Exercise: Blocking the Negative Effects of Social Isolation Stress in an Animal Model

Miranda Lynn Cox


Stress on the body, especially social stress, adversely affects the body’s ability to regulate various physiological systems and behavior. This stress may be a mechanism that influences the release of stress hormones and contributes to psychological and physiological disorders. However, exercise has positive effects on the body that may counter these negative effects of social stress. This project involves using an animal model to test the effectiveness of exercise as a treatment for psychological and biological symptoms of stress from social isolation. Prairie voles (rodents) were used because they are socially comparable to humans. Thirty adult, female prairie voles were isolated from a sibling for four weeks. During the final two weeks, the prairie voles were also exposed to mild environmental stressors. Throughout these final two weeks, half of the voles had continuous access to a running wheel while the other half was sedentary. A behavioral test for depression was conducted and blood samples were collected. Prairie voles offered an exercise option showed fewer depressive behaviors in an operational test, and lower stress hormone levels in the blood. Of the voles given the exercise wheel option, the group that exhibited a moderate activity level showed lower levels of depressive behaviors and stress hormones compared to the groups that exhibited either low or high activity levels. A moderate level of exercise may therefore be beneficial for blocking the negative effects of social isolation stress. This research has important implications for understanding social stress in humans.


Social Isolation Stress; Exercise; Depression

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