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If there was ever a time to improve your fitness game, the arrival of the new year and the new decade is. But after the attractiveness of the new gym membership disappears, our sedentary habits, most of the time, consume our promise of daily workouts. It doesn't have to be that way, says health psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal.
In his new book, The joy of movement: how exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection and courage, The Stanford University professor offers a new motivation to move that has less to do with how we look or the duty to exercise, and everything that has to do with how the movement makes us feel. She shares with readers the often profound, but less well-known, benefits of exercise that make it a dignified and lifelong activity, whether young, old, fit or disabled.
"I want you to understand [exercise] "In a different way than the usual conversation we always have about weight loss, disease prevention and making our bodies look a certain way," McGonigal tells NPR.
Among its many rewards that alter life: the generation of hope, happiness, a sense of purpose, greater satisfaction with life and gratifying connections with others.
"These benefits are seen throughout life," he writes. "They apply to all socioeconomic strata and appear to be culturally universal."
And they are not specific to the activity and do not require you to be a super scooter. Whether you run, swim, dance, ride a bike, lift weights, do yoga or participate in team sports, it doesn't matter, says McGonigal, moderate physical activity does much more than make us physically stronger and healthier.
Here are five ways the movement can help you enjoy life.
1) Activate pleasure
McGonigal explains that during exercise, our brains release neurotransmitters, in particular dopamine and endocannabinoids, which can generate a natural effect similar to that of cannabis or marijuana.
"Many of the effects of cannabis are consistent with descriptions of exercise-induced increases, including the sudden disappearance of worries or stress, pain reduction, time reduction and sensory intensification," he writes.
And although exercise activates the same channels of the brain's reward system as addictive drugs, he explains, it does so "in a way that has the completely opposite effect on your ability to enjoy life."
You don't fully understand how exactly it works.
"But the basic idea is that your brain will have a more robust response to everyday pleasures," he says, "whether your child smiles at you, or the taste of food or your pleasure of looking at something beautiful, and that is exactly the effect. opposite of addiction. "
2) Become a "more social version of yourself"
In a chapter on the collective joy of exercise, McGonigal explains how endorphins, another type of neurotransmitters released during sustained physical activity, help us to join others. It is a connection, he writes, that "it can be experienced at any time and in any place where people gather to move in unison," either during the flow of the yoga class, during the synchronization of the rowing team, while running with friends or practice tai chi with others. .
And it also helps explain why those with whom we participate in teams or share physical exercise friendships often feel like family, she says. Endorphins help strengthen ties with people we are not related to, which helps us build large families and important social networks that help avoid loneliness and social isolation.
Of course, humans can also build bonds through sedentary activities, says McGonigal.
"But there is something about increasing your heart rate a bit and using your muscles that create that brain state that makes you more willing to trust others, which improves the pleasure you get when interacting with others, which often become this more social version of yourself, "she says.
3) Help with depression
In a section on "green exercise," McGonigal analyzes the positive changes in mood and perspective reported by those who exercise in nature.
"It really alters what happens in your brain in a way that looks a lot like meditation," she says. "People report that they feel connected to life … and they feel more optimistic about life itself."
In fact, an Austrian study citing McGonigal found that among people who had previously attempted suicide, the addition of mountain hiking to their standard medical treatment reduced suicidal thinking and hopelessness.
McGonigal says he heard many similar stories among which he interviewed for the book: "Many people who fight against anxiety, pain or depression find a kind of relief by being of an active nature that they find no other way."
4) Reveal hidden strength
Even for those who do not struggle with mental or physical illness, adopting a regular exercise routine can provide a powerful transformation. McGonigal shares stories of several women who overcame limiting beliefs through exercise to reveal new and more powerful ones.
"If there is a voice in your head that says: & # 39; You are too old, too clumsy, too big, too broken, too weak & # 39 ;, the physical sensations of the movement can provide a compelling counterargument," McGonigal writes. "Even deep-rooted beliefs about ourselves can be challenged by direct physical experiences, as new sensations overcome old memories and stories."
5) A boost for the brain
McGonigal offers information drawn from research in ultraendurance athletes and how they survive mentally and physically stressful events designed to last six or more hours.
When researchers from the Berlin-based Space Medicine and Extreme Environments Center measured the blood of ultraendurance athletes, they found high levels of a family of proteins called myokines, known to help the body burn fat as fuel, act as natural antidepressants and provide a possible shield against cognitive impairment.
But as she reports, it is not necessary to be a supercar to experience the benefits of myokines. McGonigal cites a 2018 study that identified 35 of these proteins released by the quadriceps muscles for only one hour of cycling.
Emerging research, he says, suggests that when you exercise, your muscles become "basically a pharmacy for your physical and mental health."
"If you are willing to move," he writes, "your muscles will give you hope. Your brain will organize pleasure. And all your physiology will adjust to help you find the energy, purpose and courage you need to move forward."