Anna Evans

The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal, PhD

Not a fan of exercise? Discover the hidden joys of physical activity and unlock the secrets of the mind-body connection in ‘The Joy of Movement’.

The joy of movement

The book has gotten 3.87 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

“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 we’re not.”
– Scott Douglas, author of ‘Running Is My Therapy’

A significant number of people have an aversion to exercise, finding it unenjoyable or even burdensome. The idea of engaging in physical activity can be met with resistance, excuses, or a lack of motivation for many individuals. However, ‘The Joy of Movement’ delves into this common perception and seeks to unravel the reasons behind people’s initial reluctance towards exercise.

Author’s background

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., serves as a research psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University, and esteemed science writer, having received several accolades for her work.

Kelly McGonigal (r)

Renowned for her expertise, she has authored bestsellers like ‘The Willpower Instinct,’ ‘The Upside of Stress,’ and ‘Yoga for Pain Relief,’ resonating with audiences worldwide as her works have been translated into twenty-eight languages. Furthermore, since the year 2000, she has been actively involved in teaching dance, yoga, and group exercise in the vibrant San Francisco Bay Area.

What is the book about?

Kelly McGonigal’s work reveals that exercise doesn’t have to be boring; instead, it can bring joy and vitality while benefiting our health and longevity. Using a mix of scientific research and engaging stories, McGonigal explains how movement connects to fundamental human joys like self-expression, social bonding, and mastery. She argues that physical activity is a powerful remedy for modern issues like depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

The author shares inspiring tales of individuals who have discovered fulfilment and a sense of belonging through various forms of movement, from running and walking to dancing, swimming, weightlifting, and beyond. These stories span the globe, encompassing experiences from the last hunter-gatherer tribes in Tanzania to dance classes at Juilliard tailored for those with Parkinson’s disease. Whether it’s the streets of London, where fitness intertwines with community service or the unforgiving terrains of remote wilderness races where human endurance is pushed to its limits, the examples offered underscore the power of movement in shaping human nature, evoking hope, cooperation, and transcendence.

The narrative highlights movement as an essential part of happiness and human nature. By the end, listeners are encouraged to embrace movement in their lives, using it to create happiness, meaning, and connections with others.

Key takeaways from ‘The Joy of Movement’

1Movement brings joy and vitality

The book emphasises that exercise and physical activity can be a source of joy, pleasure, and energy, challenging the notion that it must be a mundane or burdensome task. McGonigal highlights the profound connections between movement and fundamental human joys, including self-expression, social bonding, and mastery. Engaging in physical activities can positively impact emotional well-being and happiness.

2Movement works as an antidote to modern challenges

The book presents movement as a powerful remedy for contemporary issues like depression, anxiety, and loneliness, providing a way to cope with and overcome these challenges. Through inspiring anecdotes from individuals worldwide, the book demonstrates how people have found a sense of belonging through various forms of movement, such as running, dancing, swimming, and more.

3Exercise is just as addictive as drugs but with a positive long-term effect instead

The author explores the parallels between exercise and addiction, revealing how physical activity can be rewarding and habit-forming. Studies show that exercise affects the brain’s reward system, triggering the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, similar to addictive substances. Over time, regular exercise can lead to changes in the brain that make people crave and prioritise physical activity. However, unlike immediate addictions to drugs, exercise addiction develops gradually. Physical activity harnesses the brain’s ability to learn from experience, creating a slow and rewarding transformation. This book sheds light on the positive impact of exercise on the brain and its potential to become a fulfilling and lasting habit.

4Give it time, exercise will grow on you

The initial feelings about a new exercise may not reflect how one feels with more experience. For many, exercise becomes a pleasure that unfolds gradually as the body and mind adapt. People often discover unexpected joys in activities they previously disliked. Some find the right activity at the right time, others connect with movements that feel natural to their bodies. Even those who think they dislike exercise may be transformed into enthusiasts with the right dosage, type, or community. Age is no barrier; people can become devoted exercisers later in life, finding newfound passion and accomplishments.

