Limbic Medical

The Benefits of Ketamine and Exercise


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“Take a walk” is essentially what physicians have been prescribing for hundreds of years. The Greek physician and father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, deemed walking to be man’s best medicine.

Whether he knew it then or not, exercise not only has great effects on the body, but the mind as well. We know that exercise provides great cardiovascular, weight management, muscle prevention and overall health benefits. Exercise also has significant effects on the brain, helping to regulate mood and mental health.

We also know that ketamine has a well-documented positive effect on mood and mental health, and there are even preliminary findings that suggest exercise and ketamine together may provide better mental health benefits than either one alone. Let’s dive deeper.

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Physical activity is associated with the release of endorphins – neurotransmitters released in the brain that alleviate pain, improve mood, reduce stress, and produce an overall state of happiness and contentment. These endorphins are sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high” due to the pleasant feelings produced during or shortly after exercise.1

But exercise also has important health benefits for the brain, including helping to regulate our mood. Physical activity is associated with the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters released in the brain that alleviate pain, improve mood, reduce stress, and produce an overall state of happiness and contentment. These endorphins are sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high” due to the pleasant feelings produced during or shortly after exercise.1

Even a short 20-minute exercise session can enhance self-esteem, increase positive feelings, fight depression and sharpen our ability to concentrate. Over the long term, individuals who incorporate exercise into their daily or weekly routines enjoy continued mental health advantages. Exercise plays a pivotal role in regulating stress hormones and facilitating the release of “anti-depressive acids” into the bloodstream, which continues to deliver positive effects up to a full day after a workout.2

“These [studies] have shown that exercise alleviates negative as well as enhances positive mood states, with effects occurring immediately after and lasting up to one day post-exercise cessation”2

Consistency in a fitness routine, involving at least one hour, three times a week, for a duration of eight weeks or more, may even result in a permanent increase in dopamine receptors. This is particularly relevant as we age, because aging can make our brain’s reward systems less responsive. With regular exercise, we can help prolong the functioning of the brain’s reward system, and with it our positive mental health.1

Mental Health Benefits of Ketamine

While the positive effects of exercise on mental health have been understood for some time, ketamine has only recently (within the last 20 years) been discovered to be a viable mental health treatment for depression. Ketamine is primarily used as an anesthetic. As an anesthetic, it produces dissociative properties, which are useful to prevent the body from feeling pain.

These dissociative properties also produce a positive effect on mood – and a rapid effect, at that. Ketamine has generated a lot of excitement in researchers and clinicians ever since researchers first showed that ketamine alleviated depression in a matter of hours.3

Compared to antidepressants, which take several weeks to begin working, ketamine seemed lightning fast. Even better, ketamine has been shown to work on treatment-resistant depression, where patients have failed to respond to multiple other treatments. Ketamine’s fast-acting nature and its ability to treat more difficult cases of treatment-resistant depression helped it quickly find acceptance as a mental health treatment.

How Ketamine Works In the Brain

Ketamine’s remarkable results are tied to the unique way it works to produce its effect on the body. Ketamine works differently than antidepressants – or activities like exercise – that impact neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Instead, ketamine acts on glutamate, a chemical messenger in the brain.

Glutamate plays an important role in the changes synapses undergo in response to experiences such as learning and memory. In new research, ketamine was discovered to first induce changes in brain circuit function, thereby improving depression behavior within hours, and only later stimulating regrowth of synapses.3

In short, ketamine works through a different functional mechanism than other common antidepressant treatments, making it a highly effective depression treatment, even for cases of treatment-resistant depression.

Ketamine and Exercise: A Powerful Combination

For many reasons, we recommend patients take advantage of the benefits of exercise and ketamine together. While ketamine is a powerful treatment for depression, it is not a substitute for regular exercise. Ketamine and exercise are complementary. Ketamine can produce a rapid change in mood and depressive symptoms; exercise can maintain and stabilize those positive benefits over the long-term.

Ketamine and exercise both deliver positive effects across multiple body systems simultaneously, boosting overall health and mood. Exercise produces endorphins and dopamine that create pleasant sensations and activate the reward mechanisms in the brain. Ketamine creates a window of neuroplasticity, making the brain amenable to change and responsive to outside stimuli – including the positive reinforcement mechanisms from exercise. By harnessing the power of both ketamine and exercise together, we create a powerful force for change and healing in the body and mind.

A Whole-Body Approach to Depression Management

At Limbic Medical, we strive to help every patient achieve life-changing, transformative relief from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health disorders. We take a whole-body approach to evaluating the patient’s condition, including looking at factors outside the scope of traditional medicine such as exercise, healthy eating, and supportive systems such as work, family, school, and friends.

Dr. Atoian skillfully administers ketamine infusions in the Los Angeles area, in combination with other aspects of treatment to create a care plan unique and customized for your specific needs.

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD or related mood disorders, contact us today to schedule a consultation and start the path to healing.


1. McGonigal, Kelly. “Five Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain.” Greater Good Science Center, 6 January 2020

2. Basso, Julia C., and Wendy A. Suzuki. “The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review.” NCBI, 13 February 2017

3. Makin, Simon. “Behind the Buzz: How Ketamine Changes the Depressed Patient’s Brain.” Scientific American, 12 April 2019