The Science of Movement: How to Use Exercise to Defeat Depression, Anxiety, and Loneliness with Dr. Kelly McGonigal

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The most common explanation for why exercise makes us happy is far too simplistic. The psychological effects of movement cannot be reduced to an endorphin rush. Physical activity influences many other brain chemicals, including those that give you energy, alleviate worry, and help you bond with others. It reduces inflammation in the brain, which over time can protect against depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Regular exercise also remodels the physical structure of your brain to make you more receptive to joy and social connection. These neurological changes rival those observed in the most cutting-edge treatments for both depression and addiction. 

On today’s Broken Brain Podcast, our host, Dhru, talks to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist who specializes in understanding the mind-body connection. She is the bestselling 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.

In this episode, Dhru and Kelly talk about how exercise can improve the treatment outcomes for depression, anxiety, and addiction. They discuss the science of why people who are regularly active have a stronger sense of purpose, experience more gratitude, love and hope, feel more connected to their communities, and are less likely to suffer from loneliness or become depressed. They also talk about how during physical activity, muscles secrete hormones into our bloodstream that make our brain more resilient to stress, which scientists call “hope molecules.” 

In this episode, we dive into:

  • The moment that changed Kelly’s life (1:58)
  • The connection between joy and movement (8:13)
  • How exercise can help with mental health (19:25)
  • How to get past the mental barriers when it comes to movement and exercise (28:24)
  • The role movement plays when it comes to loneliness (38:30)
  • Why the so-called “Runner’s High” is more than just an endorphin rush, and how it helps to reduce inflammation in the brain (50:22)
  • How exercise teaches us to be better at stress (56:27)
  • Why you should set a goal that involves movement, not just weight loss (1:00:59)
  • How exercise enhances healing (1:13:39)
  • Where to learn more about Dr. Kelly McGonigal (1:22:40)

I know you’ll love this episode of The Broken Brain Podcast as much as I did. 

PS – For more on Dr. Kelly McGonigal, be sure to follow her on Instagram @kellymariemcgonigal, and on Facebook @kellymcgonigalauthor. You can find her music playlists on Spotify by searching her name: Kelly McGonigal. Check out her website You can find her book, The Joy of Movement, right here.

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD


Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.


If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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