Shift Your Relationship With Exercise: Movement as Self Care
This is a guest post by Martha Munroe, a certified personal training specialist, wellbeing teacher, and industry changemaker. She loves coffee, being a mom, and reading everything forever and ever – which is probably what lead her to currently doing her MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology where her research focuses on exercise and wellbeing.
Exercise is one of those things that so many people struggle to make a habit in their lives, despite the fact that we all know there are physical and mental health benefits of exercise.
We start off full of zeal, with the best of intentions but motivation peters out and we feel like a failure. How can we do things differently and make physical activity part of our lives in a way that’s not only sustainable but actually gives us energy?
I first worked in the fitness industry almost 16 years ago and right from the get-go there was something that just didn’t jive with the version of ‘health’ that was offered by the magazines and marketing in the fitness space. It made no sense that being healthy meant spending your life eating as little as possible, working out as much and as intensely as possible, and striving to look like the airbrushed images in the magazines.
Fast forward to when I was in university and began learning about how exercise impacts the brain and can improve life for so many people, and I knew this was something important that I wanted to be involved in. I’ve spent the last decade working with clients and learning all I can about exercise and wellbeing and one thing is incredibly clear: being physically active has so much more to offer us than trying to change how we look.
We can shift to a place where exercise is about deep self-care, experiencing enjoyment in moving, and move away from an appearance or weight-focus that undermines motivation.
Here are five ways to start shifting your fitness mindset
1. Focus on the process rather than the outcome – focus on the doing, not the results. In a very real way, we cannot control results, we can only control our own actions and attitudes. By focusing on the habit, and showing up especially at the beginning, we give ourselves the best chance of success. I talk a lot about small goals, like really small goals, so small it’s basically a given that you can do it. By eliminating dread and increasing our self-efficacy, we can get to action much quicker, and ultimately motivation comes from action, not the other way around.
2. Practice self-compassion and self-kindness – it’s hard to take really good care of something we don’t care about, or worse, don’t like. When we dislike our body and view it as an object to be manipulated it is difficult to mindfully care for it. Moving to a self-care relationship with our bodies means building a friendship with our physical selves and talking to ourselves like a friend. We don’t need to judge ourselves for every negative body-thought we have, we can meet those thoughts with empathy and kindness and imagine how we’d talk to a friend about it.
3. Be generous with definitions of exercise and physical activity. Physical activity is anything that isn’t sitting or lying down. Exercise is part of it, but physical activity also includes dancing, walking, stretching, housework, or playing with kids. Expand the idea that exercise only “counts” if it’s an hour-long sweat fest that leaves you sucking wind and in need of a shower. MANY people don’t enjoy high intensity exercise, and research shows that LOW intensity workouts provide the biggest mood boost, plus it’s easier to be consistent if you don’t hate it.
4. Find things you enjoy. Permission slip: you don’t have to do any workout you hate. Approach your new relationship with exercise with curiosity. Try different things and aim for something you actually enjoy. Some people like yoga, some like crossfit, some like Zumba, but ultimately the best workout is the one you actually do, and the best way to do that, is to actually like it. You don’t have to kick your butt so hard when it’s to do things you actually enjoy.
5. Notice how you feel. Ever notice how a walk around the block can totally shift your mood and help you see problems from a new angle? Aim to be present in your body when you’re exercising and moving and notice how you feel. Creating mindful awareness can help us notice what we like and reconnect us to how movement feels good. This can also help us to cultivate body appreciation and gratitude for our bodies. After all, we’re in them for life so it’s worth it to prioritize a healthy relationship.
Changing your relationship with exercise is not like flicking a light switch - it does take some time and practice - but setting the intention to move to a place of self-care and joy can change things completely.