eISSN: 1896-9151
ISSN: 1734-1922
Archives of Medical Science
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SCImago Journal & Country Rank
3/2010
vol. 6
 
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abstract:

Review paper
Endogenous reward mechanisms and their importance in stress reduction, exercise and the brain

Tobias Esch
,
George B. Stefano

Arch Med Sci 2010; 6, 3: 447-455
Online publish date: 2010/06/30
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Stress can facilitate disease processes and causes strain on the health care budgets. It is responsible or involved in many human ailments of our time, such as cardiovascular illnesses, particularly related to the psychosocial stressors of daily life, including work. Besides pharmacological or clinical medical treatment options, behavioral stress reduction is much-needed. These latter approaches rely on an endogenous healing potential via life-style modification. Hence, research has suggested different ways and approaches to self-treat stress or buffer against stressors and their impacts. These self-care-centred approaches are sometimes referred to as mind-body medicine or multi-factorial stress management strategies. They consist of various cognitive behavioral techniques, as well as relaxation exercises and nutritional counselling. However, a critical and consistent element of modern effective stress reduction strategies are exercise practices. With regard to underlying neurobiological mechanisms of stress relief, reward and motivation circuitries that are imbedded in the limbic regions of the brain are responsible for the autoregulatory and endogenous processing of stress. Exercise techniques clearly have an impact upon these systems. Thereby, physical activities have a potential to increase mood, i.e., decrease psychological distress by pleasure induction. For doing so, neurobiological signalling molecules such as endogenous morphine and coupled nitric oxide pathways get activated and finely tuned. Evolutionarily, the various activities and autoregulatory pathways are linked together, which can also be demonstrated by the fact that dopamine is endogenously converted into morphine which itself leads to enhanced nitric oxide release by activation of constitutive nitric oxide synthase enzymes. These molecules and mechanisms are clearly stress-reducing.
keywords:

nitric oxide, morphine, dopamine, pleasure, motivation, neurobiology, autoregulation, health, running, mind-body medicine

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