Move Your Body and Brain into Joy and Power: Neuroscience Explains the Link between Movement and Mental Health

Optimism. Hope. Joy. Purpose. Connection.

How is it that exercise creates these feelings? We now know that it’s more than endorphins and blood flow to the brain.

It’s a blissful mix of neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and endocannabinoids too. Exercise not only stimulates immediate elevations in mood and decreased pain, but it leads to long term structural changes in the brain and nervous system, resulting in more resilience to stress and receptivity to joy over a lifetime.

Endocannabinoids are the wonder drugs our own bodies make in response to exercise. They decrease anxiety, depression, and pain. Exercise leads to an increase in endocannabinoid receptors in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, resulting in greater feelings of joy, bliss, connection to nature and to others. We feel more connected, eager to share and to cooperate. We sense greater meaning and purpose in life.

Each decade we lose approximately 13% of dopamine receptors in our brain; exercise helps reverse this trend. More receptors means more sensitivity to feelings of joy and freedom from pain physically and mentally over a lifetime.

Every time we move, we create a shower of chemical messengers, in the brain and nervous system. These include adrenaline, epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), leading us to have sharper attention, focus, reaction time, and memory. These effects are both immediate, and cumulative over time.

When we exercise, our muscles release myokines, chemical messengers which cross the blood brain barrier (BBB), leading the brain to release BDNF. The liver responds to exercise by releasing the ketone, beta hydroxybutyrate, which crosses the BBB to also stimulate BDNF. Brain derived neurotrophic factor is like Miracle Gro for the brain! It leads to the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis), and faster transmission of nerve signals (via synaptogenesis and myelination). This all amounts to bigger, better brains and nervous systems when we move!

Dr. Wendy Suzuki, professor of Neural Science, documented in her research lab that one thirty minute bout of exercise has immediate effects on:

  1. mood; decreasing depression, anxiety and hostility.
  2. perception of feeling energized
  3. attention and focus (prefrontal cortex)
  4. increased reaction time and cognitive motor function.

Enjoy moving and feeling better fast! It’s empowering to know the effect that our movement has on our neurotransmitters, our immediate quality of life, and our long term brain structure, function, and health. Bonus points accumulate for walking in nature, going with a friend, or listening to music.

Move yourself into joy, and share it forward.

Enjoy your power to create health and vitality.

Best to all,


Disclaimer; Coaching services and information on this site include education, guidance and tips on primal living and generally healthy movement.  I am not a medical doctor and services are not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription that a physician, licensed dietitian, physical therapist or health care professional might recommend.

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