What one exercise can boost feel-good chemicals in your brain while reducing anxiety and improving your mood?
The answer is yoga.
In a study lead by Chris Streeter, MD he and his colleagues from the Boston University School of Medicine found that yoga reduced anxiety, improved mood, and boosted the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. The article can be found in The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
What’s more, to determine the efficacy of yoga compared to walking, they randomly assigned participants to either a yoga group or a walking group. Each group did their respective exercise three times a week for 60 minutes for 12 weeks. Participants’ brains were scanned before and after the 12 week intervention, and anxiety and mood levels were measured throughout the duration of the study.
The results showed that the yoga group experienced significantly greater improvements in mood and anxiety, and higher levels of GABA than the walking group.
What’s special about this study is it’s the first to show that an exercise intervention (yoga) can increase levels of GABA in the brain and also bring about better mood and lower anxiety. It’s encouraging to see brain science validating the therapeutic value of mind-body approaches like yoga.
Anti-anxiety medications work in part by affecting GABA levels in the brain. This study shows we can also do this naturally with yoga.
Yoga is also being used to treat trauma patients at The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, which was founded by Bessel van der Kolk, MD.
Bessel was a speaker in our Rethinking Trauma Webinar Series.
Have you ever used any type of exercise to help reduce anxiety or improve mood with your patients who have experienced trauma? Please leave a comment below.