Updated: Aug 11
By Andrea Seydel Live Life Happy Podcast Shownotes BOOKCLUB
THE JOY OF MOVEMENT: How Exercise helps us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage.
Does exercise have such values, and if so, what are they? Kelly McGonigal has written a fascinating book on the complex links between physical movement, mental health, and prosocial behaviour.
The Joy of Movement illuminates why we feel most alive when in motion, and how exercise builds social connections, both while we’re working out and during the many hours a day that we’re not.
Kelly McGonigal had a project in one of her psychology classes. The project for the course was to take action on something that was important to you but that you had avoided out of fear or self-doubt. She chose to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a group exercise instructor. For Kelly, exercise has, at various times in her life, rescued her from isolation and despair, fostered courage and hope, reminded her how to experience joy, and it gave her a place to belong.
Have you had a dream that mattered so much that you were scared and wanted to run—but chose to stay? A turning point where you said YES to something that you both dreamed about and were terrified by. EXERCISE HAS POWER! Just like Yoga, take a deep breath and stretch beyond your comfort Zone. Like a dance class- that feeling at the beginning of class worried and discouraged but the music and movement would transports you to a state of optimism. Movement has the power to shift a person’s mood. It has the power to send someone back into the world renewed with hope. Movement is a way to practice self-care, an opportunity to tackle challenges, and a place to make friends.
The question of how physical activity contributes to human happiness is the central focus of this book. The psychological effects of movement cannot be reduced to just an endorphin rush. Physical activity influences many other brain chemicals, including those that give you energy, alleviate worry, and help you bond with others. It reduces inflammation in the brain, which over time can protect against depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Regular exercise also remodels the physical structure of your brain to make you more receptive to joy and social connection. During physical activity, muscles secrete hormones into your bloodstream that make your brain more resilient to stress. Scientists call them “hope molecules.”
LET'S RETHINK WHY MOVEMENT MATTERS TO US...
The Persistence High-Movement gives us a boost
Human beings are hardwired to take pleasure in the activities, experiences, and mental states that help us survive.
Physical activity—whether through exercise, exploration, competition, or celebration—makes us happier because it stimulates these instincts.
You've heard of the Runner's High- A similar bliss can be found in any sustained physical activity, whether that’s hiking, swimming, cycling, dancing, or yoga. However, the high emerges only after a significant effort. It seems to be the brain’s way of rewarding you for working hard.
The neurochemical state that makes running gratifying may have originally served as a reward to keep early humans hunting and gathering. Unlocking the runner’s high is not the physical action of running itself, but its continuous moderate intensity. The runner’s high isn’t a running high. It’s a persistence high. Our human inheritance—the ability to persist so we can survive— Endorphins and endocannabinoids are released.
Regular exercisers who replace physical activity with a sedentary activity for two weeks become more anxious, tired, and hostile. IT IS BETTER TO BE PHYSICAL-We are wired for it. We don’t persist so we can get some neurochemical reward; the high is built into our biology so that we can persist.This allows us to chase our goals and keep going even when it’s hard.
Getting Hooked-Movement is rewarding
ACTIVITY: MOVEMENT PING PONG: State form of movement (act it out), state how it makes you feel. Partner Copies form of movement, states how it makes them feel. Then does a new form of movement.
Neuroscientists describe endocannabinoids as the “don’t worry, be happy” chemical, which gives us our first clue about what exactly an exercise high does to your brain.
Areas of the brain that regulate the stress response, including the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, are rich in receptors for endocannabinoids. When endocannabinoid molecules lock into these receptors, they reduce anxiety and induce a state of contentment. Endocannabinoids also increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which further fuels feelings of optimism.
Endocannabinoids aren’t just about not worrying and being happy; they are also about feeling close to others.
ADDICTION: 1. All addictions start in the brain’s reward system, and every drug of abuse—alcohol, cocaine, heroin, nicotine—acts on this system in a similar way. On first use, the drug triggers a flood of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that signals the presence of a reward. Dopamine grabs your attention and commands you to approach, consume, or do whatever set off the surge. 2. Most drugs of abuse also increase other feel-good brain chemicals, like endorphins, serotonin, or noradrenaline. This powerful neurochemical combination is what makes a substance addicting. 3. In some—but not all—ways, physical activity clearly resembles a habit-forming drug. Exercise causes the brain to release many of the same neurochemicals as addictive substances, including dopamine, noradrenaline, endocannabinoids, and endorphins.4. Exercise seems instead to harness the reward system’s ability to learn from experience in a more gradual way. Plus the brain can sense resilience being wired in. 5. Create your own exercise-related anticipatory pleasure. WHAT DO YOU GET EXCITED TO EXPERIENCE? So you can get hooked on movement. What sensations can you relish in?
In the context of this book: The word addict comes from the Latin addictus, meaning both “devoted” and “bound to.” Maybe it is more accurate to think of commitment, not addiction, as the primary function of the reward system. From this view, our ability to get hooked reflects our tendency to get attached. This neurological change—is a boost to the reward system—when we develop an exercise habit.
ACTIVITY: What form of movement do you ENJOY? WHY do you enjoy it? Pay attention to how activities make you feel and how they change you. If you don't have one yet, what movement would you like to get addicted to?
MindMeister: Online Mind Mapping and Brainstorming (link)
Host Andrea Seydel www.andreaseydel.com
Collective Joy-Human Connection is Powerful (Connection)
When physical activity is most psychologically fulfilling, it’s because our participation both reveals the good in us and let's us witness the good in others.
