You’ve all heard that stress is at the root of many of the health issues today, and true, unchecked and chronic stress can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental in-balances, etc. But there are different kinds of stress to your bodies cells: metabolic, oxidative, and excitative.

When a nerve or muscle cell is activated, it’s machinery is turned on, and as Dr. Ratey so eloquently puts it, like a pilot light in a furnace. The cell takes glucose and turns it into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the gasoline for your cells to burn. In the process, waste by-products are produced called free radicals (think of when you burn wood for a fire-you get heat and the smoke is the by-product). Free radicals are harmful because they are molecules with an unpaired electron, and they bounce around looking for something for the electron to pair with or neutralize, but left unchecked, they destroy cell walls. This is called oxidative stress. The great thing about exercise is that it triggers the cell to produce enzymes to clean up the free radicals. The end result of the exercise stress is that both muscle and brain cells become stronger, more resilient to subsequent bouts of stress, leaving our bodies and minds stronger, better able to handle future challenges, to think on our feet, so to speak.

Metabolic stress occurs when the cells can’t get enough glucose to produce the ATP needed, when you outstrip your supply.

Excitotxic stress occurs when there isn’t enough ATP to keep up with the energy demand of the increased information flow to the brain. If it continues unchecked (chronic stress) without recovery, the cell is on a death march, forced to work with no food. This leads to what scientists call neurodegeneration, the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and the aging process itself. This is the “bad” stress.

I hope that I didn’t get too much into biochemistry, but as you can see, chalk up another one for exercise. Good for mind and body, because they truly are one. 

By the way, another study touting the “afterglow” of exercise was just presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sportsmedicine in May. Researchers at the University of Vermont found that after 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, volunteers reported better moods than another group that rested for 20 minutes. Life is much better when you’re in a good frame of mind.

PS: I’ve put another video on youtube-hopefully it will be on my site soon. It’s for core work.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.