Stress is too common in most people's lives today. We live in a fast-paced world with many demands on our time. How we react to stress sets the stage for much of our health.
Exercise battles stress
We have known for a long time that exercise combats stress. Regular exercise gives people better control over stress and this creates a positive cycle.
How does exercise help you keep stress at bay? It turns out that exercise increase brain cell growth in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This brain region is a major player in controlling stress. The hippocampus helps focus your attention on what is important in your environment and needs your attention.
So it makes sense that this part of the brain would be involved in stress. If you get caught up focusing on problems and are unable to move toward focusing on solutions and opportunities then you will feel more stressed. The Chinese have a saying that on the flip-side of every problem is an opportunity. When you exercise and increase the ability of your hippocampus, you help yourself get past the stress of problems and focus on how to solve them.
Hippocampus size buffers against stress
Some very cool studies have looked at the relationship between the size of the hippocampus and the degree that people suffer from stress-related disorders. It is well established that a smaller hippocampus is associated with a greater degree of stress.
The question remains, though, as to whether a smaller hippocampus makes you more susceptible stress, or whether stress itself actually shrinks your hippocampus. The answer appears to be both.
Studies show that war veterans get more severe cases of PTSD if they had a small hippocampus before going to war. Other studies show that stress itself can damage or even kill brain cells in the hippocampus and cause it to shrink.
The hippocampus happens to be the one place in the adult human brain where we continually make new brain cells. So the rate at which we make brain cells has an affect on the size of the hippocampus. Well, exercise increases the rate of making new brain cells and increases the size of the hippocampus – protecting you against stress.
Exercise improves productivity
As stated above, the other benefit of improving the hippocampus is increasing your ability to focus, which increases your productivity. So if you think that you don't have time to exercise then you probably don't have time to not exercise. A small amount of daily exercise will increase your focus, increase your productivity, protect you from too much stress and free up more time.
If you are not currently exercising, I challenge you to work with your doctor to develop a sustainable exercise routine that you enjoy. This part is important. If you don't enjoy it, you won't stick to it. Find something physical that elevates your heart rate and gets you sweating a little – even if it's just playing an active game on the Wii!
Copyright (c) 2007 The Brain Code LLC
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