by Dee Emmerson, TCC Writer
Q? What do pain, stress, anxiety, and depression have in common?
A? Me, the car accident, my medical diagnosis, exercise.
Anxiety, depression, or a lack of concentration makes life more challenging. People who live with chronic pain often experience all three…every day. Think how much more rewarding life could be if all these conditions, plus chronic pain, could be reduced—even eliminated—by ONE THING.
Drum roll: Open the envelope, please. And the w-i-n-n-e-r i-s . . . EXERCISE!
Science and thousands of people make it increasingly apparent that aerobic exercise can improve more than our physical shape. Exercise may be your brain's best medicine. According to John Ratey, Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry and author of several books, exercise has nine benefits that slow and improve the aging process. They also improve our pain.
Aerobic exercise | Why it Helps Pain
Strengthens the cardiovascular system. A strong heart and lungs reduce resting blood pressure. During exercise muscles release growth factors that promote neurogenesis and expanded vascular networks. Blood vessels expand and blood flow increases. | Fatigue increases pain. An efficient cardiovascular system reduces fatigue.
Regulates fuel. It increases levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which regulates insulin and improves brain function. Pain sets us up for inefficiency. We tend to stop or restrict certain activities, get sluggish when we're depressed, and fail to take care of ourselves. | Balanced blood sugar levels ensure that brain cells can function optimally. A healthy brain is easier to retrain than a sluggish brain.
Reduces obesity. The physical chaos caused by obesity doesn’t just affect the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. It increases the chances of developing dementia. Moderate exercise burns calories and reduces appetite—a two-for-one benefit. | A healthy and balanced body protects us from the ravages of pain.
Elevates our stress threshold by making proteins that fix the damage of too much cortisol, excess glucose, free radicals, and over-dominance of the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response—ultimately delaying the aging process. | Pain creates enough stress on the body, so increasing our ability to withstand stress can only improve our pain experience.
Lifts our mood. Being active and maintaining social connections go a long way in reducing depression. But more than that, exercise sets a body-mind sequence into action that ensures the release of neurotransmitters—the body’s very own “happy pills.” | "Happy pills" may help us feel our pain less, but isn't it great that we don't have to go to the drug store for these!
Boosts the immune system. While stress and age depress the immune response, exercise strengthens it. Even moderate activity rallies antibodies and lymphocytes (T cells)—the immune system fighters. Prevention is a huge task for the immune system; repair is, too, when tissue is damaged or inflammation sets in. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimers. Exercise allows the immune system to fix inflammation and fight disease. | A healthy immune system keeps us strong—lessening the drag of chronic pain to the body.