The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal [Book Summary – Review]


If you’re a person who exercises on a regular basis, you might have noticed how the advantages of working out carry over into daily life. For instance, Yoga can teach a person how to take a deep breath in difficult circumstances. From dancing, we get to know that a good mood can be contagious. Also, a difficult cardio session lets us know that a racing heart isn’t usually an indication of terror. 

Also, that isn’t all: one good exercise can immediately transform your mood, make you feel powerful and more confident, and bring you closer to the individuals you work out with. The mental health advantages of working out are unquestionable, and they apply if your favorite exercise is running, lifting weight, or swimming; whether you’re an amateur or a pro athlete. 

These book chapters will explain how and the reason why exercise has an effect on your mood, your self-perception and your sense of purpose – and reveal to you that movement is a vital component factor in the happiness of humanity. In the end, you’ll get all the more reason and motivation to continue moving. 

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Chapter 1 – The high we feel from physical exercise is an olden mechanism assisting us to flourish, endure, and socialize. 


As early as the year 1885, Alexander Bain a Scottish philosopher explained what we now refer to as the “runner’s high”: the sense of pleasure and euphoria that kicks in after a long time of jogging. Bain compared this high to a spiritual feeling; however, other people have likened it to falling in love, and the impacts of various types of mind-altering medicines.

Curiously, from a neurological perspective, the medicine that the runner’s high comes related to is cannabis. Current studies have demonstrated that the long run extremely rises levels of endocannabinoids in our brains. These are a group of chemicals, and cannabis copies the impacts of them on the brain. Endocannabinoids are well known for minimizing pain, enhancing mood, and activating additional feel-good chemicals and neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine.

Also, Endocannabinoids help safeguards us against anxiety as well as depression. For instance, Rimonabant, a weight-loss medicine, was made to subdue appetite by obstructing endocannabinoid receptors. Rather, in clinical trials, it led to intense rises in anxiety and depression, even causing about four suicides, and was prohibited for life. On the other hand, a current study revealed that only 30 minutes of workout can make individuals immune to the extreme anxiety produced by the drug CCK-4. In this research, the consequence of workout was the same as using a sedative-like Ativan. 



Also, that’s not everything: endocannabinoids make us become more social as well. In a study that was done by researchers at the Sapienza University of Rome, people who worked out for 30 minutes before playing a social game were very more generous and cooperative than people who didn’t work out. Initiatives such as GoodGym in London control the social energy produced by exercise: they plan communal runs that make volunteers do different kinds of social projects in their societies, like going to visit socially isolated elderly people. 

Fortunately for some of us who’d instead eat a broom than run a distance across the block, the runner’s high is not limited to running. It is confirmed to appear after different types of moderately draining physical activity that takes above 20 minutes, maybe that’s speed-walking, swimming or cycling. Hence, the burst of brain chemicals from a long workout might be more precisely referred to as a “persistence high.”

What is the reason why would our brains make us feel really good about tiring our bodies? The newest theory traces this situation back to our olden forefathers. It’s possible that the persistence high developed to keep us hunting and gathering for a longer time, allowing us more likely to get food and live. Also, the increased willingness to work together and share after physical exercise could as well have had an evolutionary advantage: it made hunters very likely to share their plunder with the community.


Chapter 2 – The brain of humans can get addicted to working out in a manner that looks like a drug addiction –however, with much more positive results.


When researchers initially began examining the phenomenon of “exercise dependence” during the late 1960s, they got into a huge issue. Regardless of the amount of money they gave, they couldn’t get any normal exercisers ready to understand what would occur if they stopped working out for a bit. Also, if they actually signed up, participants had a tendency to cheat and lie, lying they hadn’t exercised when they had.

This story shows that the “persistence high” individuals gain from endurance sports isn’t the only manner work out can be compared to drugs. Since it triggers our brain’s reward system in related manners to drugs such as cocaine and heroin – inciting the production of feel-good chemicals such as endocannabinoids, dopamine, endorphins, and noradrenaline –normal physical activity can be only as addictive as those drugs. 



For instance, self-described workout addicts, not exercising for a day can increase anxiety and anger. Also, after several days of not exercising, a lot of them describe signs of insomnia and depression. Also, they show the exact same attentional bias as other addicts: when shown pictures of people exercising, the brain of an exercise addict flares up in an exact manner as when you display cigarettes to a person that smokes. 

