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Forced Exercise May Still Help with Anxiety and Stress

Update Date: Apr 26, 2013 11:29 AM EDT

Numerous studies have repeatedly praised the benefits of exercise for physical and mental health. Participating in physical activities not only help improve one's health, it can also benefit one's overall mental well being. However, these studies mainly focused on people's free will in choosing to exercise. A new study decided to look at the effects of exercise when the people were forced to do it, theorizing that the effects of exercise might be stunted due to the added pressure of having to perform as opposed to wanting to. The researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder discovered that even forced exercise could still protect people from stress-related illnesses and disorders.

The researchers wanted to test the effects of exercise when the routines were required. For example, athletes, military personnel and patients who have been told to exercise by their doctors, would all fall under the category of people being forced to perform physical activity. Assistant research professor from the University's Department of Integrative Physiology, Benjamin Greenwood, and his colleagues created a laboratory experiment that would measure the benefits of exercise using rat models. The experiment lasted six weeks and the rats were divided into two groups. The first group of rats was given a mechanized wheel and could choose when it wanted to run, whereas the other group of rats was forced to run based on a schedule. The experimenters also had a control group of rats that did not exercise.

The experimenters then exposed all the rats to different types of stressors and then measured their anxiety levels the day after. Anxiety was measured based on how long the rats froze and did not react in a situation of fear, which they were previously conditioned for. The researchers discovered that both groups of rats were somewhat protected from stress and anxiety based on the fact that they reacted faster than rats with sedentary lifestyles.

"The implications are that humans who perceive exercise as being forced-perhaps including those who feel like they have to exercise for health reasons-are maybe still going to get the benefits in terms of reducing anxiety and depression," Greenwood concluded.

The study was published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.  

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