Running from fear: Exercise modulation of fear extinction

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2018 May;151:28-34. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.03.021. Epub 2018 Mar 31.


Extinction-based exposure therapy is the most common behavioral therapy for anxiety and trauma-related disorders, but fear tends to resurface even after successful extinction. Identification of novel strategies to enhance fear extinction and reduce fear relapse is of paramount importance to mental health. Exercise can enhance cognitive function, but it is not yet well understood whether exercise can be an effective augmentation strategy for fear extinction. In the current review, we present the current state of knowledge on the effects of exercise on fear extinction. Effects of exercise duration, explanations for conflicting results, and potential mechanisms, focusing on a hypothesized role for dopamine, are all discussed. We also provide new data suggesting that the timing in which acute exercise occurs relative to fear extinction, is a crucial variable in determining whether exercise can enhance fear extinction. Clinical implications and ideas to guide future research endeavors in this area are provided.

Keywords: Dopamine; Exposure therapy; Fear conditioning; Fear renewal; Voluntary exercise; Wheel running.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Activity
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal*
  • Recurrence
  • Secondary Prevention