According to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, being forced to exercise may still help reduce anxiety and depression just as exercising voluntarily does.

People who exercises are more secluded against stress-related disorders even past studies have shown this. And scientists know that the perception of control can benefit a person’s mental health.  But an open question has been the topic of some debates   whether an individual, who undergoes the feeling of a forced to exercise, getting rid of the discernment of control, would still gather the anxiety-fighting advantages of the exercise.

Benjamin Greenwood, an assistant research professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology said people who may feel forced to exercise could include high school, college and professional athletes, members of the military or those who have been prescribed an exercise regimen by their doctors.

“If exercise is forced, will it still produce mental health benefits?” Greenwood asked. “It’s obvious that forced exercise will still produce peripheral physiological benefits. But will it produce benefits to anxiety and depression?”

To look for an answer to the matter Greenwood and his colleagues, as well as Monika Fleshner, a professor in the same department, designed a lab experiment using rats. Throughout a six-week period, a few rats stayed inactive, whereas some exercised by running on a wheel.

The experiment went this way; the rats that exercised were divided into two groups that ran a roughly equal amount of time while one group ran whenever it chose to, at the same time as the other group ran on mechanized wheels that rotated according to a predetermined schedule.  The motorized wheels turned on at speeds and for periods of time that mimicked the average pattern of exercise chosen by the rats that voluntarily exercised, for the study.

Then six weeks after, the rats were exposed to a laboratory stressor prior to testing their anxiety levels the next day.  The anxiety was measured by quantifying the length the rats froze when they were put in an environment they had been conditioned to fear.  It is likely what is happening to a phenomenon similar to a deer in the headlights.  Then the stress can be measured by, the longer the freezing time, the greater the residual anxiety from being stressed the previous day.  For assessment, some rats underwent to a test for anxiety without being stressed the day before.

“Regardless of whether the rats chose to run or were forced to run they were protected against stress and anxiety,” said Greenwood, lead author of the study appearing in the European Journal of Neuroscience in February. The sedentary rats froze for longer periods of time than any of the active rats.

“The implications are that humans who perceive exercise as being forced - perhaps including those who feel like they have to exercise for health reasons - are maybe still going to get the benefits in terms of reducing anxiety and depression,” he said.