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

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The bestselling author of The Willpower Instinct introduces a surprising science-based book that doesn't tell us why we should exercise but instead shows us how to fall in love with movement. Exercise is health-enhancing and life-extending, yet many of us feel it's a chore. But, as Kelly McGonigal reveals, it doesn't have to be. Movement can and should be a source The bestselling author of The Willpower Instinct introduces a surprising science-based book that doesn't tell us why we should exercise but instead shows us how to fall in love with movement. Exercise is health-enhancing and life-extending, yet many of us feel it's a chore. But, as Kelly McGonigal reveals, it doesn't have to be. Movement can and should be a source of joy. Through her trademark blend of science and storytelling, McGonigal draws on insights from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, as well as memoirs, ethnographies, and philosophers. She shows how movement is intertwined with some of the most basic human joys, including self-expression, social connection, and mastery--and why it is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. McGonigal tells the stories of people who have found fulfillment and belonging through running, walking, dancing, swimming, weightlifting, and more, with examples that span the globe, from Tanzania, where one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes on the planet live, to a dance class at Juilliard for people with Parkinson's disease, to the streets of London, where volunteers combine fitness and community service, to races in the remote wilderness, where athletes push the limits of what a human can endure. Along the way, McGonigal paints a portrait of human nature that highlights our capacity for hope, cooperation, and self-transcendence. The result is a revolutionary narrative that goes beyond familiar arguments in favor of exercise, to illustrate why movement is integral to both our happiness and our humanity. Readers will learn what they can do in their own lives and communities to harness the power of movement to create happiness, meaning, and connection.


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The bestselling author of The Willpower Instinct introduces a surprising science-based book that doesn't tell us why we should exercise but instead shows us how to fall in love with movement. Exercise is health-enhancing and life-extending, yet many of us feel it's a chore. But, as Kelly McGonigal reveals, it doesn't have to be. Movement can and should be a source The bestselling author of The Willpower Instinct introduces a surprising science-based book that doesn't tell us why we should exercise but instead shows us how to fall in love with movement. Exercise is health-enhancing and life-extending, yet many of us feel it's a chore. But, as Kelly McGonigal reveals, it doesn't have to be. Movement can and should be a source of joy. Through her trademark blend of science and storytelling, McGonigal draws on insights from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, as well as memoirs, ethnographies, and philosophers. She shows how movement is intertwined with some of the most basic human joys, including self-expression, social connection, and mastery--and why it is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. McGonigal tells the stories of people who have found fulfillment and belonging through running, walking, dancing, swimming, weightlifting, and more, with examples that span the globe, from Tanzania, where one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes on the planet live, to a dance class at Juilliard for people with Parkinson's disease, to the streets of London, where volunteers combine fitness and community service, to races in the remote wilderness, where athletes push the limits of what a human can endure. Along the way, McGonigal paints a portrait of human nature that highlights our capacity for hope, cooperation, and self-transcendence. The result is a revolutionary narrative that goes beyond familiar arguments in favor of exercise, to illustrate why movement is integral to both our happiness and our humanity. Readers will learn what they can do in their own lives and communities to harness the power of movement to create happiness, meaning, and connection.