But, there are some significant manners whereby exercise dependence varies from other habit-forming addictions. Firstly, our brain takes more time to get hooked on workout than on drugs, since the chemical changes that work out effect in our brain are less extreme and occur very slowly.

For instance, mice who are made to work out daily for two weeks do not have signs of exercise addiction later on. However, six weeks after, something in their brain appears to flip, and even without anybody making it mandatory or rewarding them, they can barely stop running. Related research on humans reveals that we have the tendency to get hooked on exercise after working out four times a week for six weeks. 

Similar to other drugs, frequently becoming “high” on exercising gradually transforms the chemical make up of your brain. However, the good thing is that rather than making you less sensitive to its positive impacts, as it occurs with chemical drugs, consistent workout makes you more sensitive to them. This occurs since workout raises the receptors for endocannabinoids in your brain and it makes dopamine cells more receptive. This is the reason why very different from drugs, the more you work out, the better you feel about working out. 


Chapter 3 – Humans are hardwired to get satisfaction from a synchronized workout. 


Fitness crazes change; however, if you notice them well, you will find out that a lot of current workout trends share a related format: they supercharge an already present activity by including synchronized movement as well as community spirit.

For instance, think of Tae Bo, which includes features of dance choreography to boxing, or SoulCycling, which brings a social, nearly spiritual, feature to the single sport of indoor cycling.

Since the start of history, human beings have assembled to move together. First of all, in all types of social, pagan, or religious ceremonies; these days, in group exercise classes. As anthropologists have noticed in the entire universe, moving in unison appears to make individuals feel more connected – to one another; however, also to a thing more than themselves. Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist referred to the joyful self-transcendence humans can get from moving  with each other “collective effervescence.”

Synchrony looks to be the main element in generating that kind of collective joy. As a matter of fact, synchronizing exercise with other people looks to be an older human reflex. For instance, when we feel close to someone, our heartbeats, breathing, as well as our brain activity have a tendency to automatically align themselves. Also, we are really better at synchronizing with someone’s else slightly irregular beat than with flawless computer-generated rhythm.

The explanation of why this has a really strong effect on our psyche can be described through a process known as proprioception, by which our brain feels what our body is doing in space. When we make move, our body is regularly conveying feedback to our brain about the movement. Also, when we see other people doing the exact movements that we feel ourselves performing, our brain assimilates these feelings into a really pleasant perception of oneness. As your fellow individuals start to look like a part of yourself, you as well get more likely to share and work together with them.



The bonding effect of moving in synchrony can be seen in babies as little as A year and 2 months old. A study revealed that babies are very more likely to assist a stranger to pick up dropped pencils after they had bounced to music in sync with that stranger. 

Transforming our personal boundaries and developing mutual trust appears to be the key functions of synchronized movement, and it’s most likely the reason why humans use it in a lot of religious, social, or military ceremonies. May it’s a hunter-gatherer community doing a dance routine or college students in a pilates class, synchronized movement assists us to put our egos behind and connect with people we are not related to. 


Chapter 4 – Music is a performance-enhancing medication. 


Some workout scientists could persuasively claim that, in the year 1988, when Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia broke the world record on the 2000 meter race during a US running contest, he was really on a performance-enhancing medication. Earlier that day, Gebrselassie had succeeded to persuade event organizers to play the pop song titled “Scatman” during the race – one of his best songs, and the song he had practiced with. When he listened to the conversant upbeat melody play over the huge stadium speakers, Gebrselassie was capable of running faster than he had ever run before.

The influence of music to push us above our physical boundaries can barely be exaggerated. For a long time, Musicologists have labeled music as ergogenic, or work-enhancing, and science is looking for further proof to support this assertion. A current study discovered that people who listen to songs while working out uses less oxygen than the people who don’t. Also,  even patients that have high blood pressure last 51 seconds longer while doing a cardiovascular stress test when they are permitted to run on the treadmill to their best songs.

