7 Simple Ways Exercise Can Make You Happy
You can learn to find happiness with exercise by following Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating – Exercise: Feel the Difference.
If you’ve been reading along in my Intuitive Eating series, you might have been wondering when I’d discuss exercise. Well, that time has come!
Although most of the Intuitive Eating principles center around food, moving our bodies through exercise is such an important part of health too.
By reading this article you’ll learn some simple steps to help you find joy and happiness by moving your body with exercise, which is found in Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating: Exercise Feel the Difference.
What Do You Know About Exercise?
Exercise is good for us, both physically and mentally. I’m sure we all know this!
Some of the benefits of exercise include:
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Improved blood glucose levels
- Improved bone density with weight-bearing exercise
- Improved mental health
- Greater muscle mass
But, often, our history with dieting takes the fun out of exercise.
What’s your relationship like with exercise?
Most of the women with whom I work fall into one of two camps:
- “I absolutely HATE exercise. I want to start doing it more but I just can’t make myself.”
- “I rarely take a day off from exercise. I love the gym or my spin class. Yoga doesn’t count because it’s not real exercise.”
The two examples above are opposites and extremes – perhaps you fall somewhere in the middle.
Let’s look at both of these exercise personalities in more depth:
I Hate Exercise!
Perhaps you’ve had negative experiences with movement in your life. Awful gym classes with dodgeballs whipped at you; frustrating running races; fitness instructors who take a militant attitude; gyms full of hard core exercisers in spandex looking at you side-eyed as you enter a gym for the first time.
There are so many ways we can get turned off to exercise.
I want you to know that, just as there are so many different body shapes and sizes, there are a multitude of ways to move your body. And there is no right or wrong way!
I Never Miss A Day of Exercise!
Perhaps you are a dedicated exerciser but you’ve noticed that your habits might not be that balanced.
Some hints that your exercise habits might be too extreme:
- You panic if you can’t exercise every day;
- If an activity doesn’t result in serious sweat or fatigue, it doesn’t ‘count’;
- You exercise to make up for eating foods that aren’t on your plan;
- You exercise even when sick or injured.
If you’re a member of this camp, it’s important to know that our bodies need rest and different types of movement to stay healthy.
Did you know: working out too hard too often can actually cause increased stress and inflammation in your body?
No matter which group describes you, the main point I’d like to convey is that part of Intuitive Eating is learning how to exercise in a way that brings us joy and takes our whole person into account.
When you follow Intuitive Eating, you will learn, by understanding principle 9, how you can find joy and fun in movement and exercise.
- Can you picture kids playing tag or hopscotch or jumping rope?
- Can you envision the laughter and joy on their faces?
- When’s the last time moving your body felt like this?
Exercise should be something that enriches our lives and puts us in better touch with our bodies. It can also be a way for us to set and attain goals, but that doesn’t need to be the main (or only) focus.
Too often we are caught in a negative loop of fear and dread:
- fear of weight gain if we decrease our exercise;
- fear of discomfort while exercising;
- dreading an activity we do day after day
Where’s the fun in that?
Here are 7 ways how you can start exercising in a way that enriches your life and keeps you healthy for the long haul:*
1. Name Your Big Why
What’s the deep down reason you want to start moving your body?
We know from behavioral research that people are more likely to make changes when they are tied to one of their core values.
Doing something because your doctor or spouse wants you to will only last for so long.
Making lasting change involves what YOU are going to get out of it.
So, do some reflection and find your why.
Here are some examples of that you can apply to getting started with exercise:
- You value new experiences: You’re headed on a trip that’s going to involve lots of walking and you want to be conditioned enough to sightsee to your heart’s content;
- You value long-term health: you know that your punishing exercise routine is going to put you at risk for injury.
- You value self love: You know that research shows us that exercise improves our body image and can also have a positive impact on mental health.
- You value family: You want to have increased energy to actively play with your kids or grandkids for years to come.
2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
It’s human nature. We decide it’s time to get moving and we want to reach our goals – NOW!
I’m sure you know this already, but attempting going from sedentary to regular exercise overnight is a recipe for injury, burnout, or both.
