Episode 102: Kelly McGonigal on The Joy of Movement

Movement Can Be a Life Preserver

About Today’s Guest

Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who specializes in understanding the mind-body connection. As a pioneer in the field of “science-help,” her mission is to translate insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support personal well-being and strengthen communities.

She is the best-selling author of The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress.

Through the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism, she helped create Stanford Compassion Cultivation Training, a program now taught around the world that helps individuals strengthen their empathy, compassion, and self-compassion.

You might know her from her TED talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” which is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time, with over 20 million views.

Her new book, The Joy of Movement, explores why physical exercise is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.


Stay In Touch With Kelly

The Joy of Movement





TED Talk

Show Notes

Kelly McGonigal is the author of a game-changing book called The Joy of Movement and if you are in the fitness industry this is a must-read. We dive in by talking how movement has helped both and Kelly and myself with anxiety, and the importance of embracing movement as a gift that can help us in so many ways, including depression, anxiety, loneliness and finding community.

Kelly discovered very early on that exercise made her feel good but it wasn’t until she was in college and graduate school that she really understood how important movement would be to her life. It was moving her body that gave her an embodied sense of hope and courage and it was movement that allowed her to start a workout feeling anxious, stressed out, and judging herself and by the end of the workout, she would feel as though she could take on the world.

In this episode, we discuss how exercise can help us deal with feelings such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief. We also look at the research that is showing how exercise goes much deeper than just the endorphin rush that we get when we’re working out. Kelly also shares how exercise changes our brain in ways that make us more resilient to stress which in turn makes us braver.

I ask Kelly what her dreams are for this book and she hopes that this book will change the conversation around movement, to move it away from the myopic conversations around calories and tracking steps. She is hoping that we all get to understand that our bodies are our best vehicles for experiencing so many human joys and it is the vessel that will take us forward into our dream life.

We move on to talk about music. Kelly shares that music is a universal human joy. We are reminded how people love listening to music, love making music and how people love moving to music. The research also reveals that when people move together, they form friendships and it strengthens relationships. She goes on to reveal that research is demonstrating that music has a much more powerful effect on mood and on strengthening social relationships when we move our body to the music rather than when we just listen to it.

Kelly and I talk about the panic attacks I used to have and how exercise helps us create a new relationship with the physical symptoms of stress or anxiety. When we exercise, our heart rate increases, we breathe faster, we sweat and we blush, which feels a lot like a panic attack. The research shows that one of the reasons that exercise helps with panic attacks is that it starts to color the meaning of those symptoms differently. This is a great piece of information for anyone out there struggling with anxiety and panic.

Kelly’s book is full of heartwarming stories about people whose lives have been changed by movement. No matter whether she was talking to rowers or runners, dancers or weightlifters or Cross Fitters or Gardeners, the common them that came through was the feeling of interdependence and how much we rely on one another to survive. This is important for fitness professionals who need to know their value in the world, along with the opportunities that they are creating for people to experience themselves and create communities in new ways.

Kelly hopes that the heartwarming stories found within her book will help people see the possibilities that are present in movement. It’s not about finding a workout that you like enough that you can stand it so that you will lose weight. This is a completely different thing. This is about embracing our full potential as human beings and enjoying life and participating in life as we also find community.

Kelly shares that any form of movement tends to make people feel better. It’s called the feel-better effect. One of the things that exercise seems to produce what is called an achievement sensation. This is a physical sensation of having done something good or worthwhile or meaningful or difficult that then transcends into whatever you face next. So as in your workouts, you feel as though you have achieved something challenging it has a ripple effect into your life.

I share my journey to healing a broken heart of five years ago and how it was being on a yoga mat, and taking walks in Central Park that allowed me to slowly and steadily heal from grief. The stories in Kelly’s book reminds us that no matter what your age or what you are dealing with, movement can be a life raft.

Kelly and I share our own workout stories and the importance of instructors and coaches making us feel seen. One of the side effects of movement is we become socially vulnerable because we enter that physiological and neurochemical state of being open to connection. So if you are an instructor or a coach it is important to remember that you to have an extremely powerful impact on the people in front of you for good or for bad, hopefully for good.

Kelly goes on to share that writing this book has given her the complete freedom to share that this is the most important thing in her life. She believes, as do I that movement has the power to change lives and build communities. I hope you get to experience this too.