Feel Good Formula

Aug 17, 2022

We know that exercise is important for the body, but what about benefits for the mind?

When I was a little kid, I remember my PE teacher dad glowing after working out, 

“Kim!  It seems like exercise is all about this (pointing to his legs, torso and arms), but for me, it's all about this (pointing to his head, with a big smile on his face).” 

A client’s recent vacation-induced suffering jogged my memory of my dad’s bias!

“I started out okay, and tried to at least keep walking every day, but pretty soon I was sitting around way too much.  I ate junky carbs all day long, and drank wine in the evening.  

Yeah, my body felt tired and awful when I got home, but what really got me exercising again was my anxiety!  I felt super stressed about everything and started having trouble sleeping!  

Now, after grunting my way through my squats, rows, and core, I actually feel calm.  What a relief!” 


What’s going on here?   

Picture yourself as a living, breathing on-demand pharmacy.  Our endocrine systems produce chemicals all day long!  

When we get stressed, our cortisol levels rise.  Exercise burns off excess cortisol so we can relax.  Ahhh…

But how about feel-good hormones?

Want more enlivening growth hormones, dopamine, serotonin, and calming endorphins flowing through your system?  

Want to make your own endocannabinoids?

Did I get your attention?  That’s right, endo-cannabinoids

These naturally produced neuromodulators have a biochemical structure similar to cannabis.  They pass right through the blood-brain barrier, reducing anxiety while promoting feelings of calm in their wake.  

Sign me up!

That’s not all, though.  While we’re at it, how about we improve the delivery system of our wonderful “home grown” biochemicals?  

  • Let’s spark the growth of new blood vessels going to the brain!

  • Heck, let’s turn on neurogenesis, and make new brain cells!

  • Yeah, and expand the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and learning!  

All we need to do is get our blood pumping!  Exercise!

“Can that be right?” you may be thinking, doubtfully.  How much exercise?  

The bare minimum exercise prescription is:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (30 minute sessions, 5 days per week)


  • 75 minutes of intense exercise per week (15 minute vigorous sessions, 5 days per week)

“Hmmm…pretty do-able!”

“What should I do during these sessions?”  

I recommend strength training at least 3 times per week to activate the muscles involved in core integration and functional activities such as squatting, hinging, pushing and pulling.  

Any kind of physical activity you enjoy that gets you sweating will round out your program! 

Walking, biking, sports, aerobics, dancing, yard work?  The “that you enjoy” is the active ingredient here!  Getting outdoors provides an added bonus in fresh air and light therapy.

One single, well documented, psychological benefit of exercise continues to stop me in my tracks:

“Exercise has been shown to help alleviate depression and anxiety, proving just as effective as psychotherapy and medication for people with mild to moderate depression.” (emphasis mine) (2) 

Oh, yes!  For those of us prone to anxiety and depression, this benefit alone will keep us working out very regularly!  

Or how about this:

“Exercise is the single best thing one can do to slow the cognitive decline that accompanies normal aging.”

Yes, yes, and yes!  Bring on the good news!    


1 The Truth Behind Runner’s High and Other Mental Benefits of Running, by David J Linden, PhD 

2 NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Sixth Edition, p 548