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Book Review: 'The Real Happy Pill' by Anders Hansen

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

A review of The Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain By Moving Your Body by Swedish physician and psychiatrist Anders Hansen

Anders Hansen, a physician and psychiatrist from Stockholm, Sweden, takes the slightly unusual stance in the world of psychology that we can and should run away from our stress – literally. Research has long supported the hypothesis that regular physical exercise leads to greater physical fitness. Hansen takes this a step further and highlights the positive effect physical exercise has on the brain.

This book provides further evidence to support the effectiveness of physical exercise, with the aid of additional neuroscientific evidence, as a support mechanism when coping with the stress and anxiety of everyday life. By engaging in regular physical exercise, Hansen states, you may even improve your cognitive functioning across your lifetime.

Hansen explore the finite details of the brain- body interaction in a way that is both easy to understanding and powerful. Crucially, Hansen explains the relationship between brain cells, neuronal signalling and hormone release in the context, firstly, of stress responses produced by artificial stressors and secondly by physical exercise. Most importantly, Hansen highlights how relevant these context changes are to stress, and how these neurological changes can impact all aspects of our cognitive functioning; including concentration, memory consolidation, memory recall and overall stress tolerance.

Whilst examining the power of exercise for stress and anxiety, Hansen also offers positive advice surrounding the benefits of physical activity for other mental health conditions, including depression, ADHD and panic attacks.

Hansen gives a wide range of clinical case studies that support these findings, and clearly explains for the general reader how they can reap the benefits of physical exercise. Examining the role of physical activity across the lifespan, Hansen discusses the key role exercise has during the latter stages of life and the protection it provides against prematurely aging and some health conditions. He also discusses this in his TEDx Talk on 'Why the Brain is Built for Movement.'

Critical, from a clinical perspective, is Hansen’s debate on the use of medication versus physical exercise to treat and manage stress and anxiety. Hansen explores how the use of common medical intervention for stress and anxiety, focusing on how they can negatively affect brain chemistry over time, and can cause great consequences in the long-term.

This book is brilliant for anyone wishing to learn more about the neuroscientific relationship between their brain and their body, and simple changes to their daily life to reduce stress and anxiety and create the space necessary to flourish. Simple but effective, Hansen shows that sustained exercise can positively support cognitive functioning and mental well-being across the lifetime. Hansen also advocates for increased use of physical exercise in a clinical context, and argues that it should be promoted more as a primary form of treatment above short-term solutions such as medication. As Hansen says, “Do you feel down in the dumps, even if you are not depressed? Then get out and run!” That, he concludes, is the right prescription for the brain.

Reviewed by Studio 3 Assistant Psychologist Chelsea Smart


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