Do you work out for joy or self-punishment?

Here is a common question I hear:

I’m having trouble distinguishing between wanting to work out because I like to, and feeling like I have to work out because of what I’ve eaten.

The concept that we have had drilled into our head is to work out for the purpose of burning calories.  Yet, if we are exercising to punish ourselves for eating – that belief will keep us stuck in the dieting mentality. It is very important to shift away from that belief.

There are many other reasons to move other than burning calories, can you think of some?

• • • • •

I personally enjoy exercising as a social experience; I walk daily with a friend, or cross-country ski or snowshoe with a group, or I will go on a bike ride with at least one other person.  When I ride my bike with a friend, I can ride and chat for 2 hours and it is like no time has passed and the ride is over…my ride is a social event where I’m moving my body and spending time with friends.  I don’t do it to “burn calories,” but instead to feel alive, keep my muscles strong and get my heart pumping. I love the feeling of moving by bike.  Sometimes, we will challenge each other and ride faster or sometimes keep a slow and steady pace – it is different each time. Things I do alone include: inline skating, yoga, Pilates, or dancing around the house.  When I skate, I’m crazy….I have music on and I’m dancing while I skate.  I am more energized when I’m done that any other way I move.  It’s like a drug…ok, a runner’s high maybe.  Yoga and Pilates stretch my muscles and loosen my joints.  I feel balanced, elongated and less stressed when I’m done.  I don’t do either of them to burn calories.  I do them because I would feel crooked if I didn’t!

Finding activities that make us feel energized, not depleted, activities that we look forward to doing, and that help us feel strong and well are activities that we will continue to do — even want to do because of the positive feelings derived from doing them.  There are times when we need a little extra motivation to move and that’s normal, too, as there are a zillion things that can distract us from taking care of ourselves.  Moving our body in a way that is pleasurable is a practice in self-care.  You get to decide what that is for you.  When that movement is dictated by pleasure or because it feels good….you know that you are doing it because you want to.  To note:  you also might need to do a little *unpacking*…are you doing intense exercise because you “should” and you *think* it feels good because it is supposed to be good for you???  If you’re not sure, decrease your time or intensity a little and keep evaluating how that intensity of a workout feels.  Honestly, if you are feeling depleted, you are probably hitting it too hard, or doing too much too soon and haven’t given yourself time to build up to that intensity.

I encourage people to try new ways to move. For example, here in the Midwest, winters can be cold and long and people tend to use that as an excuse for why they aren’t exercising.  Well, if you can walk, you can snowshoe!  Find a place that rents snow shoes and give it a try.  You will need some little handwarmers in your mittens (maybe), a pair of snow pants, warm socks, shoes or boots that repel water, a warm (but not too warm) coat and you’re good to go.  Snowshoeing is much more fun than walking (but is the same action, however) and you can disappear into a quiet winter wonderland of woods with deer passing through, owls hooting and foxes jumping.  You don’t have to be an athlete to snowshoe, just curious.

For more ideas on moving for the joy of it, see my blog post Begin Moving for a Healthy Body and Mind.

Keep up the good work!  See you next time.


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