Costas Karageorghis has made a profession out of the performance-enhancing abilities of music: his work is to curate exercise playlists for some of the world’s top athletes. A skilled sports psychologist, he mentions that the perfect exercise songs often possess a powerful, energetic beat, a tempo of 120 to 140 beats each minute and motivational lyrics that comprise of phrases like “work,” “go,” or “run.” For example, Eminem’s “Till I Collapse,” considered to be the most famous exercise song of all time, ticks nearly these entire boxes.



That kind of positive, conversant song has the influence to give us a more burst of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, and adrenaline, during our exercise. Also, Upbeat songs and inspirational lyrics can assist us to frame physical uneasiness in a more positive manner.

Humans’ deep-rooted impulse to dance to music has brought about medical miracles as well. Oliver Sacks a well-known loved to narrate the story of a woman whose leg became paralyzed after a difficult bone fracture. Doctors thought that the connection between her leg muscles and her spinal cord had been totally cut, still, when she listened to her beg Irish jig, her foot unexpectedly began tapping. The woman learned to walk once again, accessing muscle memory with music therapy


Chapter 5 – Work out can basically transform our opinion of ourselves. 


At Tough Mudder, a yearly obstacle marathon that now occurs in the entire world, participants confront scary physical obstacles with names like “Arctic Enema,” “Boa Constrictor,” or “Ladder to Hell.” For the last obstacle on the course, “Electroshock Therapy,” participants must run through curtains of wires electrified with up to 10,000 volts.

You might question yourself, the reason why anybody would want to put themselves through that kind of torture?

Well, confronting our fears by defeating physical hurdles can totally change our knowledge of what we are able to do– and get a great source of empowerment. The self-stated aim of the people who devise the Tough Mudder obstacles is not to torture people; however, to form challenges that motivate them to defeat popular fears – of height, cold, of confined spaces – and give them a sense of comradery, bravery, and confidence.



Psychologically, the main thing to changing fear into bravery looks to be providing subjects an element of control. In an experiment, when rats are shocked by the researcher with no power over when or the duration the shocks are given, they get helpless, disturbed, and depressed. However, when they are offered the control to switch off the shocks by turning a wheel, they bravely learn how to do that– and get more resilient to forthcoming stress in the process.

Likewise, humans develop with their challenges. DPI Adaptive Fitness in Fairfax, Virginia, is a gym focusing on training the people that have physical constraints or disabilities. At first, when trainees come in, their trainer inspires them to set a really high goal for themselves that a lot assume that they will never accomplish it. 

For instance, when Joana Bonilla first got to DPI, she had recently lost the use of her legs as a result of autoimmune disease lupus. She believed that she would drive again. With her trainer, she set the aim of being able to throw 100 punches within 30 seconds, which would assist her to grow sufficient upper body strength to raise herself from her wheelchair into a car. Within only three months of training, Joana was able to achieve her aim, and only a few weeks after, she got a new car.

Because your body is sending feedback to your brain all the time, learning an uneasy, impossible-seeming physical challenge can actually change your sense of self. For instance, doing a strong feat conveys a message to your brain that you are strong. By doing that, a workout can challenge even our most extremely held opinions about ourselves – as a lot of DPI trainees can prove.


Chapter 6 – “Green exercise” taps into the olden human yearning to connect with nature.


Now that you’ve known about the various positive impacts that movement possesses on our mental health, would you want to understand what’s better for your brain than workout? 

Working out outside! 

Nature has the ability to fill us with marvel and wonder, offer a sense of belonging, and make us more conscious. Together with exercise, it has great positive impacts on our mental health. For instance, in only five minutes of “green exercise,” as it’s at times referred to, people report key positive transformations in their mood and view. 

If you’re thinking the reason why, just bear in mind that the human brain grew over a long period of time, whereby, humans used most outdoors running, walking, and hunting for food.

Certainly, brain scans reveal that our default brain state is different outdoors than it is indoors. Indoors, which is where Americans now use average 93% of their time, our default state reveals activation in the brain regions in charge of language, memory, and social interaction, and moderately leans toward negativity – which is the reason we’re very likely to participate in rumination, self-criticism, or worry indoors. 

However, when we’re in nature, our default brain state more closely looks like the cool, disconnected state accomplished by skilled meditators. We feel less anxiety, are more conscious of our environment and move into a state researchers refer to as soft fascination. 



