Anxious: Why Exercise Helps

I circled my little world on the elliptical trainer this morning. Admittedly, I don’t get much of an endorphin rush from moving my legs up and down and around and around for an hour or so. But hey. It’s exercise. And now I’m cool, calm and relaxed.

At least I should be.

The NYT in a “Well” blog post earlier this week had an interesting perspective about the link between exercise and anxiety, “Phys Ed: Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious.” Here’s from the post by Gretchen Reynolds:

Other researchers have looked at how exercise alters the activity of dopamine, another neurotransmitter in the brain, while still others have concentrated on the antioxidant powers of moderate exercise. Anxiety in rodents and people has been linked with excessive oxidative stress, which can lead to cell death, including in the brain. Moderate exercise, though, appears to dampen the effects of oxidative stress. In an experiment led by researchers at the University of Houston and reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, rats whose oxidative-stress levels had been artificially increased with injections of certain chemicals were extremely anxious when faced with unfamiliar terrain during laboratory testing. But rats that had exercised, even if they had received the oxidizing chemical, were relatively nonchalant under stress. When placed in the unfamiliar space, they didn’t run for dark corners and hide, like the unexercised rats. They insouciantly explored.

Ah, can’t argue with that. Whatever it says. I’m a big believer in the benefits of exercise: mental and physical. And if it makes us less anxious — so much the better.

But unlike laboratory rats, people exercising in health clubs (remember when we used the descriptor gym?) watch the giant TVs plastered on the walls. And doesn’t the news these days lend itself to increasing anxiety — possibly diminishing the benefits of exercise? Wonder if there is any chance I could get a federal jobs creation stimulus research grant to investigate this issue? I digress.

Anyway, I don’t know about you, but these stories that keep rotating on the TV screens this a.m. raised my level of angst.

  • The debacle over the new guidelines for breast cancer screening do nothing but cause confusion — and anxiety — for women, their husbands/significant others and their families. This is a serious — in many cases life-or-death — matter. It also puts the spotlight on an issue that concerns many as we continue to debate health-care reform: the rationing of medical services and tests. Ah, death panels, anyone?
  • Does the Obama administration really know how many jobs have been “saved or created” with the billions of taxpayer bucks contained in the second stimulus package? Nah. Here’s a WSJ online article “Stimulus-Jobs Tally in Doubt.” OK. We needed to do something to take the economy off life-support — but the results in terms of jobs have been meager at best. Just sayin’. And my level of anxiety starts to increase when I hear there is going to be a White House jobs summit Dec. 3 with possibly talk of a third stimulus package. Sigh.
  • And I’m not much for conspiracy theories. But what’s up with this? The House rams through its version of health-care reform late on a Saturday night a few weeks ago. Now the Senate is planning the same approach for this Saturday. Everyone knows that I’ll be asleep and not able to follow in real time who voted on what, or if at all. Should I/we be concerned about this Saturday night voting-in-essentially-secret strategy?

Oh well. We’re heading to the weekend and I’m old enough to remember when the OSU vs. Michigan game mattered. Guess I don’t have to worry about that any more.

 

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