Beat Stress with Exercise
Endorphins, the body's home-grown pain relievers, are known to block pain signals to the brain, which brings about their feel-good effect. Just as endorphins are the body's version of morphine, endocannabinoids are its homemade version of the active ingredient in cannabis, or marijuana. Both are released into the bloodstream in great volume after intense aerobic exercise. Both bring about feelings of euphoria, calm and well-being. Exercise improves mood and controls anxiety in other ways. It unleashes the calming neurotransmitters serotonin, which regulates anxiety, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits neural activity in the brain. A study of subjects over 50 who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder established three research groups. One group started an aerobic exercise training program. A second took the antidepressant medication Zoloft. The third group combined the two interventions—some exercise and Zoloft. After 16 weeks, all three groups showed improvement in their depression symptoms. The group taking the drug had more immediate improvement, but by the end of the research period it was clear that the exercise-only group had improved just as much as the other two. Exercise may be the best anti-stress prescription of all!