Do you associate exercise with weight loss, or with wonder and pleasure?
If you are like a lot of people, you associate exercise with weight loss, and if you are also like a lot of people, you don’t really enjoy exercise.
It is understandable why you feel this way. When we focus on losing weight*, frequently we feel flawed, gross, ugly, or bad in some way. All of these feelings are painful. Therefore, when we associate certain habits like exercising (or movement, as I like to call it) with losing weight, we often develop dislike or even hatred for these activities because they feel like punishment.
This can make us stop doing them.
In the case of movement, this is especially unfortunate because movement is awesome in itself, even when it is not associated with weight loss in any way.
Here are ten of the amazing ways movement helps us that have nothing to do with weight loss:
One: It can help us breathe deeply: Deep breathing is incredible because it can clear our thoughts, decrease anxiety, and increase feelings of peace and well-being. Shallow breathing, on the other hand, can muddy our thoughts, escalate anxiety, and make us feel sluggish and melancholy. We can practice deep breathing through practices like meditation, but whenever we exercise, we also naturally breathe more deeply, and this helps us tremendously, too.
Two: It can help us be more creative: When we move through walking, dance, running, or in some other way, it lifts us out of our current state and puts us more in touch with our body, with our surroundings, and perhaps with music and other people (for instance, if we take a yoga or dance class or walk at the park).
As it does this, movement often clears our minds and helps us solve problems. It also often helps us think about new ideas or activities we wish to try. All of these benefits of movement cultivate creativity. It is not surprising that many famous artists and writers were dedicated walkers. (You can read more about this here.) Creative people often report that movement (especially walking) is an integral part of their process.
Three: It helps you move like you did when you were a child: As we age, we often feel like we don’t move like we used to. Perhaps we feel less limber, and we feel there are some activities we did easily when we were young that we now find hard or impossible to do. We often feel like these changes are an inevitable part of aging. Frequently, however, rather than being an inevitable part of aging, they are actually a result of disuse or lack of practice. When we move regularly, we start to move more like we did when we were children. This often brings feelings of joy, playfulness, and confidence into our life.
My husband John and I have some homemade outdoor gym equipment that we play on to experience a wide variety of movement patterns. Sometimes I play on this equipment, and sometime I just do somersaults or cartwheels or bear crawls in my back yard. It always makes me feel like a kid.
John made this homemade pair of parallette bars that he likes to play on. I can’t do tricks like these on the bars, but I still play around on them and practice walking my feet to the front and then the back of the bars. It’s a good range of movement.
I have also been trying to move more by turning chores around the house into play. John and I were working on a construction project in our back yard that needed rocks. John moved most of the rocks, but I moved a few wheelbarrow loads, too (selfie with John photo bomb to prove it). I don’t usually do activities like this, so it was interesting to try it and see how it felt.
Four: It can give us a different perspective. One of the best and easiest exercises to do regularly is walking. Consider walking around your neighborhood a little bit every day or exploring new parks or interesting neighborhoods where you live. As you do so, you will find that you learn things about yourself and the world. This gives you a different perspective. And it’s not just walking that does this. Trying new exercise classes or different movement DVD’s can also introduce us into new ways of thinking or acting that expand our mind and help us grow.
This is one of my favorite recent exercise DVDs.
Five: It can remind us of beauty and goodness. We spend increasingly more time in front our computer and TV screens. Because of this, we are often bombarded by a stream of news or media content, much of which is frightening, unnecessarily negative, ignorant, and divisive. When we spend too much time around influences like this, it can make us forget much of the good in the world. When we take a walk or dance or hula hoop or juggle or whatever, it often reminds us of beauty, goodness, playfulness, joy, lightheartedness, silliness, and peace. This gives us a better view of the world and allows us to act accordingly.
This is a picture of me up in a tree. Climbing trees gives me a lot of joy and reminds me of playfulness and adventure.
Six: It can make you feel strong. When we sit too much or generally neglect movement, we often lose muscle strength and our ability to do different things. This can make us feel weak and powerless in our bodies, which often makes us feel weak and powerless in general. The more regularly we move, the stronger our body feels, and this often helps us feel stronger intellectually and emotionally, too.
