As a kind of ‘Part 2’ to my last post about how we view our bodies, this week I thought i’d discuss the ever so marmite-y topic of exercise. Some love it, some hate it. But when it comes to the relationship we have with our bodies, we can so often use exercise as a form of punishment instead of a supplement to a healthy life. ‘Earn that cake’, ‘make it count’, ‘no pain no gain’….sound familiar?
Over the years, my relationship with exercise has been a bit all over the place. As a kid, I used to dance, and I loved it. My style was definitely more Dad then Darcy Bussell, but I didn’t care. To be honest, I never really thought of it as exercise. I just loved getting my groove on and imagining myself on the stage of a sellout performance in the West End. Then, I grew up and exams were flying at me from every which way, so I stopped.
As I entered my teens, something happened. Suddenly my eyes were opened to the world of comparison and whenever I went to exercise, it was because I thought I needed to look a certain way and fill a certain criteria. Movement went from carefree and fun to regimented and guilt-inducing. I carried on like that for some time. Me and exercise were like Ross and Rachel from Friends – on, off, on, off.
I bought into the idea that washboard abs and peachy bums were the epitome of health and fitness. So when I’d finish a workout and look the same as when I started, albeit a little more like a tomato, all my effort felt futile. I wasn’t enjoying myself, and nothing seemed to be changing, so why bother?
Flash forward a few years and exercise is an essential part of my week. It’s like medicine. If I don’t move in some capacity during the day, my anxiety creeps upwards whilst my mood spirals downwards. I now know that if I find myself in a bit of a pickle, going out for a walk or a run can do wonders to my mindset. I now understand how exercise is essential for our mental health, just as much it is for our physical health.
So, what happened?
Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, God reminded me what I was created for. That I am not an object to be looked at, as society likes to have us believe, but that I am child of God created to do His wonderful works. Using exercise as a natural, ready made tool to respect and keep my body healthy seemed much more sustainable to me than the futility of striving for ‘bikini body’. Exercise is prescribed by doctors to help reduce our risk and lessen the impact of many illnesses, mental and physical. If I have the privilege of an able body, why am I limiting its capabilities to its aesthetics?
So, I stopped exercising with a specific goal in mind. I just listened to my body, and let myself enjoy the process. I started running and found that it works really well for me. Sometimes I have a whale of a time on my run, sometimes not so much, but the benefits I’ve found that it has reaped for my wellbeing are what keep me going. But i’ve also learnt not the push it. If I’m not in the mood, I will always try to encourage myself to get my trainers on because I know that I will feel a whole lot better once I’ve got my heart rate up. But if my body is really telling me that today is not the day, then I will get in some gentler exercise instead.
Movement has now returned to what it once was, carefree and fun. It feels so much less of a chore, and just part of my daily life. I really encourage you, if you are able, to find a way of moving your body that you really enjoy. Take the end goal off of the pedestal, and focus on the process. If goal setting is your thing, that’s great. Goals can be super motivating. But if it’s not a sustainable goal, then likelihood is you’ll end up frustrated and unmotivated. And actually, finding something you love doing makes the goal less of a mammoth task and more achievable because you’re more likely to stick at it.
So, here’s to enjoying exercise again – even if it’s a spot of Dad dancing or a very vigorous vacuum.