5More people should embrace a holistic approach to health

The book goes beyond the physical benefits of exercise and advocates a holistic approach to health, recognising the importance of emotional, social, and psychological well-being that movement can foster. The ‘The Joy of Movement’ also paints a portrait of human nature, highlighting our capacity for hope, cooperation, and self-transcendence through physical activity.

Table of contents

  • Dedication
  • Introduction
  • The Persistence High
  • Getting Hooked
  • Collective Joy
  • Let Yourself Be Moved
  • Overcoming Obstacles
  • Embrace Life
  • How We Endure
  • Final Thoughts
  • Author’s Note on Sources
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
  • About the Author

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • Highly inspiring narrative: The book is filled with interesting stories of individuals who have found joy, fulfilment, and a sense of belonging through various forms of movement. These stories can motivate readers to incorporate more physical activity into their lives.

  • Scientific rigour: McGonigal draws on scientific research from disciplines like neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology to support her arguments. This adds credibility to her claims about the benefits of movement.

  • Offers holistic approach: The book goes beyond just promoting exercise for physical health; it emphasises the importance of movement for emotional well-being, social connection, and overall happiness.


  • The writing is somewhat repetitive: Some readers may find certain concepts or anecdotes repeated throughout the book, which can make it feel overly long or redundant.

  • Lack of practical guidance: While the book highlights the benefits of movement, it may not provide enough specific guidance on how to overcome barriers to exercise or incorporate movement into a busy lifestyle.

  • Limited critique: The book focuses on the positive aspects of movement, but it might not fully address potential negative impacts or limitations of certain types of physical activities.

Best quotes from ‘The Joy of Movement’

“Physical activity can be mind-altering, affecting the same neurotransmitter systems as drugs like cannabis and cocaine.”
“Spending time outdoors can also calm an agitated mind. The emotions we are most likely to feel in nature – wonder, awe, curiosity, hope – are natural antidotes to worry, distraction, and depression.”
“How you feel the first time you try a new form of exercise is not necessarily how you’ll feel after you gain more experience. For many, exercise is an acquired pleasure. The joys of an activity reveal themselves slowly as the body and brain adapt.”

Final takeaway

‘The Joy of Movement’ by Kelly McGonigal, PhD is an enlightening exploration of the transformative power of physical activity. Through inspiring stories and scientific insights, McGonigal reveals how movement can be a source of joy, vitality, and emotional well-being. She emphasises the profound connections between movement and fundamental human joys, such as self-expression, social bonding, and mastery. The book presents movement as a powerful antidote to modern challenges like depression and loneliness and showcases global examples to illustrate its universal impact. While it encourages readers to embrace the joy of exercise, some may find the content repetitive, and it offers limited practical guidance for overcoming barriers to physical activity. Overall, ‘The Joy of Movement’ celebrates the movement’s potential to enrich our lives physically and emotionally.

Where to buy

You can buy ‘The Joy of Movement’ on Amazon, where it’s available in paperback, audio and Kindle formats.

Healthypedia FAQ

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a renowned research psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University, and bestselling science writer. Her works, including ‘The Willpower Instinct,’ ‘The Upside of Stress,’ and ‘Yoga for Pain Relief,’ have garnered global acclaim and translations in twenty-eight languages. Since 2000, she has also been an active instructor in dance, yoga, and group exercise in the dynamic San Francisco Bay Area.

By exploring the right dose, type of activity, supportive community, and personal circumstances, individuals can discover pleasure and fulfillment in exercise.

Exercise can be addictive due to the neurochemical changes it triggers in the brain's reward system. When we engage in physical activity, the brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of pleasure, reward, and well-being. This neurochemical response reinforces the behaviour, creating a positive association with exercise. Over time, repeated exposure to exercise can lead to changes in the brain's neural pathways, making it more responsive to the rewarding effects of physical activity.

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