Have you ever considered your relationship with exercise?    Is it a nourishing, loving relationship?  Is it a Love-Hate Relationship?  An adversarial relationship?  An addictive relationship? We all know that exercise is good for us.  It reduces stress, it releases endorphins which make us happier, it makes our hearts and other muscles strong…I could go on and on and on!

Then why is it so hard for many us to actually do exercise regularly?   What do you think of when you think of exercise?  Something you should do?  Another item on the to-do list?  Something that causes you to be sweaty or stinky? Painful?  Boring?  Is exercise another area where you judge yourself as right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy?  Do you experience guilt or anxiety if you don’t do enough or do any at all?  Do you feel pressure to exercise in a certain way?  Is there an acceptable level of intensity, duration?

Being aware of our relationship can make a difference in actually accomplishing the health benefits that are available with “exercise”.  Here are some tips for adapting your relationship and mindset around exercise.

Consider redefining exercise or using new words for it. 

  • Physical activity is defined as any body movement that contracts your muscles to burn more calories than your body would normally use to exist at rest.
  • Exercise is subset of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful.
  • Planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful don’t sound very enjoyable do they?
  • A recent study invited half of the participants to do an exercise walk and the other half to do a scenic walk.  They found in two separate studies that individuals who did an exercise walk ate more than those who did the same scenic walk.  The researchers speculated that when taking a scenic walk it was a fun, enjoyable activity that reduced the need to obtain the enjoyment through food.

CHOOSE your activity!  Allow yourself the freedom to choose what you will do on any given day for physical activity, over forcing yourself to do what others think you should do.  Physical activity doesn’t have to be prescribed or regimented.    Sometime programs become very prescriptive and it seems that it must be done in a certain order. Choosing offers freedom from resentment and obligation that can come with some programs.

Create fun and play!  Have you every noticed that kids don’t exercise?  They PLAY!  What is fun and play for you that also involves physical activity?    What do you love doing that is also movement of your body?  Dancing, hiking, paddling, climbing….

Focus on what you CAN do!  Notice where you have negative self-talk you have about your body and your abilities. So often we focus on what we cannot do as we begin an exercise regimen.  I cannot run a 5K.  I cannot do 10 push-ups.  I cannot lift that weight.  Focusing instead on what we can do empowers and motivates us to continue moving forward, making exercise more pleasurable and increasing our stamina to continue.  I can walk around the block.  I ran 10 more yards today than last week.  Consider using the mantra “My Body is Amazing” as you are physically active.

Give up comparison to others.  Give yourself permission to modify exercises so they are right for you, your body, and your level of fitness.  Pushing ourselves to do what our neighbor is doing increases our chances of injury, leads to negative self-image, and often leads to us stopping the activity.

Smile.  There are studies that demonstrate that smiling causes physical changes in the body leading to more pleasure.  Try it sometime.   Smile despite your frustration and fatigue and see if you notice a difference in your experience of exercise.

Be mindful and intentional.  Notice how your body is moving. Notice what it feels like.  Use your five senses while moving. What do you see? Hear?  Taste?  Smell?

Breathe.  How you breathe is how it goes.  Do you hold your breath during some exercises.  Do you breath quickly and shallowly?  If your breath is constricted, your attitude, mental and physical state often are as well.  If your breath is deep, expansive and relaxed, so will your mind and body.

Try some of these and see what you notice about your relationship with exercise!