Human beings evolved as social creatures, and we need one another to survive. We crave this feeling of connection, and synchronized movement is one of the most powerful ways to experience it.
The joy of collective effervescence helps explain why fitness friendships and sports teams feel like family; why social movements that include physical movement inspire greater solidarity and hope; and why individuals feel empowered when they join others to walk, run, or ride for a cure.
Collective action reminds us what we are part of, and moving in community reminds us where we belong.
The link between physical activity and social connection offers a compelling reason to be active.
What group movement do you do? How much of your movement is with other people? YOGA CLASSES, ZUMBA CLASSES, GOLF, SEX.
Let Yourself Be Moved-Music is Powerful (Happiness)
As neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote, “When listening to music, we listen with our muscles.” The brain responds to music it enjoys with a powerful adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphin rush, all of which energize effort and alleviate pain.
SENSATION OF EFFORT: For one woman, breathing harder and sweating might be interpreted as meaning I am getting stronger or I am doing something good for my body. To another woman, the same sensations might lead to thoughts of I am too out of shape to do this. When they took a positive view of the sensations of effort, they felt much more pleasure. Music has the power to make people feel more powerful. Connections
Power of music and movement: This truly is one of the greatest thrills of movement: When a piece of music that sounds happy makes us feel happy, so much so that we must move in ways that express happiness—a positive feedback loop that accelerates and amplifies the joyous feelings induced by the song.
What's your power song? What's your energy song? What's your happy song? What happens to you when you listen to these songs?
Music is the energizing force that allows us to feel, express, and connect.
Movement helps us with Overcoming Obstacles (Courage & Hope)
Human beings are also storytellers, and the stories we choose to tell shape how we think about ourselves and the world. One of the most powerful ways that movement can affect us is through its ability to change our most deeply held stories.
Whether it’s by plunging into a pool of muddy water, learning how to hold a headstand, or lifting more weight than you ever thought possible, physical accomplishments can change how you think about yourself and what you are capable of. Do not underestimate how significant such a breakthrough can be.. EG Child learning to ride a bike.
Movement gives us the perception that - Whenever I feel that I’ve reached my limit, I know that there’s more in there. It breaks through a phenomenon known as learned helplessness- when we stop trying to improve our situation in other stressful contexts. Almost like a defeat response to our challenges. Especially in ultra endurance races it's about finding a way for suffering and joy to coexist—that is how humans endure the seemingly unendurable.
Often we are drawn to physical activities that reveal a new side of ourselves. When you move with power, your brain encodes the explosive contraction of muscles, senses the speed of the action, and understands, “I am powerful.” When you move in a way that requires strength, your brain senses the resistance in your muscles and the force on your tendons, and concludes, “I am strong.” Eg. Orange Theory Emiliya.
Movement can encourage and teach us to recruit the built-in neurobiological capacity to persist through pain and fatigue if you know what you are reaching for and believe that what you are doing matters.
Endurance activities like walking, hiking, jogging, running, cycling, and swimming, as well as high-intensity exercise such as interval training, are especially likely to produce a myokinome that supports mental health. Any movement that involves muscular contraction—which is to say, all movement—releases beneficial myokines (protein). The very same muscles that propel your body forward also send proteins to your brain that stimulate the neurochemistry of resilience. ----Going harder, faster, further, or longer— Teaching us GRIT.
ASK YOURSELF: Is there a voice in your head saying, “You’re too old, too awkward, too big, too broken, too weak,” physical sensations from movement can provide a compelling counterargument. WHAT deeply held beliefs about ourselves can be challenged? What form of movement can you do to help you build courage and hope?
Embrace Life- Movement out in nature
Natural environments have the ability to instill feelings of what researchers call prospect—an elevated perspective and hopefulness, often triggered by natural beauty or awe-inspiring views—and refuge, the sense of being sheltered or protected. Moving in nature is powerful.
The human longing to connect with nature is called biophilia, which literally means love of life. The human brain evolved in an environment that was defined by constant contact with and reliance on the natural world.
Scientific research shows that people who make more frequent visits to natural spaces are also more likely to feel that their lives are worthwhile.
QUESTION: What movement can you take out into the natural world? Trail Running
HOPE- the elevating feeling we experience when we see—in the mind’s eye—a path to a better future. When have you said, Wow, that could never be me, but I wish it was! Seek out new experiences and explore new identities.
Look for the goal that makes you light up. Something that, when you complete it, will provide undeniable proof of both your progress and your potential. (Something you've dreamed about, always admired and are terrified by).
QUESTION: In the next week-month, What are you going to commit to?
Movement is intertwined with some of the most basic human joys, including self-expression, social connection, and mastery.
Through the Joy of Movement. We can harness our individual strengths—the abilities to persist, endure, learn, and grow—while simultaneously rousing our instincts to work together.
I hope this book has inspired you to move in ways that bring you joy and meaning.
There are multiple paths to self-discovery and many ways to build community. Yet physical activity stands out in its ability to fulfill so many human needs, and that makes it worth considering as a fundamentally valuable endeavor.
Bottom line: Move. Any kind, any amount, and any way that makes you happy. Move by yourself, and in community. Move in your home. Move outdoors. Move to music or in silence. Seek out new experiences and explore new identities.