30 review for The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage

  1. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I am lucky enough to have taken several of Kelly McGonigal's Psychology classes and I have always been a huge fan. When I saw this book was coming out, I knew I would read it no matter what and I knew it would be fantastic no matter what. And it was. It's chock full of research about how movement can help with depression, loneliness and isolation. How we all need community and how movement can really help with that. It has a lot of inspiring stories and a lot of science. The perfect combination I am lucky enough to have taken several of Kelly McGonigal's Psychology classes and I have always been a huge fan. When I saw this book was coming out, I knew I would read it no matter what and I knew it would be fantastic no matter what. And it was. It's chock full of research about how movement can help with depression, loneliness and isolation. How we all need community and how movement can really help with that. It has a lot of inspiring stories and a lot of science. The perfect combination for all varieties of readers. I have big movement plans for 2020, so I will be coming back to this one again and again to help remind myself of all of its gifts. If you need any inspiration at all, this is the book for you.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    It is quite possible that my impression of this book was impacted by the book I just completed reading, another science-focused text that also included stories of the people behind the science as well as the people impacted by the science. My hope was for The Joy of Movement to be of similar quality and depth. McGonigal's book is a love story to the joy of movement (yes, the title is quite apt) and to her love of movement. While she does include some neuroscience, as well as many (sometimes I It is quite possible that my impression of this book was impacted by the book I just completed reading, another science-focused text that also included stories of the people behind the science as well as the people impacted by the science. My hope was for The Joy of Movement to be of similar quality and depth. McGonigal's book is a love story to the joy of movement (yes, the title is quite apt) and to her love of movement. While she does include some neuroscience, as well as many (sometimes I felt too many) stories of all types of athletes, overall this felt like a superficial treatment of movement. My preference would have been to keep what she has written, but also provide much more in-depth information about the neuroscience of movement. As a result, this seemed more like a popular science book, though there are a number of quotes that resonated (see below). Perhaps I should not be disappointed, since the cover text doesn't promote expectations for anything other than what McGonigal has actually written; I simply read too much into the pre-book hype. [UPDATE 1-21-20: Earlier this evening, in watching a podcast of McGonigal being interviewed, I was reminded that I participated in the Danskin triathlon (my first ever such event) for four years in a row as a way to recuperate from breast cancer and Lyme disease, both which occurred in the same calendar year. The triathlon was a way for me to marshal my psyche and prove to myself that I was on the road to health. Definitely speaks to both the power and joy of movement to heal.] I did find portions that resonated, the first dealing with music. When listening to music, we listen with our muscles. -Oliver Sacks (pg 98) I have taken three Dance for Parkinson's trainings, and was heartened to see McGonigal include this approach to movement, the premise of which is that music coupled with dance training is beneficial for people living with Parkinson's. This next quote is applicable across so much of life, not just movement. These are words of encouragement coupled with a firm belief to not give up. If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving. -Martin Luther King Jr (pg 107) As a lover of human anatomy and a teacher of yoga who occasionally suggests turning the corners of the mouth up towards the eyes, I especially appreciated learning the name of the muscle responsible for this movement: zygomaticus major. This muscle "contracts reflexively, similar to when a physician taps your kneecap to make your leg swing." Our external movements, from facial expressions to body position, let us "talk" to the world. The body is how we translate what is happening inside us–thoughts, feelings, desires–into something observable that other people can understand. (pg 116) Finally, one more vocabulary word that speaks to yoga as well as movement in general: proprioceive. I have long known that proprioception is an individual's sense of where their body is in space; this is something we consciously or unconsciously consider whenever we move. McGonigal discusses how empathy while watching someone else move causes us to proprioceive it. When you watch others move, you don't just perceive this action. You proprioceive it. You receive it into yourself. This is what empathy does: It creates, in your mind, a felt sense of what you are observing. (pg 149) If you've made it this far in my review you may be thinking "well, sheesh, she sure wrote a lot about a book that she began by panning." And you'd be correct in your thinking. (Imagine my zygomaticus major muscle now doing its thing. :-))

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    There were a lot of really interesting facts about how movement and exercise impact our bodies and brains. I enjoyed learning about it, and it helps me understand more about how my body is working. The ultra marathoner endurance athletes seem absolutely nuts to me, but it was interesting to read their stories. This book is absolutely full of conversation starters, too, and I think it was a good use of my time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alisa Harris

