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March 17, 2021

7 Tips for Enjoying Exercise

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

When it comes to creating your optimal vision of health, you are at the center of your plan. So where does exercise fit in?

You’re under no illusions; you know that regular exercise is one of the cornerstones of a long and healthy life. You also know that you probably don’t need to replace your two-year-old phone or get a newer car, but, hey, they’re so shiny!

Why can it feel so hard to do what’s important for us yet feel so easy to do what’s not really necessary?

For starters, buying stuff is straight-up fun. Getting sweaty, out of breath, and faced with a lack of fitness? That’s usually not as appealing.

But here’s the thing: The people who enjoy exercise aren’t magical beings. They don’t find exercise easy. In fact, there’s a good chance that they find it just as hard as you do.

So, what separates them from you?

Mindset.

People who have learned how to enjoy exercise simply don’t define it as a Bad Thing. Their mindset allows them to see exercise as positive: the glass-half-full mentality.

The good news is that if you have a glass-half-empty mindset about exercise, it’s possible to change it. This change is important because we are more likely to do something if we actually enjoy it. Not sure how? Let’s take a look.

#1. Think Outside the Box to Define Exercise

When you think about the word “exercise,” what do you picture? HIIT workouts? Spending an hour grinding away in the gym? Running until your muscles burn and you want to collapse in a heap? This is often what we see in films, ads, and magazines. But your relationship to moving your body can be more natural and encompass more options.

You don’t need to buy expensive exercise equipment, limit yourself to aerobic activities, or devote yourself to marathon training. While lung-busting cardio workouts are exercise, here are other types that you may find more appealing:

  • Hiking
  • Walking your dog
  • Cycling to run an errand or to meet a friend
  • Yoga
  • Frisbee in the park
  • Playing tag with your kids
  • Dancing to your favorite music
  • Swimming in a pool, lake, or in the ocean
  • Kayaking
  • Gentle jogging
  • Cleaning the house
  • Gardening
  • A one-minute plank
  • Team sports
  • Physical games

If you think that you have to hit the gym three times a week to stay healthy or get fit, you’re missing out on some of the best and most enjoyable parts of exercising. When you realize that exercise encompasses a vast range of fun activities, you can mix it up and pick the types you like.

#2. Choose Intentionally

Nobody is going to make you exercise. Even the scariest personal trainer can be fired. At the end of the day, you are 100 percent in control of the exercise you do. And that is great news. Why? Because you can stop whenever you like.

Head out for a run and make it a mile before realizing that you’re not feeling it today? You can turn around and walk home. Halfway through an online HIIT workout and you feel exhausted? Pause and notice that you have choices… Stop? Rest? Get a glass of water? Or start again? It’s up to you. But whatever you decide, stay attuned to your body’s needs to keep yourself active (but not obsessive) when it comes to exercise. Give yourself permission to stop whenever you like.

By acknowledging your autonomy, you might find that you keep going, seeing how far you can get, or you might take a break. The key is to be intentional about choosing to take care of your body.

#3. Consider Your Energy Needs

Whether your main goal is to get stronger, more flexible, or healthier, you need energy to exercise well. Exercising without the necessary fuel just means exhausting yourself faster and damaging your body.

To exercise well, you need good energy reserves from a wide variety of nutritional sources. I’m not just talking about food. Water is crucial to athletic performance; even slight dehydration can harm your ability and your body. While it’s best not to eat immediately before exercising, heading out on an empty stomach is a recipe for hating the experience and becoming depleted. To boost your enjoyment and your health, make sure you are adequately fueled and well hydrated before you exercise.

“Notice whether your body feels energized or depleted. Remember that working out isn’t a prerequisite to eating. Yes, your body needs movement in the same way that it needs food, sleep, and water—but it shouldn’t be forced into extreme activity.”

—Dr. Gia Marson, Psychology Today

#4. Do It Outside

Exercising outdoors has sweeping benefits for your health and well-being, and studies support this. It’s not only beneficial for your physical and mental health, you’ll also benefit from an increase in vitamin D as the sun hits your skin. That’s important to your overall health, because researchers estimate that nearly 1 billion people in the world may be deficient. 

