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Combining neuromodulation and physical exercise to improve stress recovery

Stress is considered the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” by the World Health Organization, which indicates an urgent need for stress-reducing methods. Indeed, stress is a normal reaction to challenging situations, but individuals should be able to recover quickly since prolonged stress is associated with psychiatric disorders. In particular, stress could be maintained by perseverative cognition, that is thoughts that are difficult to suppress and mentally represent the stressors (rumination about the past and worry about the future). When, for example, an individual applies for an interesting job, but is informed that (s)he was not selected for the position, perseverative cognition can arise, such as “why did I answer this way during the interview” or “I will never find such an interesting job again”. Stress and hence perseverative cognition are linked to the inability of the body, especially the brain and the part of the nervous system controlling the heart, to adapt to changes in the environment. Two methods are effective to improve this skill, each of them targeting a different part of the system underlying stress recovery: physical exercise (bottom-up technique) and neuromodulation by transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (that is application of a weak current that facilitates the activity of the brain but does not trigger it; top-down technique). In this project, we aim at combining these two methods to assess their potential synergistic effect on recovery from stress (using psychological and physiological variables impacted by stress) and investigate if this effect is grounded on physiological changes.

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