    Kelly McGonigal makes the case that the benefits of physical movement go far beyond the physical. It helps us connect with others, build empathy, find community, feel joy, and fight our demons. I don't know how solid the scientific foundation is for this book, but as someone who lives with a constant background buzz of anxiety and self-criticism, exercise is one of the few things I've found that gets me out of my head and makes me feel happy, powerful, and strong. So I loved this book. I Kelly McGonigal makes the case that the benefits of physical movement go far beyond the physical. It helps us connect with others, build empathy, find community, feel joy, and fight our demons. I don't know how solid the scientific foundation is for this book, but as someone who lives with a constant background buzz of anxiety and self-criticism, exercise is one of the few things I've found that gets me out of my head and makes me feel happy, powerful, and strong. So I loved this book. I gravitate toward exercise that reinforces my uh, somewhat rigid perfectionism (i.e. barre) but listening to this book has inspired me to try some things that usually intimidate me and try to just let go and enjoy the movement.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    Ugh this book made me so mad. Nothing in here that couldn’t be just as easily found in a Buzzfeed listicle “10 Reasons Exercise Makes Your Life Better” and tons of self-congratulatory prose on how Kelly McGonigal is SUCH a great exerciser! If you want to be inspired and energized by the power of movement, get a dose of science, and a compelling personal story to boot, read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. This one was a waste of time. (And note, I have read and really loved her previous Ugh this book made me so mad. Nothing in here that couldn’t be just as easily found in a Buzzfeed listicle “10 Reasons Exercise Makes Your Life Better” and tons of self-congratulatory prose on how Kelly McGonigal is SUCH a great exerciser! If you want to be inspired and energized by the power of movement, get a dose of science, and a compelling personal story to boot, read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. This one was a waste of time. (And note, I have read and really loved her previous works. Another reason to be so frustrated here.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    Absolutely loved this book and have been recommending it left and right. Inspiring, encouraging and joyful love letter to movement and all of the ways it contributes to our health and happiness.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Katrina Davies

    This book is a joyful exploration of the science behind why movement is important. I listened to this on Audible and I'm so glad I did as I couldn't resist wriggling and tapping my feet. It made my heart feel full and reminded me why I love to run. Highly recommend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    As with a lot of popular psychology, the central ideas here could be presented in a pamphlet but have been padded out to book length with inspiring anecdotes and biographical information about the author. Here’s the main ideas from this book: exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally and especially if it’s moderately challenging exercise done regularly, group exercise is good for forming bonds with others and exercise can help you perform - physically and mentally - better as you As with a lot of popular psychology, the central ideas here could be presented in a pamphlet but have been padded out to book length with inspiring anecdotes and biographical information about the author. Here’s the main ideas from this book: exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally and especially if it’s moderately challenging exercise done regularly, group exercise is good for forming bonds with others and exercise can help you perform - physically and mentally - better as you age. There was nothing terrible about this book, the anecdotes about endurance athletes and people taking up exercise after ill health were fine. The arguments were all backed up by evidence. It just didn’t move beyond what most people already know about the benefits of exercise and ultimately it felt a little thin to me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    I absolutely love the work by Kelly and Jane McGonigal. I recently finished Kelly’s last book The Upside of Stress, and this book came out at the right time for my 2020 goal of losing 50 lbs. Each chapter is backed by a ton of research about how movement can help with depression, feelings of loneliness as well as isolation and much more. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who needs some motivation

  10. 4 out of 5

    Susan Morrissey

    I love to exercise so this book reinforced everything I believe are the benefits of movement!!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    As a regular runner and an anthropology major, this book was a bit like preaching to the choir for me. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Georgina

    What a wonderfully inspiring book. It moved me to tears and made me eager to find new ways to move in my life. Great, accessible writing that draws on anthropology, neurobiology, and psychology of course.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andi

    I can’t say enough good things about this book!!! I have never been a runner, aside from a short time on the track team in middle school. But as one of the many things McGonigal discusses, I now understand the runner’s high I hear so much about. I also understand precisely how exercise helps our moods, and why sharing an activity with someone enhances bonding. It also underscores our NEED for being out in nature. So good!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I listened to the Audible version during a couple of my long runs. As an ultra runner she’s preaching to the choir for me. But I still enjoyed hearing the research. And she definitely understands endurance athletes - it’s not just a singular pursuit, the community plays a huge part in the appeal. Finally the narration was great - she’s a professional and could narrate other authors if she so chooses. She’s that good.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Martina

    The book is not at all what I expected--and so much more. The audio version is performed beautifully, and the content is part inspirational pep talk of how to lead a good life, and part hard core science explaining what makes it so. One of my all time favorite books on this subject.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I listened to an interview with the author on a podcast, and find that I enjoyed listening to her talk about the book more than I enjoyed reading the book. The chapters felt a bit choppy. I didn't find a consistent thread that pulled me through each chapter. Rather, the chapters lurched from vignette to vignette.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sharene

    Great pep talk to get yourself motivated to work out.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    My pick for book club- absolutely loved this. She’s inspiring personally and professionally.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Georgia Call

    I enjoyed this book. It’s not so much a self help book, but a celebration of movement and community.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marguerite

