Causes: As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of anxiety disorders isn’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are have a predisposition. Inherited traits also can be a factor. Once an anxious response is triggered, anxiety disorders are reinforced through a combination of avoidance (we avoid what makes us scared), and anxious self-talk, both which wo…rk together to maintain and reinforce anxiety disorders.
Hippocampus and anxiety: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is known to play a critical role in the synaptic (neural) plasticity underlying the acquisition and/or consolidation of certain forms of memory. Neurotrophic function within the hippocampus serves as a protective factor from anxiety and depressive disorders (decreased levels of BDNF in animal studies have been associated to anxiety, depression, and PTSD).
Although there were no effects on the acquisition or expression fear, animals with BDNF deletions show significantly reduced extinction of conditioned fear as measured both with fear-potentiated startle and freezing response. These data suggest that the cognitive deficits and impairment in extinction of aversive memory found in depression and anxiety disorders may be directly related to decreased hippocampal BDNF.
To sum up, if we want to increase our chances of fighting (slowing down) Alzheimer’s and dementia, or reducing anxiety and depression, we want to increase BDNF and one of the most accessible and powerful tools we have, is exercise!
How does exercise work to increase BDNF and promote the health benefits that come along with it? Read my post on Exercise benefits !