Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Stress Resilience & Exercise

This is a story about a mouse study, but because so many parallel discoveries have been made in brain research on rodents and humans, findings from rodent research are likely applicable to lawyers and law students.

Galanin is a protein that is implicated in mood disorders, stress, sleep, cognitive performance, and regulation of food intake.  Evidence suggests galanin is neuroprotective, increasing the birth of new brain cells and protecting existing brain cells, in the memory-processing hippocampus.  Regular exercise increases the brain’s resilience to stress, probably in part due to its capacity to increase galanin. 

Researchers measured anxious behaviors and galanin levels in mice 24-hours after a stressful event.  The mice with access to a running wheel for the three previous weeks exhibited fewer anxious behaviors, and had higher galanin levels in the primitive brainstem, than mice that did not exercise.  The amount of voluntary wheel-running in the 3rd week correlated with the quantity of galanin and the degree of stress resilience. 

Takeaway:  Regular exercise increases stress resilience, and it may take up to 3 weeks to experience the full benefits. 


Debra S. Austin, Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die from Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loy. L. Rev. 791, 823-825  (2013), online at

Jerrold S. Meyer and Linda F. Quenzer, Psychopharmacology: Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior 3d Ed. 627-628 (2019).

Rachel P. Tillage, Genevieve E. Wilson, L. Cameron Liles, Philip V. Holmes and David Weinshenker, Chronic Environmental or Genetic Elevation of Galanin in Noradrenergic Neurons Confers Stress Resilience in Mice, Journal of Neuroscience, 31 August 2020, JN-RM-0973-20; DOI:

Neuroscience News, Brainstem Protein Mediates Exercise-Based Stress Relief, Aug 31, 2020,

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