    Kelly can write. Those moments happened more than once where the way she pulls info together data fills you up. Plus, interesting food for thought: * unnarural flooding of substance use disorder homeostatically counter pointed by depression * runner's high as persistence high, i.e., 20 minutes of what's challenging to you, four times a week for six weeks, the pace of a jog more enjoyable literally (biochemically) than that of a walk or a sprint * how unique to humans, 1) whites of eye facilitate Kelly can write. Those moments happened more than once where the way she pulls info together data fills you up. Plus, interesting food for thought: * unnarural flooding of substance use disorder homeostatically counter pointed by depression * runner's high as persistence high, i.e., 20 minutes of what's challenging to you, four times a week for six weeks, the pace of a jog more enjoyable literally (biochemically) than that of a walk or a sprint * how unique to humans, 1) whites of eye facilitate cooperation and 2) neck ligament wolves and horses but no other primate but us has keeps us from being bobble heads as our feet went from clasping branches to becoming fleet of foot * collective joy from synchronous movement independent of pace * runner's high as helper's high, i.e., joy both to experience and to share * mind's default state both to cooperate/share and to forage/explore Would also recommend her Rich Roll podcast where she mentions as a dream project a book on animal rescue, another passion of hers. Tips toward that end would be ... * business school angle could be the agribusiness of regenerative farming 1) where animals have their place in the plant world and 2) wherein the solution to climate change (use of excess carbon) lies * peers to interview would be Cate Shanahan, MD, now in CT and who wrote "Deep Nutrition," and triple-board certified, fellow Rich Roll guest fav, and vegan, Zach Bush, MD, now of VA and who founded the regenerative farming effort, Farmers' Footprint, and affiliated with similar regenerative farming advocacy effort, Kiss the Ground * Further, for meal service from a regenerative farm, interview those ar the effort of longevity guru, Valter Lungo, PhD, Nutrtion for Longevity, who deliver twice a week three-days worth of three meals a day for roughly $30/day, $200/we, $800/mo * You can't talk regenerative farming and animal welfare without bringing in the animal welfare audits of Temple Grandin, PhD., now of CO and whose books, "Animals in Translation" and "Animals Make Us Human" would provide other research leads to surprising and controversial concepts that relate to Kelly's primary work in compassion, for example, regarding language, perhaps humans are among those mammals who developed it because of the increased probability of being eaten. Again, Kelly can write, connecting the dots of seemingly disparate dara in an informative and enjoyable way. Hope she does do the same for animal rescue, perhaps using some of the leads above.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joe Casey

    Informative. Interesting. Inspiring. This is an exceptional book. It is strongly rooted in science and explains how exercise and movement positively impact us in many ways, far beyond the physical benefits. The science is important and interesting, but the stories in the book are inspiring. The author shares a number of stories from her personal and professional experiences. In addition there are compelling profiles of people and how they've leveraged exercise and movement to enrich their lives - Informative. Interesting. Inspiring. This is an exceptional book. It is strongly rooted in science and explains how exercise and movement positively impact us in many ways, far beyond the physical benefits. The science is important and interesting, but the stories in the book are inspiring. The author shares a number of stories from her personal and professional experiences. In addition there are compelling profiles of people and how they've leveraged exercise and movement to enrich their lives - and in some cases to save their lives. The book is accessible and provides practical, evidence-based ideas on how to incorporate more movement in your life at various levels of activity and in a multitude of ways. It explains the mind-body connection very well and expanded my perspective of exercise to include it's social benefits. Highly recommend. I also think this makes a special gift for people in your life - of all ages - who can benefit from more movement and exercise. It will reframe how they see it and move them to bring more joy into their lives. I can't think of a better gift.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Holly Zaher

