Thoughts on Exercise

Exercise, in everyone's life, is an important component to building a healthy lifestyle. When I say that word, what comes to mind? 

Running? Sweat? Dread? Calories? Being toned? Hard work? Compulsion? Mandatory? Fun? Social? Movement? Distance? Time? Lack of time? Boredom? Pain? 

I've written about exercise before; there are a few points I wanted to hit home a little harder. As always, talk with your doctor about how much and what kinds of  physical activity is right for you, especially when you are in early stages of recovery from an eating disorder, illness and/or injury!! 

#1 - Exercise is movement. And I mean any kind of movement. Walking, sex, gardening, stretching, swimming, mowing the lawn, yoga, lifting weights, getting groceries and so on. I often hear people say, "Oh, I only did 'X', that's not really exercise". It is. You are exercising a muscle when it is moving it. Have you ever sprained your ankle or hurt your back? You become very aware of how you used that muscle once you can't use it like you also did.  

#2 - Build exercise (movement) into your life that is fun.  #2 and #3 go together. Hate the gym? No worries, you don't have to exercise/move solely in that location. The same is true if you hate being outside to exercise. The important thing is to find something you enjoy doing (or at the very least can tolerate). For some it might mean exercising with friends while others may prefer to take a class with strangers. It might mean being on a sports team or participating in a solo activity. Whatever it is, life is too short to not at least find some enjoyment in what we do (especially if it is hard to do in the first place!). And, you are not very likely to participate in something you don't at least get some enjoyment out of.

#3 - Exercise (movement) doesn't have to take place in a gym. Expand your perception of where movement occurs. It could occur in a forest, a basement, on a sidewalk or trail. It could be occur in chlorine, fresh or salt water. It could be in hot or cold temperatures. On sand or on cement. One could be parallel or vertical to the ground when moving. Sky is the limit :) 

#4 - Exercise/Sport isn't in and of itself 'Bad'. Sometimes, when working on recovery from an eating disorder, there's this mentality that exercise is bad. For some, exercise has been a major piece in the development of their eating disorder, or something that has easily led them into relapse. And, if this is the case, you will need to learn how to re-build a healthy relationship with exercise (this is where I would strongly encourage you to seek professional assistance when doing so).  It is not exercise that is good or bad in and of itself as with most things in life, it's the relationship we have with it that is important. 

#5 - Sometimes we do things in life because it's good for us, not because we love doing it. And, just because one loves it, doesn't mean its beneficial to do all the time. We know that exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle. There are also many benefits that come with moving, such as positive affects on mood. Not everyone loves sports or moving.  This does not mean one gets a 'pass' on needing to exercise. Sometimes, we move for the sole reason we know it is healthy to do so. 

Resting is also important. So, just because you love moving does not mean it's healthy to move all the time either. Know your body and when it is telling you "I need to stop". It's also okay to stop even when your body tells you it still has more to give. 

#6 - Practice mindfulness while moving. Take some time to notice what you are touching, smelling, seeing, feeling and hearing when you are moving. This will help to keep you grounded and more in tune with what is going on around you. You may even notice a few things around you that you never noticed before!

#7 - Know your "rules" around exercise, build cognitive flexibility. You are allowed to stay inside even on sunny days, just like rain doesn't mean you are bound to stay inside. You don't have to exercise just because you ate "X", nor do you have to feel bad if you took a day off to rest or would rather catch up with some friends instead. What I mean by "rules" is thinking that is rigid or inflexible, such as black and white, or all or none thinking. Take some time to be aware of what your "rules" are around exercise and see whether or not they are interfering with your enjoyment of the activity itself or your quality of life in general. Building cognitive flexibility into your life will help you navigate life more freely. It you notice you have some of these "rules", I'd encourage you to chat with a therapist or recreational therapist about ways to incorporate more flexibility.