Do your New Year’s resolutions include getting more exercise? By now, everybody knows exercise is good for us. But a lot of people view it as a chore or a bore instead of a delight. How can you experience the joy of movement?
Humans are built to move, and anthropologists have offered a hypothesis that the “runners high” helped our species survive at a time when hunting and gathering both required sustained physical activity. Getting a reward from activity itself helped people do what they needed to do to find food to keep their communities alive.
Not everyone loves running, but running is not the only activity that can make you feel good. Some people swim, others dance, and many play sports like tennis or soccer. Have you found the activity that lets you experience the joy of movement? Do you have a special playlist that lifts your spirits while you work out? What about a group of people that like to join you when you are active? It could be your workout class, your team or a group of friends who enjoy walking with you. All of you encourage each other and provide social support as well as an incentive to keep moving.
Cancer patients who are physically active improve their odds of surviving longer. They also enjoy a better quality of life while undergoing treatment. That’s why our friend Tom Ferguson (Doc Tom) brought a stationary bike into his hospital room when he underwent a bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma. The data are strong enough that cancer programs should consider including exercise oncology as part of their offerings.
Movement can also benefit people with many other serious conditions. You might not think that patients with Parkinson disease would be able to experience the joy of movement since moving is difficult for them. However, being able to move can feel wonderful and help alleviate symptoms.
How do you think of yourself? Just moving your body can give you feedback: you are strong, you are graceful, you are quick. You may not get this wonderful feedback the first time you try an activity. It takes time to learn to do any new movement with the proper form and with power. Figure on six weeks to learn to enjoy a new way of moving. Find out how you can learn to appreciate the joy of movement and incorporate it into your life every day.
Dr. 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. Her latest book, The Joy of Movement, explores why physical exercise is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.