Strengthen your core to reduce stress, anxiety and enhance emotional balance - really? In her new book, "Move! The New Science of Body Over Mind" , Caroline Williams talks to researchers and practitioners around the world about this and other ways that moving our body can improve how we think and feel.
This is no time for us to be sitting around. This message from science is loud and clear, author Caroline Williams says.
"Moving is at the heart of the way we think and feel. If we stay still, our cognitive and emotional abilities become seriously compromised ... the cracks in our collective psyche are beginning to show. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles have been linked to falling IQs, a vacuum in new creative ideas, a rise in anti-social behaviour and an epidemic of mental illness that is affecting people of all ages and from all walks of life."
Intrinsically, I know that moving my body is good for me because of how it makes me feel. Ditto fresh air. Yet lethargy and the couch can still win me over more often than is ideal, even when from a logical standpoint I know better. Yet the truth is... had I not recently and very conveniently embraced prioritising more exercise & physical movement in my own life - and be feeling great and suitably self-righteous about it - I may not have been quite so keen to read Caroline Williams' new book: "Move! The New Science of Body Over Mind". Which would have been a shame indeed, because the typically more sedentary by nature folk like myself are clearly among those who can get much from it.
Fortuitous then, when my partner drew my attention to Caroline Williams being interviewed about it on Radio New Zealand, that I was open enough to be intrigued and subsequently drawn in. Then bought the book and read it, because it really is super interesting.
You needn't be afraid, because Caroline Williams is a very experienced science writer. As a technical writer by day myself, I fully appreciate her ability to turn potentially very complex and dry as old dog's balls scientific lingo into interesting, easy to follow, conversational and even witty prose.
In addition to 'core benefits', her book considers various physiological, neural and hormonal connections that science is discovering link our body and mind together. These include the positive impacts of such unsuspecting peculiarities as:
...and more besides.
5 reasons to strengthen your core to reduce stress, anxiety and enhance emotional balance
There were so many interesting takeaways on why the suggestion to strengthen your core to reduce stress could be a great mental health strategy for us all. I do not wish to ruin your own experience of reading this book first-hand (or indeed, breach copyright), so here are just a small selection of highlights from my own understanding:
1 There is a known neural pathway that connects the control of the movement of our core muscles to our adrenal glands; the adrenal glands being the first line of our body's stress response. Although we have other bits & pieces that connect to the adrenal medulla, activating our core muscles appear to impact upon it more so than any others.
2 This neural connection may provide a basis to the numerous psychological studies that have shown a definite relationship between our posture and state of mind. Upright posture is linked to feeling positive, powerful and in control - while slouching and hunching are linked to feelings of defeat and energy withdrawal. Much of our posture, of course, is driven by our core. And another good reason (as my son's dad tells him often) to keep looking up and out, rather than down at your feet when you go about things.
3 The neural link between our core muscles and adrenals might also start to explain why core strengthening exercises (such as yoga, Pilates, etc.) seem to lessen stress, depression and also symptoms of what are called psychosomatic illnesses (being those with no obvious physical cause, but which are often exacerbated by stress and dismissed by some as being "in the head").
4 A specific mechanism for exactly how activating our core muscles flows onto positively impact our emotions and help control stress and anxiety has not yet been identified. What is known, however, is that sites in the brain that control our abdominal muscles are located right in the centre of the representation of the organs. Which is thought by some in the field to likely be more than just coincidence.
5 As this research advances, physical movement and specifically core strengthening, could become as influential and integral to good mental health as mind-based therapies are today.
How to exercise and strengthen your core
The good news is that so many kinds of movement naturally activate and help to build up and strengthen our core muscles... walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, holding good posture... and apparently, especially the enjoyment of a full-on belly laugh (yes, true story!)
I feel more motivated already
Williams, C. (2021). Move! The New Science of Body Over Mind. London: Profile Books Ltd.
I am in no way masquerading as a health professional. Any content published on this website has been inspired largely by my own personal experiences or those of others, and should not be understood or construed as professional or medical health care advice. Neither is this website intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health condition or disease. In full transparency, while aspects of this site may enable a source of income to help make its continued upkeep possible, the central focus is always encouragement which is lavished freely. Any products & services promoted have been used by me personally and shared only where I believe they may be of interest and benefit to you, dear reader.