It can bring up a lot for people. Fear. Doubt. Insecurity. The truth is many of us have had a negative experience with exercise and that memory can make it challenging to start incorporating it into your life again. It might be a physical, emotional, or mental block that’s telling us we can’t, shouldn’t, or won’t be successful. If this resonates with you, my guess is that the reason you are struggling is because exercise has become synonymous with weight loss.
When was the last time you just simply moved your body in a way that felt good to you and you alone? Not for the calorie burn, not because a plan told you what you had to do that day, not because your smart watch forced you to. But instead, simply because you listened to your body and chose the movement that you wanted. This might have never been the reason for you, but it is possible to shift your meaning and mindset around exercise to keep you more motivated.
The World Health Organization highlights that physical activity does not mean ONLY exercise or sports? We often use exercise interchangeably with physical activity or movement, but these are subcategories. Other subcategories could include dancing, cleaning the house, walking your dog, gardening, or playing with your child/grandchild.
WHY IS THIS DISTINCTION IMPORTANT?
One reason is that it gives us permission to expand our thinking about what it means to move our bodies. Even if we exercise daily, this doesn’t negate the negative health impact of sitting, for example. So, we want to think about frequent and daily movement for our bodies, not just 30 minutes of daily exercise. To start this process, take an inventory, without judgement, of how long you sit for a prolonged period of time each day without getting up. Take note of what day or periods of time are the biggest challenge for you and target those.
SIMPLE WAYS TO ADD MOVEMENT TO YOUR DAY:
Consider standing when you talk on the phone. Set an alarm for every 45 minutes at work to walk the hallways. For a 1-2 person meeting, consider a walking meeting outside. When reading or watching TV, complete a simple to-do task every hour such as taking out the trash or checking the mail.
These very simple changes to our sitting patterns have enormous health benefits.
One of the number one reasons people don’t stick with an exercise routine or consistently work out is because they don’t get any pleasure from it! The good news is, however, that we will repeat activities that feel good! Let’s take a moment to discover what a pleasurable and mindful way of exercising for you might look like.
THERE ARE 4 COMPONENTS TO MINDFUL ACTIVITIES THAT HELPS US TO PAY ATTENTION TO HOW WE FEEL (Calogero & Pedrotty 2007)
- It rejuvenates us, rather than depleting us
- It enhances the mind-body connection
- It alleviates stress, rather than increasing it
- It provides genuine enjoyment and pleasure
Even if you are able to identify a way of exercising that meets these components, there could still be some barriers. Take a moment to reflect on what these might be, because they will come up if you just start moving again.
Were you ever teased or pressured into exercising? Was it ever used as punishment? Do you have underlying thoughts about whether or not you deserve to exercise? Are your goals realistic or only connected to weight loss? Are there any time constraints that you should consider, and how might you modify your goals around that?
Once you’ve taken some time to reflect on these questions, it’s time to get started. Think about your preferences around exercise. Do you want to do it alone or with another person? Would you prefer to be inside or outside? Taking your current fitness level into consideration, where would be a good place to start?
Maybe the most important question you can answer to help you figure out what exercise would be the most pleasurable for you is: How do you want to feel afterwards? Asking yourself this question EACH time you exercise can have a profound impact on the exercise you chose. If you want to feel calm, you might end up picking something like yoga. If you want to feel energized, you might pick a brisk walk outside in the sun.
There are so many ways we are “supposed” to exercise. I am not for or against any one of them. They just need to speak to you as an individual, not for any other reason. When we do this, we honor what our bodies need at different times and will be more likely to stick with a routine that benefits not only our physical health, but our mental and emotional health too.
Emily Betros is a licensed clinical social worker, certified health coach, and owner of Reclaiming Health, LLC. She specializes in body image support, eating disorders, anxiety, life transitions, mindfulness, and women’s issues. More info: www.reclaiminghealth.net.