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“The Joy of Movement” Book Review

What is this book about?

The title of this book, “The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage” by Kelly McGonigal describes exactly what it is all about. This book is about the many faces of movement and the positive impacts on wellbeing from the many different types of movement and exercise.

The Joy of Movement covers topics like:

  • Understanding how our brains evolved for a “persistence high”

  • Moving beyond taken for granted ideas like the “runner’s high” to really understand the role of movement

  • The positive impacts on wellbeing from movement

  • Role of movement in recovery from and management of the effects of mental health difficulties and diagnoses

  • Links between neurochemicals, the brain, addiction, the role of exercise and recovery from addiction

  • Movement and overcoming obstacles in life

  • The role of movement in our happiness and humanity

  • Social and emotional benefits of collective movement and collective exercise, including its role in healing, growing hope, and overcoming obstacles

  • How movement helps us embrace life – everything from group classes, to hiking, to volunteering in a community garden

An added bonus for me, this book gave me the best, most easily accessible understanding of the Default Mode Network in the brain, including its positive and not so positive sides.

As an interesting side note – I learned all about how Tough Mudder races are designed. There’s so much more to it than I thought and very interesting. It made me remember my “Miss Muddy” experience in a new light.

Why do I like this book?

I love that Kelly makes the information so easily accessible and understandable with her writing style.

I love that there are so many stories, Kelly’s own stories and the stories of others. The book is such a great blend of stories combined with science and research. I especially loved her story about being a dancer and being a psychologist, and what these two things have in common.

I love that this book combines information from such a diversity of areas of study and knowledge including: Anthropology

  • Evolution

  • Neuroscience

  • Psychology

  • Mental Health

  • Physical Health

  • Green Space

Kelly’s authenticity and use of self in the stories is engaging, warming, and normalising.

I had many favourite sentences, but here is what I’ve chosen for this review,

Physical activity helps us tap into instincts that have allowed humans to survive for millennia: the abilities to persist, cooperate, and form communities of mutual support; to invest in the future, overcome obstacles, and endure hardships; to define and protect the vulnerable; to sense ourselves connected to other people and the world we live in; to give back, reach out, and pull one another up. And the mechanism by which movement seems to accomplish all of this is joy.”

Okay, my favourite two sentences 😊

I also really loved the exploration of the role of music in movement.

I laughed out loud. I cried. I smiled. I thought – a lot. I think it even changed me a bit.

How do I/will I use the book?

Experience has taught me that when people are managing the effects of stress, anxiety, depression, distress and even trauma finding ways to experience themselves as competent and finding activities for meaningful engagement in life makes a difference. Sometimes more of a difference than therapy. This book has inspired me to continue to find ways for people to experience themselves as competent, e.g., the young child who is struggling at school but experiences themselves as competent when they are playing soccer or the guitar or an adult who is feeling lost and lonely who lights up after joining a walking group. I will also continue to work with people to help find what matters to them and what and how they’d like to engage in life.

I will use this book for Bibliotherapy, and also, I will use parts of this book e.g., sharing stories to inspire others as I have been inspired. Just as Kelly talks about how the stories of others “opened the possibility that the same bravery was open for me” (p. 200), I hope the stories in this book open up possibilities for others.

I love this book both personally and professionally. I hope you find it helpful too.

Let me know your thoughts and how you use the book.


Please note - this article is educational in nature and does not constitute therapy advice.

Please seek help from a professional if you require support.

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