Sara B Groton
Less Exercise, More Movement
Let’s talk about movement!
Why do I call it movement and not exercise? Exercise can conjure up the idea that moving your body needs to fit certain criteria, such as intensity, frequency, duration, calorie burning potential, etc. The idea of exercise might sound daunting, painful, or obligatory if you feel like it “doesn’t count” as exercise unless it’s a bootcamp class or a 5 mile run, either of which you find unenjoyable. If you have to force yourself into these obligatory exercise sessions, chances are pretty high that the motivation to do them will be pretty low, causing you to wind up doing nothing at all.
One of the greatest benefits of moving your body, which it was designed to do, is stress reduction. When you are stressed out and therefore in a fight or flight response, your body doesn’t know the difference between the relationship conflict or work deadline, and a lion chasing you. Therefore, it physiologically reacts in the same way by pumping out hormones to prepare you to fight or run. The problem is that when dealing with the mental/emotional stressors that tend to be more prominent in today's world than wild predators, those hormones surge through your body without actually being put to use, which turns into a lot of trapped energy. When you are stressed out, your body wants to move to release that energy. The ironic thing though, is that doing exercise you hate, for the sole purpose of weight loss, actually stresses your body out even more!
So how can you begin to move your body in ways that serve you rather than stress you out?
You may be in the camp of having an avid and intense exercise routine that you don’t enjoy, feels overwhelming to keep up with, and/or aren’t getting the results you want. I get it. I spent cumulative hours, weeks, months, years of my life running, participating in bootcamps, pushing myself to reach a specific calorie goal before I got off of the elliptical machine, and waking up at the crack of dawn or even canceling plans to fit workouts in. My inner critic would constantly tell me I wasn’t exercising enough unless I did for at least an hour, at least 5 days a week, at high intensity, and was drenched with sweat. Yoga didn’t count, walking didn’t count. Of course I started to resent exercise, requiring so much energy just to motivate myself to do it, and I still wasn’t getting the results in my body that I wanted.
Maybe you're in the camp of being so uncomfortable in your body for so long that it feels incredibly daunting, if not impossible, to move and connect with your body. It feels like your body is the enemy and you want to avoid thinking about it and being aware of it as much as possible. And then the more you avoid it and disconnect from it, the worse you feel in it, and the more you want to avoid moving it. And the cycle continues.
Whichever camp you find yourself in, here are some ways that you can start moving in a way that truly helps you and your body:
Switch your vocabulary from exercise to movement, and think outside the box. Think of movement as a way to connect with and nourish your body, not to punish it or equalize something you ate. Movement does not need to happen in a gym or workout class for it to be beneficial for your body. Movement could look like: going for a hike, walking while on a work or personal call, turning on some music and dancing it out for a few songs, playing tag, capture the flag, or any other outdoor game with your family, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing yard work, riding your bike, stretching or doing some squats or lunges while watching TV or listening to a podcast or audio book, or doing a few yoga poses in your room. I will often try to plan dates with my friends around some sort of movement, like going for a hike or walk together.
Be open and experimental. It takes time to figure out what types of movement you enjoy the most, so give yourself room to try different things out. Try out some of the ideas I just mentioned, or try out some free trials for online workout classes. Bring mindfulness into the different ways you move your body to notice how you feel during and after. You’ll start to learn the different ways your body wants to move, depending on your mood, energy level, time of day, etc. For example, I know that when I’m feeling anxious and my mind is all over the place, I feel so much better after a run or power walk. When I’m feeling tired or depressed, gentle yoga feels much better. Also, what you like can change over time. I go through phases where I love running and look forward to it, and then I stop liking it so much, so I do something else instead. It’s important to bring your intuition into your experience of movement, just like with food.
Baby steps. It’s so important to take things one step at a time (literally and figuratively) with movement. One of the biggest obstacles when trying to move more is telling yourself that it doesn’t count or isn’t good enough unless you do X activity at X intensity for X amount of time X times per week. These qualifiers and expectations of yourself can so quickly turn into overwhelm and convincing yourself that you don’t have enough time or energy, and then zero movement happens. Instead, start small. Commit to moving for 15 minutes instead of an hour. Chances are, once you get going (especially if it’s movement you enjoy), you’ll want to keep going. And if not, that’s okay - 15 minutes is 15 minutes more than zero.
Celebrate your hard work and thank your body. Even movement that you enjoy can be challenging, which is part of what creates the potential for it to be rewarding, physically and mentally. Pushing your muscles, lungs, and heart just past their comfort zone is what builds strength and releases endorphins and trapped energy. If you are constantly pushing your body past its limits, shaming yourself for not being able to complete the full 45 minute HIIT workout, or comparing your body’s physical ability to others who are “better” than you, you are creating neural pathways in the brain that associate exercise with pain, weakness, and shame. No wonder you aren’t jumping for joy at the idea of exercise! It is crucial to focus on what your body IS able to do and to celebrate and thank your body for working hard!
When you move your body in ways that you enjoy, push yourself without pushing too far, take things slow with realistic expectations, and celebrate your effort, you will be able to connect with your body on a deeper level, finding appreciation and gratitude for everything it can do for you.