Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 1: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 1

Welcome to our virtual book club! You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

The Joy of Movement

Here’s our thoughts about Chapter One “The Persistence High” and we look forward to hearing what you thought about it in the comments section below.


I’m so glad we’re reading a happy book. These aren’t easy times and I need something positive and uplifting to sustain me. Kelly McGonigal describes her book as a “love letter to exercise.” The theme of the book are the connections between exercise and happiness. Chapter One looks at the “persistence high.”

McGonigal doesn’t call it “runners high” but that’s the thing she’s talking about. I confess that while running (and riding) make me smile, as a person who doesn’t use mood altering drugs I hate the “high” talk. I confess I kind of glossed over McGonigal’s discussion of “exercise induced endocannabinoids” and went straight to the social bonding material.

The second part of Chapter One discusses the connection between exercise-induced euphoria and social bonding. McGonigal likes that idea that being physically active can enhance co-operation and help us extract even more joy from working as a team or helping others (30). There are some lovely examples of people who run as part of a group and feel better for both the running and the social connection. Her theory is that the good feelings of exercise enhance the social pleasures of sharing and co-operating. Regular exercise allows for more feelings of closeness and connection, companionship, and belonging.

Does this seem right to me? It certainly matches my experiences of group riding, group exercise in CrossFit communities, team rowing, canoe trips with friends and family and so on. But I am, by temperament, a social exerciser. I liked this chapter but I wondered about my friends who are solitary distance cyclists (hi Cate!) or who like to run ultramarathons and who train many hours alone, because that’s the why they like it.

I’ll confess that the academic in me also wanted more studies and footnotes. But it’s not that kind of book and that’s okay.


I confess, I was predisposed to like Joy of Movement. Two of McGonigal’s previous books ‘The Willpower Instinct’ and ‘Yoga for Pain Relief’ are in view while I type this. I like her writing style and I enjoy the way that she makes connections between ideas.

So, when I received an email promoting ‘Joy of Movement.’ I literally squealed.

If you read our posts for Nia Shanks’ ‘100 Day Reclaim,’ you know that I am puzzling out why it is so hard for me to be consistent with exercise and what part my ADHD plays in that challenge.

I found some very useful tools in Shanks’ book and, even just 62 pages in, I am finding some very satisfying ideas in McGonigal’s.

While I currently work as a writer/storyteller/life coach, the questions and interests that led me to my career are rooted in my anthropology/archaeology degree. I am interested in people, how we connect, how we work together, how all of our current patterns came into being over time.

So, McGonigal’s interconnected discussion of human evolution, social connections, and physiology and how they all play a role in the joy of movement is exactly my kind of thing.

A few challenges:

Like, Sam, I am a bit wary of some of the language in the discussion of a ‘runner’s high’ but I found the section very intriguing and useful.

I am also wary of how people might interpret the discussion of the Hadza, an African hunter-gatherer group, and see them as some sort of mythical ideal rather than as an example.

McGonigal avoided this pitfall and warned us against some aspects of it. However, I have taken too many anthropology classes that cautioned against the risk of idealizing another cultural group (it’s an easy trap to fall into) so I kept wondering about the possibilities of that as I read.

I also couldn’t help but wonder about whether someone whose movement is restricted would be upset by some of the ideas in the introduction. I understand (and am thrilled by) the fact that this book is about finding the joy in movement. However, some of the statements in the first chapter about how movement is our only way of interacting with the world and about how movement is connected with the most basic human joy did make me think about how those concepts would affect someone who is unable to move. Obviously, one book is not going to meet the needs of all audiences and, of course, McGonigal will expand and explain her ideas throughout the book, so this is just a question and not at all a condemnation.

The great stuff:

Those things aside. are some of the ideas in the book that resonated for me, so far:

Movement strengthens our feelings of community – I am thoroughly intrigued by the idea that the ‘feel-good’ results of certain intensities of exercise carry over into a desire to connect with other humans. And, the fact that she gets into a discussion of how things like sharing food and putting in a group effort further builds our sense of community makes this thread of ideas useful for me as writer, as a storyteller, and as a coach, in addition to how it helps me think about exercise.

A runner’s high is actually a ‘persistence high’ – Even though I struggle to be consistent, being persistent is one of my strengths. Once I get started, I can and will keep going until the task is done. (For someone with ADHD, this can lead to other challenges, but let’s stick with the positive here.) So, this idea that my persistence, when consciously applied to exercise could have even more rewards, is very inspiring. I’m very interested in the concept of additional physiological/psychological rewards for our movement efforts and the fact that it may have an evolutionary basis.

‘Continuous Moderate Intensity’ is the goal for feeling good – I know that short bursts of intense exercise can be good for me and that I sometimes enjoy them. However, I have trouble making myself start a high intensity session. Reading McGonigal’s information about the psychological benefits of continuous moderate intensity reminds me of the fact that I need to be exercising for about 10 minutes before it starts to feel good. I regularly forget that fact so this reminder, grounded in a kind of scientific discussion that is familiar to me, is helpful and motivating.

