Exercise soothes the mind

We all like to think we have free will and can’t be told what to do. This has never been more true than it is today in a world where we are all encouraged to follow our individual dreams. While there is lots of merit in that philosophy of freedom, it is worth reminding yourself occasionally that doing the things you have to do can also be liberating, empowering and beneficial. Exercise for instance yields many benefits even though you might not always want to do it. The good news from a new study is that even if you are forced to exercise the stress reduction benefits of exercise are still there.

For this study, researchers had one group of rats that remained sedentary for six weeks while another group exercised regularly. In the exercise group, a further division was made so that one group ran whenever it chose to while another was forced to run on a mechanised wheel at predetermined times.

After the six week period, the rats were all then exposed to a stressor and had their anxiety levels tested. This testing of anxiety levels did not involve the rats lying down on a couch and talking through their issues. Instead, you measure a rats anxiety by measuring how long it freezes (similar to a deer in headlights) when put in an environment that it has been conditioned to fear. The longer the freezing time, the greater the residual anxiety from the previous day.

The results showed that, regardless of whether they had been forced to run or had chosen to run, the rats that exercised had less of an anxiety response than the rats who had been sedentary. This suggests that even if your exercise is out of your control (say, as a professional athlete, in school or even in the military) the act of exercising reduces anxiety levels.

Sometimes freedom is not about doing whatever you want, but doing whatever you need.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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