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Movement (When You Think You Should Exercise, But Hate the Gym)

Biking is one form of movement

Movement is one of the critical pieces of our physical health (along with nutrition, rest and sleep, medical attention, and abstaining from or moderating dangerous substances.*). Not only does movement benefit our physical health; it also has important benefits for our mental health, too.

Growing up, I was a stereotypical bookworm. If “indoorsy” had been a cute, catchy saying when I was a teen, I would’ve had this shirt. I didn’t like to be hot, or sweaty. I was uncoordinated and, frankly, lacked the confidence to join a team sport.  And running was the worst.

As an adult, I started to feel that I probably should be working out. I joined a gym for a while, but once I had kids, it was nearly impossible to get there. When my kids were little and could be strapped into a stroller or tied to my chest, we walked a lot.

Finally, when my girls were little, I decided to train for a half marathon. I had completed the Couch to 5K program, and I ran a 5K race at the end to celebrate. (How cute. Running to celebrate…running? Why didn’t I eat chocolate cake to celebrate running?!)

So, I trained for the half marathon, and I ran it. It was ultimately a good experience, because I committed to something that was truly challenging, and I saw it through to the end.

But also? I ran through pain and ruined my knees and, in the nearly six years since completing the half, I have basically never run again.

Movement vs. Exercise

Although I was never a student athlete and my running days are over, I now have a regular workout routine, and I love it and depend on it for my mental well-being as much as my physical. But I have also come to understand through the years that “exercise” isn’t really the goal, but rather, movement.

What’s the difference, you may ask? Exercise is an intentional form of movement that specifically targets our endurance, flexibility, or strength. Movement is more organic and can naturally work into the rhythms of our everyday lives. (Walks, playing with our kids, and squatting to pull a pot out of a lower cabinet are all forms of movement.)

You may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” referencing the myriad ways that our current computer-and-Zoom lifestyle is negatively impacting our health. There is a “movement movement,” so to speak, that encourages us to move our bodies regularly, as a part of our daily routine. This type of movement comes without any specific fitness goals, but rather is for our body’s overall wellness and functioning.

Our sedentary lifestyle can’t be counteracted by even five hours of weekly exercise. (Scary thought!) Rather, we need to build movement into our daily rhythms.

Principles of Movement

I have four principles of movement that guide me as I choose how to move my body.

Movement should:

  1. Be joyful and fun.
  2. Feel good.
  3. Not be a punishment or penance.
  4. Be a natural part of our daily rhythms.
Movement Should Be Joyful and Fun.

You know what I never found joyful or fun? Running. It was grueling and often boring, and it hurt. Yes, I was pleased to achieve my goal of running a half, but I didn’t enjoy the process.

Movement Should Feel Good.

Movement and exercise shouldn’t hurt – and if they do, there’s a problem. I’m not saying I’m never sore after a workout. But if there’s pain during a workout or when you move your body in a particular way, you need to stop. (And you might need to visit a professional, like a physical therapist, if pain persists.)

Movement Should Not Be a Punishment or Penance.

I feel sad when I hear women say that they need to work out hard on Monday morning to “work off” the calories they consumed over the weekend. Movement and exercise are a gift to our bodies, not a way to make penance or pay for a caloric indulgence.

Movement Should Be a Natural Part of Our Daily Rhythms.

I’m still learning about this (especially as I engage in more and more work that has me sitting in front of a computer). There are two resources I have learned a lot from in this area of movement. One is Jen Hoffman of Healthy Movement, and the other is Annette Cashell of Movement Makeovers.

Movement That Works for Me

A few years ago, my family joined the local YMCA. Working out at a gym isn’t the best solution for everyone, but the free childcare and access to their group fitness classes made it a good choice for me. I was in a season where I wanted to do more than simply walk in my neighborhood (although walking is a great form of exercise!).

Group fitness classes have become my preferred way of moving my body. I started with a Cardio Strength class, which was in my wheelhouse of comfort. However, I decided to step outside my comfort zone with a Step class (no pun intended!), and I absolutely loved it! Now I regularly attend both of those classes, as well as yoga. I also did Refit and Zumba last winter, and I was shocked at how much fun those dance classes were! (I previously believed I was too uncoordinated to learn how to dance!)

I’ve tried several times to start a weight-lifting routine. I know there are a lot of health benefits to strength training. The problem is, I don’t like lifting weights. I find it incredibly boring, and I don’t like telling myself what to do at the gym. (That feels like too much work.) I’d rather go to a group fitness class, where an instructor is telling me what to do. It may sound silly, but that eliminates a lot of decision fatigue for me, which makes me more likely to work out.

In the last year, I also started swimming. I’m not a particularly strong swimmer, and I’m definitely not graceful. But I gave it a try, and I really enjoy it. Half an hour swimming laps in the water feels very healing and renewing for my body.

Movement That Works for You

I don’t think you have to have a gym membership to make movement a part of your life. In fact, if you’re struggling to find the time for “exercise,” maybe making the mindset shift to movement will make it more approachable for you.

What hang-ups do you have about movement, exercise, or working out? Is it sweating, or working out in front of other people, or feeling bored? Is working out something you simply don’t have time to do right now?

What do you need from your movement rhythms? Do you want to have fun? Socialize? Feel less pain? Do you value having alone time to move your body? Do you need good music (or a podcast or audiobook)? Would you prefer to be outdoors or indoors?

If you can answer those two questions, you’ll be closer to figuring out what kind of movement you need. If the idea of working out in public makes you feel sweaty before you even set foot in the gym, maybe you need to acquaint yourself with an app or YouTube videos. Perhaps you’ve been struggling to prioritize your physical health. Would investing in a gym membership be the impetus you need to make movement a priority? Maybe you’re bored with your workouts; it might be time to try something new.

As with all self-care, movement is personal and seasonal. What works for your best friend may not work for you, and whatever you did to move your body in college may not work if you’re now a working mom of two. Give yourself grace as you figure out what works for you and your body today.


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