientific 7-Minute Workout includes 12 exercises using a chair, wall and body weight, for interval training alternating large muscles in the upper and lower body.
Each exercise is performed for 30 seconds, at a discomfort rating of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 10 second rest between.
Though quick, this routine may not be easy, and further willpower may be needed to adopt this approach.

Kirsten Burgomaster

Kirsten Burgomaster

McMaster University’s Kirsten BurgomasterKrista Howarth, Stuart PhillipsMaureen MacDonaldSL McGeeMartin Gibala with Mark Rakobowchuk now of Brunel University validated Klika and Jordan’s proposed Seven Minutes of Discomfort.

Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips

They noted that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of endurance training like running or bike riding.

John Salamone

John Salamone

Motivational help may be available by activating nucleus accumbens dopamine, which can regulate motivation and lead to goal initiation and persistence, according to University of Connecticut’s John Salamone and Mercè Correa of Universitat Jaume I of Castellón.

Mercè Correa

Mercè Correa

They refined the common assumption that dopamine is associated with reward systems and noted that nucleus accumbens dopamine, involved in appetitive and aversive motivational processes, may provide a biochemical approach to managing motivation and task persistence.

Though it may be difficult to muster the motivation to exercise regularly, these research findings suggest that regular exercise can lead to increased coping and cognitive abilities.

-*To what extent should workplaces promote exercise to reduce stress and increase cognitive performance?

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Natural Environments Enhance “Vitality” and Reduce Stress

Vigor, enthusiasm, positive emotions, and calm energy are characteristics of “vitality,” and have been associated with improved health outcomes and stress management.

Richard Ryan

Richard Ryan

The subjective experience of “vitality” can be increased being outside, particularly in a natural environment, according to  by University of Rochester’s Richard Ryan and Louis Mistretta , Netta Weinstein, now of University of Essex,  McGill’s Jessey Bernstein and  Kirk Warren Brown  of Virginia Commonwealth University with Concordia’s  Marylène Gagné.

Netta Weinstein

Netta Weinstein

The team asked volunteers to complete surveys and diaries, in addition to participating in experiments comparing reactions to being outdoors vs indoors during physical activity and viewing nature scenes vs buildings on volunteers’ subjective “vitality.”

Jessey Bernstein

Jessey Bernstein

These five studies suggest the positive impact of being outdoors and around natural elements on subjective vitality, even when the effects of physical activities or social interactions are controlled.

Kirk Warren Brown

Kirk Warren Brown

Most office workers can attest to the team’s findings, that visiting nature has restorative, energizing effects, and enables a fresh perspective on challenges.
Nevertheless, most office workers have difficulty leaving work in leaving climate-controlled environments for much-needed breaks.

Marylene Gagne

Marylene Gagne

Weinstein and Ryan extended these findings with University of Essex’s Andrew Przybylski, and found that besides providing “vitality”, energy, and stress management, volunteers who were “immersed in natural settings” reported more caring, generous attitudes toward others.
They valued their aspirations to help and connect with others and make generous decisions more than self-interested aspirations for financial success and admiration.

Andrew Przybylski

Andrew Przybylski

Weinstein and team suggested that viewing and experiencing nature and natural settings increases individuals’ sense of personal autonomy to pursue interests while reducing pressures, fears, and social expectations.

These studies suggest the importance of scheduled outdoor breaks from work activities, and thoughtful urban planning that incorporates green spaces and natural environments:  “…full contact with nature can have humanizing effects….to the extent our links with nature are disrupted, we may also lose some connection with each other.”

-*How do you integrate exposure to outdoor and natural setting with your work day?

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