The Joy Workout – The New York Times

Researchers have identified several movements like this that are recognizable in many cultures as being inspired by joy: stretching your arms up; swaying to and fro, like concertgoers lost in the music; other rhythmic movements, such as bouncing to a beat; or take up more space, like dancers spinning around with outstretched arms. These physical actions don’t just express a sense of joy — research shows they can arouse it, too.

When people were instructed to perform these types of movements in several small studies, they reported more positive emotions. And opposing actions, such as sinking and shrinking, evoked sadness and fear. Another small study suggested that the effects of so-called joy movements are stronger when you can see someone else doing the movements as well — in part because happiness is contagious.

With the resulting eight and a half minutes of Joy Workout, you can test these effects for yourself. It walks you through six joy moves: reach, sway, bounce, shake, jump for joy, and one I called “celebrating” and looking like you’re throwing confetti in the air. I’ve based these moves on research and on the moves that bring the most joy to my classes, with people of all ages and abilities. You should do the moves in whatever way feels right – as big or as small and as fast or as slow as you want. If a move doesn’t feel right, repeat a previous one or create your own, moving in a way that feels joyful, powerful, playful, or graceful. The video shows a standing workout, but you can also try it sitting.

We’ve added a soundtrack aimed at amplifying positive emotions. You hear up-tempo songs in a major key, with a strong beat. If you have other favorite music that makes you happy, you can mute the video and play it instead.

The Joy Workout is just one way to lift your spirits through exercise. Consider this video an experiment and an invitation to find your own joy of movement. There are plenty of other science-backed ways to boost your mood through exercise:

  • Move with other people, in a class or training group, or casually, with friends or family.

  • Move to music, either through traditional exercises such as jogging or cycling, or through something that gets your body moving, such as air guitar, drumming or singing karaoke.


Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University, and author of The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage. She is a certified group fitness instructor and has been teaching exercise classes for over twenty years.

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