Whether you’re cycling, running, hiking, walking your dog, or playing in the park, you’re also connecting with nature. Birdsong, wildlife, and blossoming trees are all there to be admired, boosting your mood and helping you to find pleasure in exercise.

photo by gustavofrazao/istockphoto

#5. Compare Inward

So, your colleague just completed an Iron Man. Your best friend can do the splits. Everybody on Instagram seems stronger, fitter, faster, and more enthusiastic than you. Ugh, isn’t it exhausting?

You already know this, but I’m going to say it again because one day I hope that you will believe it: Outward comparison is neither accurate nor helpful. It can also put you at greater risk for developing or maintaining an eating disorder. Just because someone ran a marathon does not mean you should too.

Comparison is useful, however, if you’re comparing inward. When the only person you’re trying to improve is the person you were last week or last month, the pressure comes off and you can enjoy movement and the changes it brings.

#6. Work Out Your Motivation Style

Motivation is often the hardest part of exercise. Once you’re doing exercise, you probably feel pretty good about yourself, even when it’s tough. But putting on your workout clothes and locking the front door behind you? That’s the struggle.

In her book The Four Tendencies, author Gretchen Rubin talks about how we are motivated in different ways. Some of us are motivated by accountability, so paying in advance for a class or making a jogging date with a friend will get us out the door. Other people are demotivated by limitations or expectations and will deliberately blow off a booked class.

What’s your tendency? Maybe you need others around you, or maybe you prefer doing things solo. Perhaps you like being “booked” in, or perhaps you resist timetabling. Whatever motivation works for you, embrace it—there’s nothing wrong with it.

But no matter what, don’t treat exercise as a punishment, don’t use body shaming as a motivator, and don’t use exercise as a strategy to give yourself permission to eat. All of those things will leave you feeling negative, which is the opposite of what you’re going for.

#7 Be Mindful

Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment and allowing whatever feelings, thoughts, and sensations that are with you to simply be. This is a fantastic technique to practice while you’re exercising. Not only does mindfulness teach you to acknowledge sensations of getting stronger, becoming more flexible, or building endurance—and allow them to wash over you—it also brings a focus to what you’re doing without judgment.

Perhaps you enjoy exercise best when you’re distracted by thinking of other things, but next time you lace up those sneakers, give mindfulness a try. Experience every footstep, note how the air feels flowing into your lungs, notice your muscles supporting you. Your mind and your body work best when they work together.

Enjoying Exercise Is Within Your Reach

There will be times when you’re exercising and just not feeling it. That is completely fine, and I challenge you to find somebody who enjoys exercise all the time. But starting any kind of workout believing you’ll hate it isn’t helpful. Try shifting your attitude by focusing on enjoying exercise.

By opening yourself up to a range of activities, sports, games, and workouts, you’re giving yourself the space and opportunity to connect to the joy of movement. So, what will you try first?

*Exercise should expand your strength, flexibility, or endurance. It is never supposed to break you down, compromise your health, or make you sick. If you have symptoms of an eating disorder, or if you have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, much or some of this article may not apply to you. Your challenge may be knowing when to stop exercising. Be honest with yourself. If you have been told to exercise less or stop altogether, it is essential to heed the advice of your treating doctor or treatment team. For now, your exercise goals and energy needs may need to be different than they are for most people. The good news is that once you recover, you’ll be ready to enjoy healthy amounts of exercise once again. You may even be able to return to athletic competition. In the meantime, if you have an eating disorder and struggle to adhere to recommended exercise limits, reach out for professional help.

Citations:

Carlton, A., & Orr, R. M. (2015). The effects of fluid loss on physical performance: A critical review. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4(4), 357–363. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2014.09.004.

Sizar, O., Khare, S., Goyal, A., et al. (2021). Vitamin D deficiency. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532266/.

White, M. P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., et al. (2019). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3.

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