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Question Your World: Is Some Stress Good for You?

No pain, no gain…right? Well, that phrase seems to go hand in hand with workout routines, but it may also be applicable for the brain! Scientists have been studying the impact of acute and chronic stress on the brain and have concluded some very interesting results. So, what does stress do to the brain? Check out the latest Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

This is a tale of two stresses, acute and chronic stress. Examples of chronic stresses could be living in dangerous places, being constantly subjected to poverty or mentally abusive situations, or even being stuck in daily rush hour traffic. However it seems as though acute short term stresses like cramming for an exam or an upcoming deadline on a new project may actually have a beneficial impact on our memory!

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have been studying rats that are being put through similar relative blasts of stress. This research was done by studying the impact of newly introduced stress on the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with memory. Basically, a short and quick blast of stress allows the stem cells in the brain to begin the process of creating new nerve cells. After about two weeks of development and distance from the newly introduced stress allows these nerve cells to develop into brand new neurons. The more neurons one has the more connections, and the more connections the more optimal the function of memory. 

Work is still going on and more answers will arise as the research makes them more apparent. However, for now it seems as though acute stress allows the brain to create these nerve cells and then the absence of that exact stress provides the time and energy needed for the neurons to develop. Whereas constant chronic stress does not allow these nerve cells to develop and thus ultimately impacts memory in a negative way.

So, do yourself a favor and try something new, work on a music piece, go visit a different place, you know…stress yourself out, it's kinda good for you!

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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