Alexandra Rosati, a Psychologist assumes that these two distinct states of the human brain – indoors and outdoors, ruminating and mindful – relate to two various kinds of cognition that were vital to our forefathers’ survival. The ruminating state is the result of the development of social cognition, our capacity to think about others and work together in small groups. The mindful state originates from foraging cognition, our capacity to be conscious when gathering and hunting for food. Naturally, the former is best shown when we are outdoors.

Individuals that feel connected to nature have a tendency to use more time in this foraging condition, and maybe, as a result, feel more life contentment, purpose, and happiness. Also, they are less likely to get depressed and anxious. 

The Green Gym initiative in the UK utilizes the joy we get from movement and nature by sending volunteers to do nature-based work with a social focus, like planting community gardens. Researchers at the University of Westminster revealed that eight weeks after the program, volunteers at Green Gym volunteers recorded a 20% rise in their cortisol awakening reaction– the hormonal enhancement that keeps us up and going in the morning, and which is usually suppressed in people that are depressed people.


Chapter 7 – Enduring physical difficulties teaches mental strength. 


If running a marathon isn’t that difficult for you, you can partake in an ultramarathon as well – that’s a kind of marathon lasting more than six hours, although some of the ultramarathons can last many weeks. For instance, The Iditarod Trail Invitational comprises skiing, biking and walking through Alaskan blizzards for up to thirty days.

Since the year 1980, the number of Americans who have finished that kind of intense endurance feats increased from 650 to 79,000 in 2017. What makes people do these wild adventures? 

According to Shawn Bearden, presenter of a famous podcast on ultrarunning, endurance sport was a means out of his depression. He describes that training his body to endure that kind of intense physical difficulty is a means to develop mental strength that carries over to other aspects of his life. For instance, during the race, Bearden attempts to concentrate on the current instance and takes strength from thinking about the people he loves–abilities that have assisted him to deal with his depression, too 

Endurance athletes such as Bearden do not essentially look for their sport since they are very resilient; however since the sport teaches them to become very resilient. As a matter of fact, histories of anxiety, addiction and are prevalent among the world’s top ultrarunners. 



In the year 2015, when researchers observed athletes competing in the Yukon Arctic Ultra, they discovered that the athletes’ skill to continue through intense situations was associated with extremely high levels of the hormone irisin. Irisin is well-known for assisting our bodies to burn fat as fuel; however, it arouses the brain’s reward system as well, serving as a natural motivation-enhancer and antidepressant. Irisin present in the bloodstreams of participating athletes was extremely raised before the marathon and increased even more during the marathon

Irisin is part of a class of proteins known as myokines, which are produced by our muscles during exercise. Myokines are known to enhance our physical as well as cognitive performance, lessen pain, decrease depression and inflammation, and kill cancer cells as well. Since they can defend the brain from some kinds of neurodegenerative symptoms of disorders like depression and Parkinson’s, scientists have begun referring to these helpful proteins “hope molecules.”

Working out at that kind of high intensity and volume as intense endurance athletes can arouse intense outbursts of myokine release. However, you don’t have to be an ultrarunner to harness the positive influences of the hope molecules: one hour of biking is sufficient to produce nearly 35 various myokines into your bloodstream. 

As this summary has hopefully revealed, the various advantages of physical activity are available to every one of us. As humans, we are hardwired to get joy in movement.


The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage by Kelly McGonigal Book Review


For human beings, the advantaged of workout extend far above enhancing our physical health. As a result of our evolutionary history as hunters and gatherers, the brain of humans is hardwired to get a job, purpose, and a sense of belonging from exercise–particularly if that exercise happens to music, in nature, or together with others. The various brain chemicals produced during a workout have been proven to minimize anxiety and depression, lessen the physical and mental signs of different sicknesses, and make us more likely to trust and help one other.


Just move!

If you remove one piece of motivation from these book chapters, it should be this: keep moving! Regardless of your age, physical constraints or fitness level, you as well can feel the happiness from moving your body –all you require is to get the appropriate workout to do, at the appropriate amount, and for the appropriate amount of time. If sweating in the gym is not a thing for you, why not plan for a weekly walk in the park? Or if walking is not your choice, dance to a good song from time to time. 



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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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