Group effort, personal effort, and feeling good- One of the examples that McGonigal uses to illustrate her ideas is a gym in London that is structured around its members doing collective good with their exercise. They run together toward the site for a community project, or their individual runs take them to visit someone who need their help and company.

One of my most satisfying days recently was the day I spent helping to shovel people out after a storm. I worked with various groups to excavate people’s cars and driveways and by the end of the night I had plenty of activity minutes, lots of energy, and the great feeling of a job well done.

Given my schedule, I can’t always do group projects like that but I have been looking for ways to do it more regularly. This section of the book put me right back into that ‘helping out’ feeling and reminded me that I have to keep an eye out for those opportunities.

Collective Goal – At another point in this chapter, McGonigal mentions a person in a spin class who feels like everyone in the class is working toward a collective goal. I love the idea of that and it matches my experience with Taekwondo – one of the few places in the world where you would say ‘nice work’ to someone who has just kicked you in the head. I’m really interested to explore how the positivity of a collective goal shows up for me in other forms of exercise and how I can use it for motivation.

There are many more useful and enjoyable pieces of the book, of course, but my section of this review is already a bit too long so I am going to leave it at that.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of Joy of Movement.


Before I get started properly, I want to say how fun it is to read a book with others, commenting and reading others’ comments along the way. It motivates me to keep going and keep reading and writing—my own form of a “persistence high” that McGonigal talks about.

Like Sam, I don’t like the use of the word “high”, both for the reasons she gives, and also because I don’t experience what I would call a “high”. It’s rather a feeling of relaxing into the pleasure of the activity. When I used to train for bike races (more than 10 years ago), I found that 23 minutes into my workout on my bike trainer, all of a sudden I’d notice a drop in heart rate while expending the same effort. I noticed this outside as well. These days, it takes longer—probably 30—35 minutes— but I start to feel lowered anxiety, more relaxation, more pleasure, and less effort to go the same speed. It tends to persist, with some shifts with stronger efforts, but then the pleasure comes back in abundance. I find myself laughing after big efforts, and laughing while flying down hills. Is that what McGonigal is talking about? Maybe.

Her discussion of the ways we benefit by doing physical activity in groups was familiar and encouraging. However, the GoodGym group was doing a bunch of activities that account for the feelings of bonding, connection, self-satisfaction, etc. Any of us at any level of physical ability will benefit from volunteering in groups, helping others, working to improve the environment and providing services for those in need. Like Christine, I felt like people with physical limitations would feel less included in this section. I look forward to reading more, in part to see what McGonigal will have to say about movement and activity for all.

One more comment: I would also liked to have seen some study references, but I know it’s not that kind of book. In 2017, I wrote a post called Running is Contagious? It depends on who and where and when you are. (…/running-is…/)

It cited a study that showed asymmetric patterns of motivation among runners’ groups. In short, when a slower runner reported a run, it motivated a faster runner in a group to go running, but not the other way around. Paying attention to the social dynamics of our activity groups may be just as important as belonging to them. But, I am getting ahead of myself and ahead of McGonigal, too. Let’s see what she has to say next week.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Chapter One? Let us know in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “Book Club Week 1: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 1

  1. I have had a life long aversion to exercise. High school phys ed classes mostly ruined me. I have the obesity that goes with it. Over the last few years, I have forced myself to exercise. This winter, I read Fit at MidLife and it really resonated. So when you recommended The Joy of Movement, I was all in. I am trying to change my mindset. Exercise is not only necessary but a chance to celebrate what my body can do. I am a better social exerciser, but my small town lacks group classes. I stream and use dvds and pretend I am part of the class. Still looking for the runner’s high … but for now I am just happy I can jump!

    1. Yay! Looking forward to having you read and review along with us Kim. For many of us, this virtual blog community is our fitness community. Welcome!

      1. Hiya Kim!

        So glad you are joining us and yay for jumping!

        I’m proud of you for finding a fun way to move, especially in the face of all of those obstacles.

        Looking forward to reading this with you! 🙂

    2. HI Kim– I know what you mean about looking for the runner’s high. I don’t feel what I think McGonigal described, but it is so nice to feel your body doing things for you– like jumping! Yay for that!

  2. I wasn’t going to read the book or participate, but your column intrigued me. I really don’t like exercising with/next to other people, but I agree that exercising makes me feel good and often volunteer to help with events. So reading the chapter helped me understand that the helping high and runner’s high could be separate things. Which is why I like orienteering / map trekking so much: you get to do it by yourself and then socialize / eat afterwards!

  3. A little late to the party and catching up on my reading. With regard to the “runner’s high” it made me really miss running; although I consistently work uo 3-4 times a week, it’s been a while since I felt that euphoria that comes with a long run.
    Interestingly, current circumstances have now made running outdoors an essential activity for me.

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