Reclaiming Joy in Exercise

We all know physical activity has countless health benefits and is something we "should" be doing, but how do we turn something that can easily feel like a chore into a joy? Here are 4 simple ways to help you shift your perspective and reclaim the joy in exercise!

What’s your attitude towards exercise?

Is it punishment? A way of compensating for what you’ve eaten or are planning to eat i.e. negative food? A way to change the shape of your body? Maybe it's something you do really diligently for a while but then life gets in the way, or you just get bored of it and so quit altogether?

What would you like exercise to be to you?

Fun? A joy to do? Something you actually look forward to? Easier to be motivated with? A way to care for yourself rather than punish yourself?

As a personal trainer and exercise enthusiast I have always enjoyed moving my body. However, it took me a long time to work out that somewhere between my teens and early twenties my attitude towards exercise had morphed from an enjoyable habit into something superficial, and actually pretty harmful for both my physical and mental health. It got to the point where working out was something I felt I had to do and I would push myself almost to breaking point doing it. After taking a step back and reflecting on what truly mattered to me, I was finally able to reclaim the joy in exercise. The following are the things I found most helpful, but first, let's dig into why we do it in the first place!

My attitude towards exercise had morphed into something superficial, and actually pretty harmful for both my physical and mental health.

The benefits of exercise:

Our bodies are designed to move! There are both immediate and long-term benefits of exercise for our bodies and brains. Here are just a few:

Immediate effects:

  • Improved mood - exercise increases levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline which in turn means a happier you!

  • Exercise can have immediate beneficial effects on the way your body deals with lipids (fats) in your blood, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity!

In the long-term exercise can:

  • Improve memory function - exercise can actually increase the volume of your hippocampus, an area of your brain associated with memory and the regulation of emotions.

  • Improve attention and focus

  • Protect against neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s and dementia) and normal cognitive decline

  • Decrease anxiety and depression - exercise can affect our hormonal response to stress

  • Significantly reduce the risk of developing of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer

4 ways to reclaim joy in exercise:

1. Find what you love:

If you hate running, try something else. There is not one “right” way to exercise. It’s so easy to think that it doesn’t really “count” as exercise if it’s not at the gym, if it doesn't leaves you a sweaty mess or if you’re not wearing trendy lycra when you do it. But, no matter what it is, if you get your heart rate up, feel a little out of breath and perhaps break a sweat - you’re doing it right! That could mean dancing around the living room with your kids, doing deadlifts at the gym, hiking, spin class, swimming in the sea or playing your favourite team sport. It’s so worth finding movement you love because when you do, exercise starts to become a joy and not a chore.

2. Rethink your goals:

What are your goals for exercise and movement? If they involve burning a certain number of calories, achieving a certain size or having a visible six-pack can I gently challenge you to rethink your motivation? If you feel unhappy in your body right now, it’s likely that even if you achieved your goal, inside you will feel the same. There may be a momentary sense of satisfaction, "Yes! I achieved my goal weight", but then the goal will just shift - probably become more extreme, "now I need visible abs". Try setting some goals that don’t involve weight or physical appearance, goals based on performance or how you want to feel.

Tip: Some ideas performance/feeling goals could be - doing a certain number of push-ups, achieving a certain 5km time on your run, walking for 30 minutes straight without resting or feeling more clear-headed and energetic during the day.

3. Listen to your body:

Having a plan for exercise is a great idea if you need inspiration or motivation but just as long as it doesn’t become a rigid, “I-feel-horrendously-guilty-if-I-don’t-follow-this” kind of plan. Is there room in the plan for you to rest when you feel too tired to go for that run? Is there the option to push a little harder when you have a little more in the tank at the end of that strength class? Are you in tune with your internal cues or is the plan having the final say?

Tip: Do a quick body scan before during and after your workouts or times of movement. Take a minute to check in with how your body is feeling and give yourself permission to honour that. Feeling good, why not challenge yourself to a few more minutes or some extra reps. Feeling sore or tired - slow down, modify or stop, rest.

4. Shift your perspective:

Fitness, strength and health do NOT have anything to do with how you look. The benefits of exercise can be felt and experienced even if the size or shape of your body doesn’t change at all! Improving health rarely comes from a place of wanting to punish your body, hating your body or feeling ashamed about your body. We take care of what we love. Your body is wonderful! It enables you to connect with others, eat delicious food, visit wonderful places. It does not define your worth but you can appreciate it and care for it because it is important, worthy and valuable, right now, as it is!

As a nutritionist and personal trainer, I love helping clients find movement that feels good for them and their bodies, and working with them to find ways of incorporating that into their lives in a sustainable way. If you want some help figuring out your exercise game or if you're just feel stuck in a rut with what you’re currently doing why not get in touch for a free 20-minute Intro call and see how I can help you.


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