Research Confirms That More Movement May Lead to a Better Mood

We’ve all heard of the elusive “runner’s high,” that feeling of euphoria one gets after completing an especially arduous bout of aerobic exercise. And while long-distance running may not be realistic for everyone, it is possible to get a mood-boost from every-day movements and physical activities.

Research shows that exercise can have a “feel-better” effect, and that certain movements are particularly connected to specific positive emotions. For example, studies demonstrate that across cultures, universal motions like reaching your arms up in praise or elation; swaying from side to side in a relaxed state; stretching arms outward as you gaze upward; or moving in rhythm to music can actually make you feel better.

The New York Times, led by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, health psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University, and author of The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage, expanded on this existing body of research in order to create a version of what the Times is calling a “Joy Workout,” a combination of movements and exercises believed to elicit positive emotions.

Start to finish, the Joy Workout can be completed in around nine minutes, and involves six distinct “joy moves”: reach, sway, bounce, shake, jump for joy, and “celebrate,” which looks like tossing confetti in the air. This short, low-intensity workout routine can be completed at any pace, and can be performed in a number of settings, such as a park, backyard, school gymnasium, or living room. Incorporating music with a fun beat and inviting a few friends or family members to join are two additional ways to amplify the positive effects of the Joy Workout.

A variety of  low-intensity workouts are offered by different sources to help you incorporate movement into your weekly wellness routine in order to feel better. One example is our  Move It Monday Move for Your Mood Package, a 7-week series that demonstrates how different physical activities, like dancing, dog walking, yoga, and even yard work, can be used to relieve stress, sharpen focus, and maintain a positive outlook. These practices and many others can help you experience the positive effects of movement on your mood as well as your overall health.