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Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults


Frontiers in Physiology

Frontiers Media S.A.

physical activity, stress, TSST, heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol, mood

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      Physical activity has long been considered beneficial to health and regular exercise is purported to relieve stress. However empirical evidence demonstrating these effects is limited. In this study, we compared psychophysiological responses to an acute psychosocial stressor between individuals who did, or did not, report regular physical exercise. Healthy men and women (N = 111) participated in two experimental sessions, one with the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and one with a non-stressful control task. We measured heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol, and self-reported mood before and at repeated times after the tasks. Individuals who reported physical exercise at least once per week exhibited lower heart rate at rest than non-exercisers, but the groups did not differ in their cardiovascular responses to the TSST. Level of habitual exercise did not influence self-reported mood before the tasks, but non-exercisers reported a greater decline in positive affect after the TSST in comparison to exercisers. These findings provide modest support for claims that regular exercise protects against the negative emotional consequences of stress, and suggest that exercise has beneficial effects in healthy individuals. These findings are limited by their correlational nature, and future prospective controlled studies on the effects of regular exercise on response to acute stress are needed.

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      Most cited references 61

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      In 1995 the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published national guidelines on Physical Activity and Public Health. The Committee on Exercise and Cardiac Rehabilitation of the American Heart Association endorsed and supported these recommendations. The purpose of the present report is to update and clarify the 1995 recommendations on the types and amounts of physical activity needed by healthy adults to improve and maintain health. Development of this document was by an expert panel of scientists, including physicians, epidemiologists, exercise scientists, and public health specialists. This panel reviewed advances in pertinent physiologic, epidemiologic, and clinical scientific data, including primary research articles and reviews published since the original recommendation was issued in 1995. Issues considered by the panel included new scientific evidence relating physical activity to health, physical activity recommendations by various organizations in the interim, and communications issues. Key points related to updating the physical activity recommendation were outlined and writing groups were formed. A draft manuscript was prepared and circulated for review to the expert panel as well as to outside experts. Comments were integrated into the final recommendation. To promote and maintain health, all healthy adults aged 18 to 65 yr need moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) physical activity for a minimum of 30 min on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 min on three days each week. [I (A)] Combinations of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity can be performed to meet this recommendation. [IIa (B)] For example, a person can meet the recommendation by walking briskly for 30 min twice during the week and then jogging for 20 min on two other days. Moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which is generally equivalent to a brisk walk and noticeably accelerates the heart rate, can be accumulated toward the 30-min minimum by performing bouts each lasting 10 or more minutes. [I (B)] Vigorous-intensity activity is exemplified by jogging, and causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate. In addition, every adult should perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance a minimum of two days each week. [IIa (A)] Because of the dose-response relation between physical activity and health, persons who wish to further improve their personal fitness, reduce their risk for chronic diseases and disabilities or prevent unhealthy weight gain may benefit by exceeding the minimum recommended amounts of physical activity. [I (A)].
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          Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain.

           B McEwen (2007)
          The brain is the key organ of the response to stress because it determines what is threatening and, therefore, potentially stressful, as well as the physiological and behavioral responses which can be either adaptive or damaging. Stress involves two-way communication between the brain and the cardiovascular, immune, and other systems via neural and endocrine mechanisms. Beyond the "flight-or-fight" response to acute stress, there are events in daily life that produce a type of chronic stress and lead over time to wear and tear on the body ("allostatic load"). Yet, hormones associated with stress protect the body in the short-run and promote adaptation ("allostasis"). The brain is a target of stress, and the hippocampus was the first brain region, besides the hypothalamus, to be recognized as a target of glucocorticoids. Stress and stress hormones produce both adaptive and maladaptive effects on this brain region throughout the life course. Early life events influence life-long patterns of emotionality and stress responsiveness and alter the rate of brain and body aging. The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex undergo stress-induced structural remodeling, which alters behavioral and physiological responses. As an adjunct to pharmaceutical therapy, social and behavioral interventions such as regular physical activity and social support reduce the chronic stress burden and benefit brain and body health and resilience.

            Author and article information

            Human Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, The University of Chicago Chicago, IL, USA
            Author notes

            Edited by: Anthony Leicht, James Cook University, Australia

            Reviewed by: Antti M. Kiviniemi, Verve, Finland; Daniel Boullosa, Universidade Católica de Brasília, Brazil

            *Correspondence: Emma Childs, Human Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, 5841 S Maryland Ave., MC3077, Chicago, IL 60637, USA e-mail: echilds@

            This article was submitted to Clinical and Translational Physiology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

            Front Physiol
            Front Physiol
            Front. Physiol.
            Frontiers in Physiology
            Frontiers Media S.A.
            01 May 2014
            : 5
            Copyright © 2014 Childs and de Wit.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

            Figures: 1, Tables: 3, Equations: 0, References: 63, Pages: 7, Words: 5765
            Original Research Article

            Anatomy & Physiology

            physical activity, mood, cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate, tsst, stress


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