Physical activity is good for the mood: so why not study exercises designed to lift the spirit? The idea came to Kelly McGonigala psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, who just presented on the New York Times a video designed to train in a good mood.
The starting idea is simple: perform the movements we make when we are happy, cheer for a goal or celebrate someone. Various studies show that different cultures also express joy in the same way: by throwing their arms towards each other, swinging to the rhythm of music, hopping or turning on themselves. “We know that emotions are cross-cultural: different peoples express them in a similar way, even if they may define them differently”, he observes Antonio Cerasa neuroscientist and researcher of the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation IRIB-CNR. “
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The movements that generate joy
The figure is confirmed by a study published in 2019. “Today, however – recalls McGonigal – we know that these movements not only serve to express joy, but generate it”. “Thanks to mirror neurons, which are actually motor neurons: it is the movement that allows us to perceive and express emotions – explains Cerasa -. The motor system is closely connected to the limbic system and has little to do with our cognitive abilities: we just think about the fact that it is very difficult for us to define the emotions we feel in words, while we are able to tell if another person is happy or angry by observing their movements and expressions “.
Studies that appeared a few years ago on Brain Cognition McGonigal’s theories confirm: people who performed movements inspired by joy confirm that they experienced positive emotions, while those who mimicked gestures of opposite sign, such as turning in on themselves, were saddened. Data similar to that of a famous experiment that shows how to simulate a smile by gritting a pencil between the teeth improves the mood, while pretending sadness makes us melancholy.
“Empathy is also based on motor mirroring: we recognize the emotion of those in front of us by unconsciously mimicking it with the body – underlines Cerasa – so much so that a recent study has shown that those who use Botox to eliminate wrinkles have difficulty in interpreting the other people’s emotions, precisely because his blocked muscles cannot reproduce them “.
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An 8 and a half minute workout
McGonigal’s theory – summarized in the essay The joy of moving (Joints) – results in an eight and a half minute training sequence, based on six fundamental movements: throwing the arms upwards as if to grab something, swaying, bouncing, shaking, jumping for joy, and one last movement that the psychologist has renamed “celebrate” and recalls the gesture of throwing confetti higher and higher, and then ending up dancing freely.
The music? You choose it
All to be performed in time with the music: the one proposed by the video has a fast rhythm in a major key, “but if there is other music that makes you happy you can silence the video and listen to those”, advises Mc Gonigal. “Just as you can add whatever movement makes you feel good, even do the seated sequence if that’s right for you,” he points out. To enhance the advantages of the exercise it may be useful to perform them in a park or in the middle of nature “in order to exploit the benefits – reminds the psychologist -. But also to make the more traditional exercises fun by organizing a competition or moving to music. be it jogging or singing karaoke. “
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Better to train in company
Above all, we should train in company: even a Dutch research published in 2021 confirms how seeing someone performing the same movements increases the effect: we are influenced by the mood of our fellowmen “, says Cerasa. Concluding:” A mechanism that in the future we will be able to exploit thanks to the metaverse: even those suffering from neurological diseases that prevent them from expressing, and therefore interpreting, the emotions will have the opportunity to interact with their own avatar, and through this with others. We still do not know to what extent this will allow us to amplify our emotional states, to help those affected by serious diseases “.