PSYC 4021 Psychology and Neuroscience of Exercise

Instructor Contact:

David L. Allen, Ph.D.


Instructor bio:

I received my Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA in Kinesiology, and my Ph.D. in Physiological Science from UCLA as well. I spent the first twenty years of my academic career studying the molecular mechanisms underlying skeletal muscle adaptation to changes in physical activity and diet at UCLA, at the University of Michigan Medical School, and in the Dept. of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. More recently I taught and did research in the Dept. of Integrative Physiology here at CU. Since 2012 I have been a member of the Department of Psychology at CU, where I teach Biological Psychology and The Psychology and Neuroscience of Exercise. I also volunteer in causes designed to increase physical activity in the Boulder community, working as an assistant soccer coach, with Boulder Valley School District to promote active commuting in public schools, and as a volunteer for Community Cycles, a Boulder-based biking advocacy and outreach group. My current research interests center on how factors such as muscle soreness, weather, marijuana use, and technology influence participation in regular physical activity.

Course Description:

Integrative course exploring the social, cognitive, neuroscience and physiological aspects of exercise as it relates to mental health. Examines how psychological and neuroscience research have been used to study how participation in regular physical activity affects mental health and how psychological variables influence participation in, adherence to, enjoyment of, and performance in sports and exercise. Restricted to students with 57-180 credits (Junior or Senior) Psychology (PSYC) majors only. Prereqs., PSYC 2012, 2145 and 2606. Prerequisites: Restricted to students with 57-180 credits.

About the Course:

This course consists of two parts. In Module I, we will study the scientific research examining the effects of physical activity on mental health outcomes, including mood, personality, arousal/stress, and psychiatric disorders. We will explore the different ways in which both physical activity and health outcomes are assessed (and evaluate their pros and cons), as well as examine some of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the influence of physical activity on the brain and body. Evaluation for this section will consist of 9 weekly homework and 9 weekly discussion assignments as well as 9 weekly multiple-choice exams.

In Module II, we will examine some of the factors, including genetics, technology, urban design, social factors, and psychological variables that influence the likelihood of participating in a regular program of physical activity. Again evaluation of student knowledge will consist of 6 weekly homework and 6 weekly discussion assignments and 5 weekly multiple-choice exams.

The online version of this course is very similar to the regular in-class version of PSYC 4021. Similar to the in-class version, the primary source of information is the narrated PowerPoints, which are provided online and can be accessed as needed by online students. In addition, all homework assignments are acquired and submitted online using the course content and dropbox features, respectively, of Desire2Learn. In order to foster interaction and engagement, there will be weekly online discussions. Dr. Allen will help foster these discussions and participation in them will contribute to a student’s overall grade.


The purpose of this class is to learn how the principles of psychological research have been used to study how exercise and physical activity impact mental health and how psychological variables influence participation in, enjoyment of, and performance in physical activity and exercise.

During this class, we will explore the scientific research on the mental health benefits and consequences of participation in regular physical activity and the various biopsychological mechanisms, variables, and models influencing participation in regular physical activity. By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • Identify the different types of scientific studies used to study physical activity and mental health, and be able to discuss the pros and cons of each.
  • Determine the quantitative methods used for evaluating physical activity and mental health in scientific studies, and be able to discuss the pros and cons of each.
  • Explain how exercise and physical activity participation affect cognition, mood, and personality.
  • Outline how exercise and physical activity may alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and addiction.
  • Recognize the role of specific brain regions, neural structures, and neurochemical changes involved in behavioral adaptations to exercise.
  • Identify the effects of different activity-related variables such as type, intensity, frequency, and duration of activity on cognition, mood, personality, stress reduction, and decreased likelihood of psychiatric disorders.
  • Describe the role of motivation, technology, evolutionary forces, and social influences on participation in and adherence to a program of regular physical activity.
  • Compare and contrast the different psychological theories and models describing physical activity behavior.
  • Summarize the relationship between exercise and physical activity and adverse health outcomes such as exercise addiction, eating disorders, body dismorphic disorders, and susceptibility to, and recovery from, injury.
  • Critically evaluate the pros and cons of different intervention approaches to increasing physical activity behavior.

In addition, completion of this course will also provide the additional benefits and skills:

  • Greater insight into your own physical activity behavior and that of your classmates, friends, and peers.
  • Hands-on experience taking and critically evaluating questionnaires, inventories, and other data collection methods used in exercise psychology research.
  • Enhanced critical thinking skills for evaluating data and results from scientific research.
  • Knowledge regarding federal recommendations on physical activity levels for different age populations and statistics that may help you to positively influence the activity levels of yourself and people around you.
  • Experience identifying barriers to physical activity in different populations and identification of practical mechanisms for overcoming them that may help you to positively influence the activity levels of yourself and others.
  • Practical knowledge evaluating the feasibility and cost of interventions to increase physical activity on a variety of levels (individual, social, environmental, etc.).
  • Practical knowledge about physical activity that may assist you in your career as a mental health worker or therapist, educator, health-care professional, fitness professional, coach, trainer, physical education teacher, gym manager, etc.

Required Texts:

No required text

Grading Evaluation:

Your final grade will be based upon a total of 600 possible points broken down as follows:

  • 390 points – 13 Multiple Choice Exams
  • 140 points – 14 Weekly Homework Assignments
  • 70 points – 14 Weekly Online Discussions

Now that you’ve selected your favorite Continuing Education courses, email or print the information, including class number, to more easily search Buff Portal and enroll. Still have questions? Contact an advisor.


Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado