Kelly McGonigal - Author of The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage


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"You can think of exercise as an intravenous dose of hope." ~Kelly McGonigal

Kelly McGonigal (@kellymcgonigal) 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.

In this episode, we talk about everything from tai chi to ultra-marathons to dance, and we really get into the science around how these different movements produce chemical changes in our brains that lift our mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Here, Kelly gives us the scoop about something called "hope molecules" and the minimum effective dose of movement required to produce them.

Connect with Kelly: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Links from this episode:


  • I'm rebooting the Foundation podcast (past guests include Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams)! More information here: [00:03]
  • Who is Kelly McGonigal, how has she helped me, and how will her message here help you? [01:16]
  • What is Nia, and what does it aim to convey through music and movement? [02:43]
  • How did Kelly get into using movement as a way to facilitate mental well-being, and what compelled her to delve into the science behind it that she shares in The Joy of Movement? [05:25]
  • Two revelations about the direct connection between muscle movement and mental health that blew Kelly's mind when she started digging into this research. [07:05]
  • What's the anthropological take on why we experience a high after exercise (particularly running)? [11:03]
  • What does Kelly recommend as the minimum effective dose of exercise for us to really enjoy its mental benefits? Should it be enough to scare up a heartbeat that replicates fear and the courage by which it can be overcome? [14:40]
  • Good news regarding the minimum dose if all you want to do is feel better. [18:32]
  • The science we have so far suggests these two reasons we feel better with even a tiny dose of physical activity. [19:28]
  • What have scientists discovered by trying to take the joy out of movement? [22:06]
  • Pairing movement with nature (e.g., forest bathing). [24:20]
  • Pairing movement with music. [25:27]
  • How Kelly learned to love indoor cycling (after hating it at first). [26:04]
  • Pairing movement with teamwork/competition. [26:34]
  • Pairing movement with animal companionship. [26:59]
  • Can't dance. Won't dance. [27:17]
  • Kelly's impressions of the ultra-endurance world. [27:54]
  • Proof you don't have to conform to a certain body type or be impervious to fear in order to experience the joy of movement. [28:44]
  • Misery loves company -- but so does joy. [31:21]
  • Fighting Parkinson's disease with dance at Juilliard. [33:45]
  • How depression and grief work to demobilize and demotivate us by mechanisms eerily similar to Parkinson's disease. [38:19]
  • What's your emotional temperature? Understanding the factors that contribute to your core affect. [39:16]
  • Kelly's take on the modern need for constant stimulation via devices and how it relates to the brain's default state in contrast to different methods like meditation. [42:27]
  • Outside of movement, what other ingredients does Kelly find important for holistic mental self-care? [46:21]
  • What does Kelly hope are the chief takeaways people will remember after reading The Joy of Movement? [48:39]
  • As someone who's spent the majority of her life moving, did Kelly discover and experiment with any movement forms that were new to her during the course of doing research for The Joy of Movement? How does she feel about exercise that takes place outside of her comfort zone? [52:03]
  • Kelly gives us a brief history of the science behind her earlier work,, and how research has changed what we know about stress in recent years.
  • A brief history of the science of stress, why our initial impression of it as a purely negative force has been so hard to shake in spite of being disproven by decades of research, and what Kelly did to set the record straight by writing The Upside of Stress. [53:40]
  • Kelly's thoughts on how I've been coping with stress for the past six months or so, and why society's need to blame every bad thing that happens to us on "stress" hurts more than it helps. [59:25]
  • As a psychiatrist, what does Kelly think of psychedelics as a potential course of treatment? [1:03:05]
  • Parting thoughts, and how to best connect with Kelly. [1:07:18]



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