UNSW logoMore often than not doctors advice daily exercise to remain fit and healthy. This tidbit may further highlight the inclusion of exercise in our daily plan.Medical experts from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) suggest that exercise can reverse the effects of psychological trauma experienced early in life. By changing the chemical composition in the hippocampus which is a part of the brain that controls stress response, exercise may improve anxiety and depression-like behaviors induced by an adverse early-life environment.

Experiments initiated on lab rats supposedly enabled the researchers to confirm the plasticity of the brain and its ability to re-map neural networks. Some time ago, investigations revealed that comfort eating i.e. consuming palatable food rich in fat and sugar depict identical results. Also, investigations have claimed exercise to regenerate ageing brain.

“What’s exciting about this is that we are able to reverse a behavioral deficit that was caused by a traumatic event early in life, simply through exercise,” highlighted Professor of Pharmacology Margaret Morris.

The scientists anticipate that these findings may present clues for unique ways to tackle a range of mood and behavior disorders, as many neurological diseases appear in early life. While conducting the experiment, the rats were categorized in groups and separated from their mothers for controlled periods of time to induce stress or given normal maternal contact. Half the rats were given access to a running wheel.

Professor Morris quoted, “We know that exercise can elevate mood, but here we are seeing chemical changes that may underpin this improvement. One of these is increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps nerve cells grow. Many neurological diseases appear to have their origins early in life. Stress hormones affect the way nerve cells grow in the brain. This discovery may be giving us a clue about a different way to tackle a range of conditions that affect mood and behaviour. Here we also compared effects of exercise to eating palatable food, and it was equally effective, suggesting there’s a more healthy option as an alternative.”

The rats were made anxious and introduced to stress early in life. Such rats depicted higher levels of stress hormones and fewer steroid receptors in the part of the brain controlling behavior. Professor Morris affirmed that by employing the exercise wheel, both the anxious behavior and the levels of hormones in these rats were reversed.

The research is published in the July edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.