Although exercise is known to promote mental health, a satisfactory understanding of the mechanism underlying this phenomenon has not yet been achieved. A new mechanism is proposed that is based on established concepts in cognitive psychology and the neurosciences as well as recent empirical work on the functional neuroanatomy of higher mental processes. Building on the fundamental principle that processing in the brain is competitive and the fact that the brain has finite metabolic resources, the transient hypofrontality hypothesis suggests that during exercise the extensive neural activation required to run motor patterns, assimilate sensory inputs, and coordinate autonomic regulation results in a concomitant transient decrease of neural activity in brain structures, such as the prefrontal cortex, that are not pertinent to performing the exercise. An exercise-induced state of frontal hypofunction can provide a coherent account of the influences of exercise on emotion and cognition. The new hypothesis is proposed primarily on the strength of its heuristic value, as it suggests several new avenues of research.