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Stress Busters: Sex and Exercise Advice from Dr. Oz

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Dr. Oz

In the September/October issue of AARP The Magazine, cardiothoracic surgeon and TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz discusses the effects of stress on the human body - in particular, our brain.

The sources of stress and managing its relief

Stress comes from many sources. Whether it is job related from a demanding boss, a financial burden from remodeling a home or worrying about a loved one’s illness, stress affects us all at one time or another. One of the things that stressful situations do to us is increase our cortisol levels in our blood.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal gland. Stress and low levels of glucocorticoids result in its release. Cortisol release is both a good thing and a bad thing. Our body needs cortisol to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis. However, too much cortisol can have negative effects on the body.

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The brain for example uses cortisol to help create short-term memory events, especially those that occur from a stressful or emotional event. However, recent studies show that too much cortisol can negatively affect the hippocampus. According to Dr. Oz, excess cortisol may suppress neurogenesis—the brain’s ability to create new brain cells. The brains of people who are approaching retirement age are especially susceptible to the ill effects of too much cortisol. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is generally the first part of the brain to be adversely affected resulting in memory loss and disorientation.

So what can we do about our cortisol levels? Removing ourselves from any and all stressful situations is not a practical solution for the majority of us. But what we can do according to Dr. Oz is turn off our cortisol excess through exercise and sex.

Both exercise and sex initially raise our cortisol levels; however, these level increases are short-term surges that are actually good for the body and the brain. Exercise decreases anxiety and increases neurogenesis—presumably by increasing the blood flow to the brain. Sex appears to have the same effect as exercise as seen in animal studies where multiple daily encounters between romantically engaged rodents resulted in reduced cortisol levels, reduced anxiety and increased neurogenesis.

However, this does not mean that we have to become mighty mouse to achieve these kinds of results. Too much exercise and too much sex can be just as harmful as too little. As Dr. Oz advises, “…look for small but consistent ways to reduce stress…just seven minutes of exercise to start the day—leaving the night free for romance—is a small investment that yields a very healthy payback.”

Source: AARP The Magazine, Sep/Oct. 2011, Dr. Mehmet Oz
Image source of Dr. Oz: Wikipedia