The link between a sedentary lifestyle and anxiety was reinforced recently by new research comparing sedentary mice and mice that exercise. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience and covered in the New York Times, where I first learned about it, suggests that habitual inactivity can cause increased anxiety in animals that don’t move around much.
Researchers at Princeton University compared the behavior and brains of mice that were allowed to exercise on wheels in their cages to those who instead "sat quietly." The mice that were active showed more inclination to explore new environments when given the chance, an indication of less anxiety. When dunked in cold water, as stressful for mice as it is for humans, the running mice reacted more calmly than the sedentary ones.
This effect has been observed before, but the new study delves deeper into the mechanisms behind it. Analysis of the rodents’ brains revealed that the running sparked the creation of excitable neurons that prompt activity, and resulted in a huge new supply of neurons that produce GABA, which has a soothing effect on the nervous system.
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