What’s The Big Deal About Exercise?

“I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”. That’s what I used to say. And I believed it. Man, did I hate exercise. I felt angry (and guilty and ashamed) at the mention of the word and, I have to confess, I’m worried some of you may stop reading this post for the very same reason, but I hope not.

In the past, if a slim person said to me “I’m just going to the gym” I would be outraged and think “why the hell are you doing that? You’re already thin!  You don’t need to go to the gym”.  It was my assumption that you only exercised to lose weight.  It didn’t occur to me that people might exercise because they enjoyed it.

After all, what was enjoyable about exercise?  Nothing.  All that pain and sweating and discomfort.  It felt like punishment.

And it was.

I was punishing my body for being too big, for being wrong, for being defective, for being shameful.  I told myself I had to do something about it.  I needed to get a grip, give myself a good talking to, get my s*** together.

That was how I approached exercise and that’s why I hated it.

It was about taking a body that I considered shameful and attempting to transform it into something “acceptable”, nothing else. With that as my starting point, I was doomed to failure.

Why?  Because if you approach exercise purely from a weight loss standpoint, you tend to “attack” it rather than find a way to work it naturally into your life. However much you exercise, you tell yourself it’s not enough.  Rather than a means of looking after yourself, you use it to compensate for eating too much or to give you the right to earn what you’re going to eat.

Despite the fact that you’re unfit, you don’t listen to your body about what it’s capable of right now.  You just push it to get rapid results.  And because you don’t see those results quickly enough and because the entire experience feels like torture, you give up and never want to do it ever again.

Subsequently, in exactly the way that you form damaging beliefs as a result of dieting, you develop negative beliefs about exercise according to your experiences: “it’s too hard”, “I can’t do it” and, of course my favourite, “I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”.

We often adopt the same all-or-nothing approach to exercise that we do to eating.  In the same way that it’s either “I’m restricting or I’m bingeing”, it can be either “I’m going to the gym every day for 2 hours and totally crushing it or I’m doing absolutely no exercise whatsoever”.

But where’s the middle ground?  Because just as you can have a healthy diet without having a perfect diet, you can have a fit body without having a “ripped” body.

Realistically, how much time do you have for exercise? 20 minutes a couple of times a week?  Fine.  5 minutes every other day?  Fine.  Whatever you can manage is fine.  If it’s manageable it just becomes a normal part of your life, not a Great Big Deal or something that you dread.  And if you change your experience of exercise, you change your beliefs about it.

The reason I’m telling you this is because if you begin to normalise your eating and your relationship with food calms down, a very strange thing can happen.

You get messages from your body to move more. Something within you gently urges you to be more physically active.  Obviously, when I first started receiving these messages I ignored them (because I was just one of those people who hates exercise, right?). Luckily, my body is smarter than I am and the messages became so persistent that I couldn’t disregard them any longer.

My clients are often amazed to receive similar communications from their bodies and these experiences contribute to their developing self-trust.  It’s astonishing and gratifying that the body they’ve despised and abused most of their life is still attempting to co-operate with them.  It’s as though their body is patiently saying “I know how you feel about me, but I’m still here and I’ll work with you whenever you’re ready”.

They also have to work with that part of them that might feel self-conscious about slapping on the lycra and hitting the gym.  While it’s likely they’re going to experience some self-consciousness trying something new, it’s no good if they’re feeling overwhelmingly insecure.  Better to start gently with an activity that suits them, rather than signing up for a 12-week hardcore Butts ‘n’ Guts Power Pump Killer Body Booty Camp (OK, I made that up).

“But I won’t lose weight that way” you might say.  Don’t let weight loss be your motivation. Rather let it be a by-product of your improving relationship with yourself.  You don’t lose weight from a starting point of “I hate my body”:  you lose weight from a starting point of “I value and appreciate my body and I want what’s best for it”.

I’ve come to believe that, rather than punishment, exercise is an expression of self-care – a way of demonstrating to your body just how much it means to you. Exercise is an ally when life is demanding and challenging. It helps balance you emotionally and psychologically.  It helps negate years of derogatory messages and body-loathing and striving to be perfect.  It helps you prove to yourself you’re worth looking after.  It helps you feel strong.  It helps you feel good.  It helps you respect and make peace with your body.

And that’s a very long way from “I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”.

That’s why it’s a big deal.

Here’s a great post by Dr Juliet McGrattan about how to make exercise more enjoyable.

22 thoughts on “What’s The Big Deal About Exercise?

  1. Oh, I love this! As someone who used to exercise as punishment as an adolescent to lose weight, I did not use to enjoy exercise. But as someone who now loves to run and do yoga, I have realized the mental health benefits of moving my body in a healthy way, but a gentler way. Exercise feels more like play than like punishment now. It is “recess” rather than work. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had a feeling this might resonate with you! I totally agree that exercise feels more like “play” than “punishment” (especially as it’s an excuse for me to listen to some noisy tunes probably far too loud in my headphones). Many thanks for taking the time to write your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I’m struggling with balancing my time between writing and exercise. I usually have to choose one or the other because of time constraints. My writing usually wins because I love it. Exercise…not so much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re SO right that exercise isn’t about punishing the body! It’s about moving. Later this week I’ll be taking a Zumba class for fun movement and fitness at the same time. Let’s actually enjoy our active time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. My pleasure! I haven’t been a sporty person for the biggest part of my life, and then I started doing something, slowly at the beginning, and without any “pressure”, and then I started enjoy the very feeling of my body doing exercise. It’s oxygenating, relaxing, and rewarding on the long term. But, as you say, one needs to have a different outlook on it than just “loosing weight” or “sculpting the body”… if we focus only on this we can get easily stressed. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this outlook on exercise. So often I beat myself up about the exercise I’m not doing consistently that even when I do complete my 20 minutes a few times a week, I do not appreciate them because they are “not enough.” This mentality can go a long way in changing not only mindsets but overall health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I’m really glad this post resonates with you. I hope you can replace the voice that says “it’s not enough” with one that says “you’re doing really well” – I know from my experience that it feels so much better.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Very nicely put! Because you enjoy it you want to do it, rather than trying to impose something on yourself that you “should” or “have” to do. Many thanks for sharing your experience, Colline.

      Like

  5. This is a great article. When clients come to me for weight management, one do the things I have then do is discover activities that they enjoy that get them moving. I never use the word, “exercise,” for many of the reasons you detailed in your post. For some, it may be taking a dance class or walking the dogs (just an extra step a day makes a great difference). One client had trouble walking but loved playing the drums. That was a wonderful outlet for him physically and emotionally and mentally. We don’t always need a gym.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, understandably lots of people have an aversion to the ‘e’ word! You’re right that exercise doesn’t mean just going to the gym, although that’s often what springs to mind which is what can put people off – there are so many other ways to enjoy moving, it’s just important that we find what speaks to us (like playing the drums!). Many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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