Forced Exercise Still Holds Mental Health Benefits, Animal Study Suggests

05/15/2013 05:34 pm ET
Alamy

Even if you really don't want to exercise, engaging in physical activity can still have benefits for your mental health, a new animal study suggests.

Researchers found that depression and anxiety symptoms in rats are reduced with exercise -- even if it's forced, not voluntary, exercise.

"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," study researcher Benjamin Greenwood, who is an assistant research professor in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a statement.

The study, published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, involved having rats either exercise on a wheel or be sedentary for six weeks. Among the rats that exercised, half of them were forced to do so by putting them on a motorized wheel at predetermined times, while the other half were allowed to exercise as they pleased.

After the six-week period, researchers tested the rats' stress and anxiety levels. They found that the rats that exercised -- whether voluntarily, or forced to by the researchers -- experienced less stress and anxiety than the mice that were sedentary.

For humans, the Mayo Clinic reports that some of exercises's positive effects on mental health may come from the body's release of feel-good hormones. For more mental health benefits of exercise, click through the slideshow:

Exercise Does A Brain Good

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