Traumatic experiences can keep the brain on high alert. Chronic activation of the fight-or-flight stress response forms pathways of brain cells that promote hypervigilance. Unresolved trauma can keep stress arousal stuck in high gear.
Exercise can help rewire trauma-induced neural pathways. Neurochemicals, such as brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and irisin, decrease with aging and exposure to stress. Exercise increases BDNF and irisin levels, which helps heal the damage from stress and trauma by:
- Increasing brain volume in areas responsible for learning, memory, and cognitive function, via the birth of new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis;
- Improving the health and functioning of brain cells, including the capacity for forming neural networks, which likely explains why exercise improves cognitive function;
- Raising antioxidant levels, which helps protect against oxidative stress; and
- Restoring stress arousal to a resilient level, which improves current mood and brain function, and prepares the brain for processing traumatic events and healing neural networks.
Takeaway: Exercise improves resilience from trauma and enhances cognitive function.
Well-being is a journey, not a quick fix
Source Schiraldi, G.R., Adverse Childhood Experiences, Exercise, and the Brain, Psychology Today, Jan 12, 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hidden-wounds/202201/adverse-childhood-experiences-exercise-and-the-brain. Schiraldi is the author of The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook (2021), New Harbinger.