How to have a healthy relationship with exercise. Practical tips for releasing exercise guilt and embracing positive motivation.
A wise philosopher once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands.” Yes, that philosopher was Elle Woods. When I heard her say that while watching Legally Blonde for the first time, that was the first time I realized exercise definitely had mental benefits. Granted, I was only in sixth grade and was very active, but I never recognized the correlation between movement and feelings of positivity.
However, for every positive reference to exercise such as the one in Legally Blonde, there are at least one hundred not-so-positive messages around exercise that we are inundated with each day. If we solely let social media and magazines guide how we feel about exercise, we can be led down a slippery slope that can cause our relationship with exercise to be anything but healthy.
Many of us are aware of the consequences of not getting adequate amounts of exercise throughout our lifetime. However, the consequences of getting too much of a good thing are very real as well. Here are some tips for having a balanced, healthy relationship with exercise.
View Exercise As Empowerment, Not Punishment
Whether you need extra motivation to get moving or could benefit from scaling back in your workout routine, this first point is major. Exercise should be a source of strength and empowerment. Exercise should not feel like or be viewed as punishment.
If you are struggling to find your groove with fitness, it can be easy to view exercise as punishment. Getting into shape is not exactly glamorous, and it can be full of uncomfortable moments. But that’s all those moments are – discomfort. If you feel uncomfortable in your body because you are doing new movements and are worried about how you look, understand that exercise is not about how you look. It’s about how you feel, and the moments of empowerment that come from moving and building strength. Once you reach that “ah-ha” moment, exercise feels so much more rewarding.
Next, we have the other end of the spectrum. Exercise addiction is very real and can be harmful to your physical and mental health. Remember, exercise should not ever be viewed as punishment, especially when we are equating this to food. Indulging, eating foods that aren’t perfectly “clean” or treating yourself is not grounds for punishment. Those times are important parts of life that are essential for your overall mental, physical and social health. Exercise is not a tool that should be abused to make you smaller. The ability to exercise is a gift that should make you bigger in mind, strength, and spirit.
If you are engaging in a movement that doesn’t feel empowering to you, ditch it. Movement can and should feel empowering and should light you up no matter what your size or fitness level is. If you are exercising so much that you feel worn down and aren’t able to truly appreciate the benefits, take a day off. Then another day. And perhaps even another day. Rest. Rebuild. Proceed with power.
Stand Firm in Your Commitment to Move, and Flexible with Your Approach
Here’s the deal. I will never tell someone not to move. Our bodies were designed to move, and we thrive mentally and physically when our lives are full of movement. I truly believe we all need to be advocates for our own health. However, life happens. Sometimes we have those days where we are stuck in a chair all day at work. Sometimes we have those days where we are just plain exhausted and our bodies need an extra hour of sleep more than it needs an early morning gym session. Those are real life things we all deal with.
In these situations, stay firm in your commitment to your health, and flexible with your approach. If you experience severe anxiety or guilt when you are not able to stick to your fitness routine, that could be a sign that it’s time to take a step back. Remember, movement comes in all forms. If you had to skip your normal gym session, but are able to take a few extra steps throughout the day or get in a quick stretch before bed, you are still honoring your commitment to your health.
Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You
Our bodies are remarkable. They are incredibly smart and are constantly sending us signals that we need to stop and listen to. As Georgie and I discussed on her podcast, following the cues our bodies give us and following an intuitive approach to fitness is incredibly beneficial to having a better mind-body connection.
After your next workout, take note of how you feel. Do you feel energized? Weak? Strong? Run-down? Are you in pain? Do you notice any patterns? How your body feels after you workout provides key information that you should listen to. If a movement doesn’t make you feel good (aside from occasional soreness or tight muscles), adjust accordingly and move on to something that does.
Les is the founder of Balanced Black Girl and the host of the Balanced Black Girl Podcast. She’s a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, and natural beauty junkie who loves 90’s R&B, trying new skincare products, and creating recipes in the Instant Pot. She created Balanced Black Girl to provide content and experiences empowering women of color to live well.