On Joyful Movement: Let’s Take Exercise Back!
Ah, January. There’s this classic, fast and furious renewal of fitness memberships and resolving to move more. The diet & fitness industries are pulling out all the stops to make sure they rack in the cash before everyone falls off their new (and often very extreme and/or rigid) work-out regimen.
Despite the frustration I hear from my clients (and that I also feel) about our society’s disordered messages around food and exercise, especially in the New Year, I really do believe our bodies are made to move.
Unfortunately, our society’s diet culture hijacks movement and turns it into this black-and-white, no-pain-no-gain BS. That pisses me off, because if we are lucky to live in able bodies capable of walking, swimming, dancing, etc., why have we turned it into this virtuous, all-or-nothing, means to an end?
The beautiful thing is: We can choose to take it back and re-define how we move, based on what feels good in our own individual bodies. We don’t have to go to the gym if it we don’t enjoy it (or we can if we do!) and we can walk instead of run (or visa versa!). We can let our movement be joyful and life-enhancing, instead of something that is painful and/or supposed to make our bodies a certain size. As I’m sure you know, movement – I prefer this term as “exercise” is often thought to be something we dread or feel obligated to do – can improve our physical and mental health significantly.
Here’s what recent research says about the benefits of movement, which have absolutely nothing to do with changing your body size:
1) Moderate-to-vigorous activity improves quality of sleep and reduces daytime sleepiness.
2) Consistent movement reduces the risk of clinical depression and depressive symptoms among those with and without depression diagnoses. It can also reduce depressive symptom severity. It also reduces anxiety symptoms – both chronic and acute, or anxiety felt from time to time.
3) Single sessions of physical activity promote improvements in executive function, which includes one’s ability to plan and organize, and regulate emotions. Plus, movement improves things like memory and focus.
4) Movement improves physical functioning for middle-aged to older adults, such as ability to climb stairs and reduced risk of falling, since it increases energy and decreases fatigue.
5) It reduces the risk of several diseases and conditions.
Overall, the latest research around movement really shows that regularly moving our bodies helps us to sleep better, feel better and perform daily tasks with greater ease.
Feel like you don’t have time?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and registered yoga teacher (RYT), one of the greatest barriers I observe in clients who struggle to have a regular movement routine is that black-and-white approach. For instance, a common thought process is, “If it’s only a few minutes or if I’m just taking a brief walk, it doesn’t count, so why do it?”
But recent research also explains that any moderate to vigorous movement for any amount of time is beneficial to human health. Some is absolutely better than none!
And even small increases in regular movement merit major health improvements. In fact, research shows people who do no or little movement can reduce their risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease by replacing sedentary behaviors with light-intensity movement (like leisurely walking or a casual bike ride) And they found that the same group can reduce health risks by slowly adding some moderate-intensity movement (like brisk walking or yoga).
Let movement be another source of life pleasure and celebration of what your body can do!
And if you need a little motivation, here ya go:
1) Start small. Remember, anything is better than nothing! Like the research shows, some exercise is beneficial to your health. Set realistic goals – even five minutes of walking can make a difference!
2) Pick joyful movement. What forms of exercise do you actually enjoy doing? Let go of anything you feel forced to do and embrace movement you love. The chances of maintaining a regular movement routine is much better when you are having fun doing it, than when you feel like you’re being punished. If you can’t figure out what you enjoy doing, think about what you loved when you were a kid, and tap into your inner child.
3) Try something new! Step outside of your comfort zone and try a dance or yoga class. Keep trying new forms of movement until you learn what feels the best to you.
4) Fuel well! If you aren’t eating enough or are eating food combinations that don’t support sustained energy, motivations to move are likely decrease.
BUT sometimes, movement is not what we need.
Through my own journey away from rigid, obsessive exercise to joyful, intuitive movement, one of my biggest yet necessary challenges was decreasing my activity and letting myself rest more. It wasn’t until I did that, that I was able to create a new and truly healthy relationship to movement that supported my mind, body and soul.
Many of my past and current clients are also on the same journey and would NOT benefit from moving more.
Over-exercise can be extremely dangerous, as it can become an obsession and an unhealthy coping mechanism that comes with serious physiological and psychological consequences.
Please keep in mind: resting is just as important as moving, and sometime it is the more nourishing choice!
If you need help with your relationship to food and movement, please visit my Work With Me Page.
And here’s to moving with joy!
In true health, Caroline
*This Post was adapted from an article written for the National Peanut Board website.