How to Embrace Joyful Movement

Walking doesn’t count as exercise. MYTH.

I didn’t feel sore the next day so it wasn’t enough. MYTH.

I can’t afford a rest day. MYTH. 

I hear these concerns from my clients all the time. Under diet culture, exercise has become this all-or-none activity where it only counts if we’ve sweated through our sports bra, burned x number of calories, or are so sore we can barely sit on the toilet the next day! 


Introducing Joyful Movement 

Intuitive Eating principle #9 changes the narrative by inviting us to explore joyful forms of movement that feel good to us. We can move in ways that replenish our cup, not deplete it. We can honor that any movement is better than nothing. Eventually, thoughts of “I should exercise” may be replaced with “I’m looking forward to adding more movement into my day”. 

I acknowledge that we all have different histories with exercising, just as we differ in our experiences around food and dieting. Many factors can either impair or enhance one’s relationship to movement including financial income, past traumas, quality of relationships, and body size. Whether you love to exercise or despise the thought of it, I hope this post provides insight into how you can embrace intuitive movement today. 

How to Embrace Joyful Movement 

1. Expand upon your why.

What’s your why? What’s your intention behind your desire to move more? Highlight motivators that feel most authentic to you. Motivation is fleeting if it does not match your truest desires. If your initial motivation includes orbits around appearance-based results, challenge yourself to peel back another layer. What motivations exist beyond that? If your only motivation is to lose weight, it may be difficult to see the benefit of waking up for that 6 am workout when your alarm buzzes. However, if your motivation includes present moment feelings like–feeling energized, boosting mood, releasing tension–it will be 10x easier to wake up for morning movement. 

2. Write a list of activities that interest you.

What types of physical activity spark your interest? Exercise doesn’t have to be an hour on the elliptical. Think outside the box! Try dance lessons, water aerobics, kickboxing, Tai Chi, team sports, yoga, Zumba, barre, or walking in the park. How can you make physical activity more fun? Maybe it’s listening to a favorite podcast or audio-book while walking. Maybe it’s creating a new playlist of your favorite dancing songs that enhance the moment! Lean into activities that spark joy (hint: it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s definition of fitness)! 

3. Stay in the present moment.

What happens when mindfulness intersects with exercise? Mindfulness is defined as paying attention, in the present moment, without judgment. During exercise, this might look like: noticing the quality of your breathing, feeling the sensations of each stretch, listening to your heartbeat, etc. Mindful exercise encompasses enhanced mind-body connection, decreased mental and physical stress, greater enjoyment with activity, and invigorating effects– ie. not exercising to the point of exhaustion or depletion. (1)

4. Acknowledge daily movement.

How can you incorporate movement into your daily routine? Consider how much of your day that you spend moving versus sitting. Given modern-day life and conveniences, daily tasks that once had our grandmothers moving, now have us sitting in a chair. Look to create more opportunities for movement! For errands within a close radius to home, try walking or biking. Maximize your work commute by getting off the bus a stop early or parking further away. Carry your grocery bags up the stairs. Stand up when taking a phone call. Start your morning with 5 minutes of stretching (my favorite). And yes…these do count towards daily activity! Structured physical activity is not the only form of movement. 

5. Allow for rest.

How often do you permit yourself to rest? For those who identify with over-exercising, taking a rest day may spark anxiety. Rest is essential for the repair of muscles and injury prevention. Even elite athletes have rest days built into their training schedules! If you’re burning the candle from both ends, the additional stress of exercise may cause more harm than good. After listening to your body, you may discover that you transition through periods of increased activity and seasons of greater rest, and that’s okay! Trust your internal body wisdom. The Intuitive Eating book points out that sometimes taking care of yourself means choosing not to exercise. For example, if you only got 5 hours of sleep, prioritizing an early bedtime may be more healing than squeezing in a sweat sesh. 

6. Team up with other women.

Empowered women, empower women. I first heard this slogan from a female-founded organization, CHAARG, which stands for changing health attitudes and actions to recreate girls. Their mission: liberating girls from the elliptical! CHAARG exists at 70+ colleges across the nation. From my involvement with IU CHAARG, I was able to define fitness on my own terms and try new workouts with the supportive network of other like-minded women. If you’re in college, check if CHAARG exists on your campus! 

7. Find creative ways to measure progress.

What happens when you don’t see the results that you were hoping to gain from exercise? Many of my clients that focus on exercise for weight loss purposes get discouraged when they don’t see immediate results. It makes them stop exercising altogether and creates the same all-or-none mentality as in dieting. After self-reflection and non-judgemental awareness, we start to rewrite the narrative by developing non-weight measures of progress. Here are a few examples:

  • Increased flexibility 
  • Less winded when taking the stairs 
  • An increasing number of reps or weights in strength training 
  • Increasing duration of activity (ie. ability to walk further than original distance)
  • Ability to keep up with the kiddos during playtime
  • Increased energy throughout the day 
  • Improved outlook and overall sense of well-being 

How can you shift your focus to non-weight measures of progress? 

Intuitive Movement Support

If you’ve been exercising to control your weight, intuitive movement might sound like it’s off in la-la land. I hear you, sister, because I was once there, too. If I walked with my mom on vacation, I’d add in a run after for it to “count” as exercise. If I exercised 3 instead of 6 days per week, it was a “bad” week. I thought that I needed a rigid exercise pattern to maintain optimal health and burn off extra “treats”.

Writing this now, I want to hug my younger self and remind her to be gentle with herself.

If you’re currently struggling in your relationship with body and exercise, I extend my virtual hug and share the same message with you. I share this because I know support in the process can make all the difference. For additional support, visit the coaching services page for personalized support.

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