Six: It can make you feel confident. One of the things that helps us feel confident is when we are able to work through obstacles and handle difficult challenges. Moving regularly requires us to do this on a consistent basis. When we add mileage to our walking our running adventures, try new exercise DVDs, go to a new weight lifting class, or just play in our back yard, we often work through physical challenges. This builds our confidence in other areas of life as well.
I have been practicing somersaults and cartwheels lately. I always feel a little afraid right before I do one, but I always build my confidence in the process. Facing these fears helps me feel confident in other areas of my life, too.**
Seven: It can help you sleep soundly. People struggle with sleep for a variety of reasons, but one reason is that contemporary work environments often create a lot of mental stress without a lot of physical challenge. The result of this is that our minds frequently race at night, while our muscles beg for more stimulation. I call this “Racing Mind, Restless Legs” syndrome, and I frequently experience it when I don’t move enough. Movement is one way we quiet our mind and tire our muscles, and often that helps us sleep more soundly.
Eight: It can help you make friends with your body. One of the things that helps us appreciate our body is to realize all the cool things it can do and the myriad ways it helps us every day. The more we move, the more we realize how cool our body is. This helps us, at the very least, make peace with it, if not become friends with it.
Nine: It can help you get in touch with your natural body signals. Most of us use food as celebration or comfort, and while there is nothing wrong with using food this way sometimes or even frequently, we often forget that one of the primary purposes of food is to help fuel our body to function well. One of the best ways to figure out what food fuels us well and what doesn’t is to move regularly. For example, it is really difficult to go on a long walk or make it through an exercise class we love if we aren’t eating food that fuels us well. You and your natural body signals are the best judge of the appropriate fuel for your body. Exercising regularly can help us reconnect with our natural body signals that give us important information about things like eating, drinking water, and sleeping.
Ten: It can give you a beautiful dose of Vitamin Nature: Frequently when we start to move more, it also takes us outside, and that brings more awesomeness into our lives. We are wired biologically to thrive in nature, and being around trees and blue sky helps us feel alive and whole in a way that being inside consistently does not. (You can read more about this here .)
This is from a walk the other morning.
The Point of All This
I may not know you, but I know your body is awesome because it can move and play and learn in so many ways.
We often worry about making our body more thin or skinny or muscular or jacked or whatever. But what if we focused instead on feeling cozy, peaceful, joyful, at home, and liberated in our bodies? That’s the point, isn’t it? Movement is one of the best ways we cultivate these feelings.
So, think about moving your awesome body today. And also, I’m glad you’re on the planet.
Here is a movement challenge to try if you are interested:
One: Think of a type of movement that you like to do simply because it is fun or feels good. For instance, consider trying one of these activities: walking, swimming, dancing, jump roping, climbing trees, juggling, hula hooping, lifting heavy things, lifting light things, crawling or moving like an animal, skating, running, hopping, skipping.
Two: For the next week or month (you decide) set the intention to do your movement each day or most days. You get to decide how long or short you want to move and how intensely you wish to do so. The main goal is to move in a way that makes you feel good.
Three: As you move, you don’t have to think about anything, but if you wish to, you can ask yourself these questions: “What feels good about this?” “Is there any way I could make it feel better?” “Are there other activities this inspires me to try?” “What do I enjoy the most about this?”
Four: Allow yourself to let go, relax, play, and enjoy the moment, however long you move.
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You might also enjoy these posts:
10 Cool and Surprising Things That Happened When I Began Walking Regularly This Year
*Many doctors and nutritionists are beginning to realize that rather than focusing on weight loss, the important thing is to encourage people to engage in movement and other loving habits as a form of self-care, joy, and pleasure. I really like reading about concepts like this from organizations like Intuitive Eating and Am I Hungry?
**Of course, you should only move in a way that feels good and that is safe and reasonable given your current level of activity. If you haven’t been moving a lot lately, don’t suddenly start doing cartwheels. That is something you should work up to.