Research shows us that those who keep a consistent exercise routine don’t go all out on week 1.
They pace themselves and build their endurance gradually.
3. Resist All-or-Nothing Thinking
You’ve heard me say this before and I’ll repeat it again: All or nothing thinking does us no good in any aspect of our lives.
All or nothing thinking means that we are either completely on or off a diet or workout regimen. It leaves no room for flexibility and it usually leaves us in the dumps when we fail to meet our rigid and unattainable goals.
All-or-nothing thinking says: ‘I missed my workout. I’ve completely blown it; I might as well sit on the couch tonight. I can start again on Monday.’
So many women struggle with all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to food and eating, but it is equally common in terms of other health behaviors, including exercise.
Fight back against rigid rules by exploring flexibility.
4. Set Some Realistic Goals.
Often when we start a fitness plan, we tend to see our end goal and want to put it into practice immediately. But that’s a recipe for burnout and injury, and often guilt and shame as well.
When we are trying to tackle a new activity, we are more likely to stick with it in the end if we start with goals that fit our life and our physical ability, and then increase gradually.
Instead of aiming for 5+ days a week to start, start smaller.
If you can achieve your goal of 2 days per week, it will build your confidence and make it more likely that you’ll continue.
But, if you start bigger, and miss a workout, you’re more likely to let that lapse cause you to throw in the towel and give up.
5. Remember Who’s in Charge!
Sometimes, our past negative experiences prevent us from being curious when we are exercising. Trying out new classes or types of exercise is a great way to see what you like and what you don’t.
But, remember: you’re not obligated to finish a class that makes you miserable.
You are in charge of your body!
Say you’re in the middle of an exercise class and you find yourself miserable. Or you find yourself unable to keep up with the exercises. Or you’re in pain.
You have options:
- you can leave the class.
- You can ask the instructor for modifications or make up your own
- You can take some time out and gently stretch or do something else that doesn’t cause you pain.
The important thing to remember is that you have choices.
6. Experiment and Get Creative.
Too often we fall prey to what we have done before. Treadmills and exercise bikes can be convenient (and some people legitimately love them!), but many people HATE exercising inside. Yet they continue to exercise this way because it’s what they’ve always done.
Here’s one thing we do know: If you don’t enjoy your exercise, you’re unlikely to stick with it.
I encourage my clients to take their preferences into account, and to think outside the box:
- Do you like solo activities or are you happier in a group?
- Are you a morning or evening person?
- Do you like indoor activities, or do you need to be outside at least some of the time?
- When it comes to activities, running, walking and the elliptical are great for some people, but I really encourage you to seek out new activities: Dance classes, rowing on a river, Tai Chi, Zumba, Spinning, hiking, gardening, swimming, chair yoga, strength training. The options are almost endless! Find what works for you!
- And don’t forget: you can find simple ways to move your body throughout the day. A 5-10 minute walk at lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.
Since variety helps keep things interesting and also reduces the chance of injury, aim to find 2-3 different activities you can incorporate into your life.
7. Take Time for Rest.
Rest is just as important to our bodies as movement and nutrition.
Too often, we push through when our bodies really need rest. Exercising strenuously every day is not good for our health.
It’s ok to take a power nap, go to sleep earlier, find some gentle stretching or restorative yoga.
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
However, too many of us are caught up in fear and dread around moving our bodies.
Through Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating you will learn to Feel the Difference when you change your mindset and actions around exercise.
Learning to move our bodies in a way that challenges us, but also gives us joy, is key to making exercise a part of your life.
Are you struggling to incorporate exercise into your life now that you are under the COVID-19 lockdown?
This is the perfect time to try something new!
Fortunately, there are so many ways to explore new ways of movement through online exercise classes right now.
To help you navigate the many options available, I’ve created a handout of online classes that are consistent with the principles of Intuitive Eating. Several of these options even have free trials!
Are you new to Intuitive Eating?
I have a series of blogs that cover all the principles of Intuitive Eating. You can read them by clicking the links below:
*Note: please consult your healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”