On Falling in Love With Movement (And the Many Benefits of Exercise) – Kelly McGonigal on The Rich Roll Podcast

Check out The Rich Roll Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Spending time alone in nature is beneficial for mental health
  • When striving to reach a goal, know that progress isn’t linear; you’ll likely experience many setbacks
  • Exercise causes increased brain levels of endorphins and oxytocin—neurotransmitters associated with social connection and cooperative behavior
  • Music for exercise is best used selectively when you need a boost, rather than as background noise
  • Someone who attempts to better themselves and stumbles is more respectable than someone who never tried in the first place
  • Always remember: Any exercise (movement) > no exercise (movement)

Books Mentioned

  • Kelly McGonigal’s latest book, The Joy of Movement, details how exercise can be a powerful tool for fighting against modern society’s rising loneliness and depression epidemic

Intro

The Connection Between Movement and Humanity

  • Movement is spiritually, physically, and emotionally tied to what it means to be human
    • Lacking machine to perform work for us, from 200,000 B.C. up until recent history, our entire lives were viscerally and physically experienced with our bodies
  • Evident in the strong bonds formed between team units that work and move together (i.e., sports teams and military platoons), the biology of movement fosters and encourages social connection, not just personal improvement
  • There’s a form of movement that’s enjoyable for EVERYONE, no matter your age or interests
    • “In my experience talking to people, there are a lot of late-to-life movers who just needed to find the right form of movement, and I don’t think we get exposed to enough diversity of movement” – Kelly McGonigal
  • Kelly also believes that spending time alone in nature can relieve mental suffering
    • (When wandering solo in nature, you’re technically alone, but there exists a larger-than-life connection between you and the world that transcends human experience)

How to Set Goals

  • Before setting a specific goal, it’s important to understand the fundamental why behind it
    • For example, rather than trying to lose X lbs. or make $X, seek, instead, to feel good in your body or a sense of financial security
      • This visceral sense of success provides a greater feeling of reward, compared to hitting some arbitrary number
    • Kelly adds: “This is actually a strength many people need to develop—the ability to know what matters most to them”

When Striving to Reach a Goal, There Will Be Setbacks

  • As time passes, you’ll likely grow and change—if a goal or resolution no longer applies to you, don’t waste your time on it
  • When striving to reach a goal, know that progress isn’t linear; you’ll likely experience many setbacks
    • These setbacks may give you the sense that you’re moving backward, but it’s important to realize they actually move you closer to your goal
  • Goal setbacks often lead to self-defeating thoughts
    • These self-defeating thoughts, while giving one an easy excuse to give up, should be viewed as minor roadblocks in your journey. At the same time, you need to be compassionate with yourself; life is unpredictable and not all situations are winnable.
  • Often, the end goal is not enough to sustain the journey—one needs to fall in love with the process

Exercise Improves Mental health

  • Simply attempting new endeavors/activities is enough to change your self-understanding
    • Someone who attempts to better themselves and stumbles is more respectable than someone who never tried in the first place
  • Exercise causes increased brain levels of endorphins and oxytocin—neurotransmitters associated with social connection, cooperative behavior, and perseverance
    • Levels of endocannabinoids are also increased (they reduce anxiety, increase self-confidence, and reward social interaction)
  • Perhaps most important: “Our muscles are like an endocrine organ; when you contract your muscles, they’re secreting beneficial chemicals into your bloodstream”Kelly McGonigal
    • 🎧 “In your brain, these chemicals act as an antidepressant, making your brain more resilient to stress; they increase motivation; they help you learn from experience. The only way for you to get these chemicals is by using your muscles.”
      • “When I go for a walk or I exercise, I will literally say to myself, ‘You are giving yourself an intravenous dose of hope.’ I think that’s how we should frame movement.”
  • “Movement is how your brain knows you’re alive and engaged in life. When you move on a regular basis, your brain basically says, ‘I guess we have to be the best version of ourselves because we’re in this thing called life.’” – Kelly McGonigal

Any Exercise (Movement) > No Exercise (Movement)

  • There is no minimum intensity of movement required to feel good from exercise; any degree of movement is better than none
    • “If anyone is thinking the barrier is, ‘I don’t wanna do something insanely intense, so I’m gonna do nothing instead,’ we should take that off the table” – Kelly McGonigal
    • At the same time, though, many of the joys of movement are only achieved through higher intensities such as finding the strength to keep going when you’re exhausted

Creating a Positive Relationship with Stress

  • Stress can bring out both the worst and best in us, so it’s important to react to stress in a constructive manner
    • 🎧 It’s our relationship with stress that’s most critical in how it impacts us, and when we think about stress in a healthier way, it doesn’t have the deleterious impact that it would have otherwise. Movement, sports, ultra-endurance, whatever—we’re inviting a certain level of stress into our lives to challenge ourselves, and as a result of grappling with that, we create, what Susan David would call, emotional resilience.” Rich Roll

When Exercising, Use Music Selectively

  • After speaking with many sports scientists, Kelly comes to find that music for exercise is best used selectively when you need a boost, rather than as background noise
    • “Our brains seem to be wired to hear music as an invitation to move … When you move to music, you get this little endorphin and dopamine rush, and that feels good.” – Kelly McGonigal
      • “When those two merge, it’s like nothing else. To get the endorphin rush of moving to the beat of music while the lyrics are making me feel a certain way about life and myself, there’s no greater high.”Kelly McGonigal

On Keeping a Mindful Perspective

  • “All we have is what we’re doing right now”Rich Roll 
    • “You don’t have to worry about whether you’re gonna stay sober for 10 years… What are you doing right now? Is your head gonna hit the pillow tonight? Are you going to drink before you sleep tonight? That’s all need to worry about.”
  • Try making a habit of examining your urges, and focusing on feeling the changing sensations within your body until they go away
    • This mindfulness technique, known as “surfing the urge,” increases your chances of avoiding an adverse impulse