Motion Creates Emotion

This post is inspired by Lesson 2 of The Lift Project, a cutting-edge depression and anxiety program. Developed by lifestyle medicine expert Darren Morton, Ph.D., the program is used by companies and groups. Click here to learn more. 

“Emotion is created by motion. Whatever you’re feeling right now is related to how you’re using your body.” – Anthony Robbins

What if there was an anti-depressant drug that had no negative side effects, cost $0 per bottle, and made you feel happy while you were taking it?

As you might have guessed, exercise is this “wonder drug.” Ground-breaking research shows it is a powerful way to increase happiness, decrease anxiety and spur brain growth.

The Power of Proprioceptors

Throughout your body, there are millions of tiny nerve endings called proprioceptors. Proprioceptors detect how your body parts are positioned in space and share this information with your brain.

As proprioceptor messages come into the brain, they pass through the limbic system–the part of the brain involved in emotion and behavior.  Depending on how your body parts move, your brain will receive signal types that determine how you feel and react.

Proprioceptors tell the brain how to feel. As you move, your brain receives feedback from these nerve endings. Your brain translates this feedback into certain emotions–happiness, anger, frustration, joy–linked to that type of motion.

Act How You Want to Feel

Did you know that actors utilize their proprioceptors to get “in state”? If an actor needs to feel angry, for example, they’ll stomp around back stage, shake their fists, or scowl at the stage lights. Their limbic system picks up on the feedback. Then, their limbic system helps them get angry!

In the 1970s, a Clark University researcher explored the “facial feedback” phenomenon. He placed electrodes on people’s faces and stimulated their facial muscles to pull into smiles or frowns. Even when participants could not tell if they were smiling or frowning, they reportedly felt happier when smiling and angrier when frowning.

In other words, our bodily movements impact our state of mind. As Vietnamese peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh says, “sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Don’t Just Sit There

You can easily stimulate your proprioceptors to influence your mood.

If you feel depressed, notice that your posture reflects this. Sit up straight, take a deep breath, and maintain an upright posture.

Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that an upright seated posture, as compared to a slumped posture, is associated with increased mood and motivation, courage and confidence.

Move Your Mood

When you move dynamically, millions of proprioceptors are “turned on.” In response to exercise, the nerve endings send signals to the limbic system. The limbic system, in turn, makes you feel positive, happy and stable.

Researchers know that a single workout session can lift your mood, and a session can be as short as 10 minutes! More than 25 rigorous studies show that regular physical activity is associated with depression prevention and mood.

A 2015 study involving 15 European countries found a positive association between physical activity and happiness levels. In other words, the more you exercise, the more you are excited!

Put It Into Practice

Are you ready for a challenge? To put this lesson into practice, Darren Morton, Ph.D., shares these workout tips. Remember: more intense workouts are associated with greater mood lifts.

  1. Step it up!

Try 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical exercise. It doesn’t need to be hard. A 3-4 out of 10 in effort. Or, break up 30 minutes per day into 3 chunks of 10 minutes.

2.  Buy a pedometer 

Studies show that when people wear a pedometer, they will usually take an extra 2000 or so steps each day. It is just so rewarding to watch the count go up! Your goal is to take 10,000 steps each day.

3.  Lift it! 

Try a basic resistance exercise session. Stimulating your proprioceptors in this way will give your limbic system a lift.


Motion creates emotion. Your body is covered with proprioceptors, tiny nerve endings, which send signals to your brain. As you move dynamically, your brain receives uplifting messages. The more you move, the more you feel! 

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