    Joy. Every time I picked up this book. Every time I thought of a story she told. Every time I thought about moving in response to what I read. Joy. I can't remember the last time a book elicited such joy. Kelly McGonigal weaves stories with science, creating a motivating picture of movement. The book invited me to reflect on the places where I have sensed joy in movement, even, or especially, when moving offered a challenge (half-marathon training, learning roller derby, etc.). As McGonigal told Joy. Every time I picked up this book. Every time I thought of a story she told. Every time I thought about moving in response to what I read. Joy. I can't remember the last time a book elicited such joy. Kelly McGonigal weaves stories with science, creating a motivating picture of movement. The book invited me to reflect on the places where I have sensed joy in movement, even, or especially, when moving offered a challenge (half-marathon training, learning roller derby, etc.). As McGonigal told stories of music and movement and corporate movement, it was easy to see connections with a worshiping community. In a world desperate for connection and riddled with loneliness, this book offers a way of reaching out to connect and the joy so many people find there.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Bilskie-Smith

    Kelly McGonigal, PhD, described her latest book, The Joy of Movement, as a love letter to movement. In this book, Dr. McGonigal’s joy and wonder around movement were contagious. As I read the science about what happens when we move, I was filled with awe. I find it so interesting that something as simple as movement, something we all have access to in some form or another, has the power to turn us into our best selves. As a dancer, the chapter about collective joy, which discusses what happens Kelly McGonigal, PhD, described her latest book, The Joy of Movement, as a love letter to movement. In this book, Dr. McGonigal’s joy and wonder around movement were contagious. As I read the science about what happens when we move, I was filled with awe. I find it so interesting that something as simple as movement, something we all have access to in some form or another, has the power to turn us into our best selves. As a dancer, the chapter about collective joy, which discusses what happens when we move together, particularly inspired me. This book is for all humans, avid movers, moderate movers, and people who have no real exercise regime at all. It is an exploration of the gift of our body and the elation it’s chemicals can create.

  24. 5 out of 5

    K. G.

    I have read several of Kelly McGonigal’s books, and attended one if her seminars. I think this book is really great for providing a scientific understanding of the chemical effects of movement on the brain. The examples and stories were really inspiring and many of them focus on runners. But I was looking for a different book. I was looking for a book that could inspire a non-mover with arthritis to get some joy in even a small amount of movement. This is not that book. But her work is so good I have read several of Kelly McGonigal’s books, and attended one if her seminars. I think this book is really great for providing a scientific understanding of the chemical effects of movement on the brain. The examples and stories were really inspiring and many of them focus on runners. But I was looking for a different book. I was looking for a book that could inspire a non-mover with arthritis to get some joy in even a small amount of movement. This is not that book. But her work is so good and the book is very appealing so I gave it 4 stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    The Joy of Movement by Dr. Kelly McGonigal shares research and stories on why moving makes humans happier, stronger, and community-minded. Exercise shouldn't feel like a burden. Humans are wired to move. People get depressed and wither away when they lose their mobility. I highly recommend this book if you're on the fence about working out or being around people in general. https://catoverlord.blogspot.com/2020... I'm on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/catoverlord...

  26. 5 out of 5

    A Tiefenthaler

    Interesting and definitely made me want to move. Ran once and biked once deliberately while reading this to harness the psychological effects she describes (p. 24-25). Another great takeaway is something I've been looking for about endurance; How? She uncovers a grad student's work and this gem: "Each runner was responsible for allowing hope to get the better of despair. Hope is what makes active endurance possible." Well, hope, AND brain chemistry that results from repeated endurance training.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    I have tried something like 7 gyms in Los Angeles, and I'm currently searching for a new experience. This book emphasizes the value in community and communal experiences in movement-- which related to my own experiences of the fitness studios I have enjoyed and committed to the most. I would have liked to read a more scientific view, but it was a very pleasant read (and validating, as someone who really enjoys group fitness).

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Barney

    Great book that reinforces the importance and value of movement. I wish educational administrators and parents would read this book and see the importance movement (physical activity) has in their child’s and the effects it can have on their education. Besides this, this book does a wonderful job expounding the movement in everyday life.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gillian Goerzen

    I really enjoyed this book! Caveat: I'm a total nerd when it comes to research and statistics. And Kelly rises to meet in this compelling read. Not only does she include the good geeky science behind her arguments, she shares really clarifying stories that help you connect more deeply. Powerful read. If you're looking to be more active and find your JOY for movement - this is a must read!

  30. 5 out of 5

    June Chatelle

    I can’t recommend this book highly enough to everybody. Well written, it’s science-based but doesn’t read like a textbook. In every chapter I found lots of information that that both fascinated and inspired me. I gave it as gifts to friends and family members.

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