Exercise increases a protein in the brain stem that helps relieve stress


Exercise combats stress by increasing levels of the brain protein galanin in the brainstem of the brain, according to research on mice published in the journal of the American Neuroscience Society ‘JNeurosci’.

Going for a run during a stressful time does wonders for mental and emotional health. But the stress relieving benefits of exercise go beyond anecdotal: exercise increases the brain’s resistance to stress. This occurs through elevated levels of the neuromodulator galanin, a protein that influences stress and mood and has been implicated in stress-related psychiatric disorders.

By examining the relationship between exercise and stress relief, the researchers measured anxious behaviors in mice 24 hours after a stressful event. Animals that had access to an exercise wheel for three weeks exhibited fewer anxious behaviors compared to mice that did not exercise.

The mice that exercised also had elevated levels of galanin in the locus coeruleus, a group of neurons in the brain stem involved in the stress response. The amount of time the mice exercised in the third week correlated with the amount of galanin in the locus coeruleus, which in turn correlated with their degree of resistance to stress.

The genetic increase of galanin at the locus coeruleus in sedentary mice reflected the beneficial effects of exercise. The increase in galanin did not alter other aspects of the animal’s behavior, suggesting that galanin can be incorporated only during periods of high stress.

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