Too often for many of us, exercise feels like a punishment for overeating or being sedentary. Things that feel like punishment are not things we want to do regularly, and frankly, we will go to great lengths to avoid them.
Eating is fun. It tastes good, and it might revolve around family or friends. Sedentary behavior is just a part of life now with a technology-forward society. However, that doesn’t make those things inherently bad, it just adds another element to the equation of maintaining balance.
What if we could flip the script and make exercise a reward, a break, or the joy in our day rather than the punishment? How can we take the mindset of “having to” and turn it into “getting to” exercise?
Find what you enjoy
It is a great falsehood that exercise doesn’t count if it’s not hard and sweat-inducing. Exercise in this day and age is anything that gets you moving. It’s going out for a run or a heavy lifting session in the weight room. It’s a bike ride to Old Town, a walk on the Spring Creek Trail, Yoga at your favorite studio, or doing a workout video at home.
What often makes exercise feel like punishment is people picking exercises they think they should be doing versus picking exercise they want to be doing. Forcing yourself to exercise will never be fun, so pick what piques your interests.
Take the focus off of numbers and put them on feelings
This relates back to our idea of exercise as a way to compensate for other behavior. When we think of exercise this way, we focus on the scale or inches on our waistband. Changes in those numbers can take a little while to see and don’t reveal a full story of health. Becoming more in tune with how we feel both during and after exercise can take some of that punishment feeling away.
Try to recognize how you’re sleeping, your energy levels, your stress levels, or the joy you’re getting from daily activities. Also taking the focus off of numbers can get rid of some of the disappointment when we don’t see numbers that we feel we should be at.
Use exercise as a break
Flipping the script completely, let’s make exercise the reward. Think about those afternoon slumps we all hit when we’ve got a big project to work on. Set a timer for 45 minutes of solid work. Then go out for a 10-minute walk. You’ll get some good work done, then go recharge and spend some anxious or stressful energy.
Short breaks like that add up and make a big difference in total volume of exercise. Just like exercise doesn’t have to be sweat drenching, it also doesn’t have to be an hour – anything and everything counts. You can also use exercise as time just for you, which is very rewarding on its own. Exercise can be a great outlet to get away from some of the demands of work or school, and it gives us time to pay some much-needed attention to ourselves. Plus, the more we exercise and move, the more aware we become of what we (and our bodies) are really capable of. When we make that connection, it’s a lot easier to see movement as rewarding your body and making it stronger.
Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see http://hes.chhs.colostate.edu/outreach/adultfitness/