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Forced Exercise Helpful for Anxiety and Stress

Studies have shown exercise protects against stress-related disorders, and it is believed that this may be related to the perception of control, which can benefit one’s mental health. However, scientists wonder if a person who feels forced to exercise would still benefit from exercise without the perception of control.

A new study from the University of Colorado Boulder examined the effects of forced exercise on laboratory rats. Benjamin Greenwood, an assistant research professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology and colleagues designed an experiment where some rats remained sedentary, while others exercised by running on a wheel. Rats in the exercise group were divided into two groups, where one group ran on wheels whenever they chose to, and another group ran on motorized wheels on schedule. The speed and time of running the wheels were similar in both groups.

The animals were exposed to a laboratory stressor after 6 weeks, and their anxiety levels were measured the following day. Anxiety levels were evaluated based on how long the rats froze in response to fear. Some rats which were not subjected to stress were also tested for anxiety.

The authors found exercising reduced the rats’ levels of anxiety whether they chose to run or were forced to run. On the other hand, sedentary rats froze for longer periods compared to the active rats. The study was published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers believe that their findings have helpful implications in humans who are being forced to exercise such as people who receive a prescription for an exercise regimen by their doctors, high school and college athletes, and members of the military. They may still be getting the physical as well as mental benefits of exercise as much as if they exercised voluntarily.


University of Colorado at Boulder. Forced exercise may still protect against anxiety and stress. ScienceDaily.

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