The Joy of Movement | Kelly McGonigal

Summary of: The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage
By: Kelly McGonigal


Dive into the fascinating world of ‘The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage’ by Kelly McGonigal, and discover how engaging in physical activities can bring not just physical benefits but also emotional and social perks. This book explores the runner’s high phenomenon, addiction to exercise, the power of synchronized movement, the impact of music on our workouts, overcoming fears through physical challenges, the benefits of exercising outdoors, and the role of endurance sports in building resilience. Delve into a wealth of scientific research and anecdotes that shine a light on the incredible mental and emotional rewards of exercise.

The Science Behind the Runner’s High

The runner’s high is a feeling of elation and bliss that follows a prolonged period of exercise. Recent studies show that the brain chemicals associated with the runner’s high are similar to those released by cannabis. These chemicals, called endocannabinoids, lessen pain, boost mood, and trigger additional neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins, which protect against anxiety and depression. Endocannabinoids also make us more social and cooperative. The runner’s high is not confined to running; it appears after all kinds of moderately exhausting physical activity. The latest theory suggests that the persistence high evolved to keep our early ancestors hunting and gathering for longer periods of time and made them more willing to share their spoils with the tribe.

Exercise Addiction

The addictive nature of exercise can be linked to the brain’s reward system, which releases feel-good chemicals like endocannabinoids, dopamine, endorphins, and noradrenaline while exercising. Exercise dependence can cause anxiety, irritability, depression, and insomnia when a workout is missed. Regularly engaging in physical activity slowly changes the brain’s chemistry, making individuals more sensitive to its positive effects. Studies show that mice tend to get hooked on exercise after six weeks of regular exercise, and humans after exercising four times a week for six weeks. Exercise addiction differs from other addictions in that it takes longer for the brain to get hooked on exercise, and instead of making individuals less sensitive to its positive effects, it makes them more sensitive to them.

The Power of Synchronized Movement

Over the ages, people have always moved together, promoting a sense of connectedness to both others and something greater. Recent fitness crazes such as Tae Bo and SoulCycling have incorporated synchronized movement and built a sense of community. Human reflexes align our movements with those around us, resulting in a “collective effervescence,” a shared joyous experience of self-transcendence. This is because synchronizing activity with others helps us leave our egos behind and bond with people, regardless of their relationship to us. This bonding effect is demonstrated in babies as young as fourteen months, who are more likely to help a stranger who they have synchronized movement with. Synchronized movement should be employed more in social, religious, and military rituals, as it transcends our individual limitations and builds mutual trust.

The Power of Music in Enhancing Physical Performance

Music has long been described as ergogenic, or work-enhancing, and science backs up this claim. Listening to music during workouts can increase endurance and deliver an extra burst of feel-good chemicals during exercise. The best workout songs have strong, energetic beats, a tempo of 120 to 140 beats per minute, and motivational lyrics. Upbeat melodies and inspirational lyrics have the power to help people frame physical discomfort in a more positive way. The deep-seated urge to move to music has even led to medical miracles. Music therapy has been used to access muscle memory and help people learn to walk again.

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