Exercise and Nanny Neurons: New Developments on Anxiety Relief

Vicki Silverthorne's picture

Exercise and Nanny NeuronsI know that it would be an understatement to say that anxiety can really impact a person’s daily life.  I see a number of clients who deal with anxiety and are looking for some type of relief.  A lot of these clients don’t want to go on medication and are looking for natural ways to alleviate anxiety and its symptoms.  I have always been a believer in exercise as a natural option.

It is well known that exercising regularly can help decrease feelings of anxiety and stress. Exercise can release “feel good” chemicals, improve your immune system, expel adrenaline from your body and increase blood flow to your brain. All of these benefits can help train the brain to focus less on anxiety and learn to self-soothe.  Recent research however, has explained that there are even more benefits to exercise.

In a recent study by Princeton University: Scientists discovered that exercise prompts the growth of new neurons in the brain. The researchers took a group of mice and divided it into two groups: runners and sedentary.  The runner mice were allowed to run on a wheel as much as they wanted for six weeks, while the sedentary ones abstained from any sort of exercise.  After six weeks, the researchers analyzed both groups’ brains.  The running group had a much greater amount of excitable neurons in the Hippocampus than the sedentary ones.  These neurons help with speed thinking and memory formation.  The researchers also found that the running group had a greater amount of neurons designed to release the neurotransmitter, GABA. GABA  is designed to “shush” and quiet activity in the brain. They perform like “Nanny Neurons” and exercise can increase them.  When stressful situations occur, these “nanny neurons” calm the brain, resulting in reduced anxiety. And the good news is this calming effect continues long after exercising.

What Does This Mean for You?

The research findings provide just another great reason to get moving.  If you struggle with anxiety at all, then you should make an effort to exercise whenever it’s possible.

Overcoming Common Objections to Exercising

Helpful Tips to Get You Started:

You Hate Exercising: Any form of exercise seems to help your brain. If you can get moving for 30 minutes a day, your brain will benefit. And that 30 minutes can be divided into 3 ten minute sessions. Put on a CD and dance for ten minutes, get out and do some gardening, wash the car, all of these get your body moving and can provide long lasting benefits. Or while the sun is still out, increase your enjoyment by going for a walk or a bike ride somewhere in our beautiful state.

If you are exercising at the gym or on a machine, bring a magazine or book and place it over the timer.  Try to get lost in what you are reading.  Otherwise, when you are starting out, it can seem as though time is moving backwards.

You are an Introvert: There are plenty of exercise options for introverts.  You can ride a bike and listen to your favorite music.  You can see this as a great time to get away and have time for yourself.

You are an Extrovert: Find a friend to go on a walk with or go with you to the gym.  Just make sure that you are moving!

The important thing is to find something you like to do and focus your mind on the enjoyment while you’re doing it. More likely than not you’ll be releasing “nanny neurons” and you’ll feel better for it.