Tips to heal your relationship with exercise

How to improve the way you feel about exercise

Many people have a complicated relationship with moving their bodies.  You might dread physical activity and avoid it, or you might thrash yourself with hard workouts and feel guilty whenever you have a day off.  As a culture we seem to have forgotten how to listen to our own body’s signals for when we need to move and when we need to rest.  It has been tied up in guilt, shame, extreme exercise fads and forgetting that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

Here are my tips for how you can feel better about moving your body so you can enjoy all the amazing health benefits, and no longer view exercise as a dreaded chore, and rest as something to be guilty about.


Focus on the immediate benefits

In one single bout of movement you can feel a boost in your energy levels, mood, self-esteem, and a reduction in anxiety and stress. Many people also report an immediate reduction in back pain or muscle tension too. Remind yourself of these wonderful benefits regularly, and after you’ve moved your body take stock of all the immediate positive results you feel.


Let go of exercise as penance for food

Try to stop thinking about exercise as a way to make up for what you’ve eaten. You can enjoy all foods! When you let go of the “good” or “bad” food labels, you will be much less likely to feel guilty about eating. Using exercise as punishment or penance for eating, brings a negative association to exercise. Loving movement for how it makes you feel makes it an enjoyable, regular and sustainable part of life.


Stop treating exercise like a diet

Focusing on how many calories you’re burning in each session changes affects what type of exercise you choose and the duration and frequency you opt for. You’re less likely to choose what you enjoy and makes you feel good, and you’ll be more likely to overtrain and end up injured, fatigued or with a disordered approach to exercise. Take the focus off calories and listen to your body’s needs instead.


Set goals that are not about weight or appearance

Setting yourself the target of improving your strength or cardiovascular fitness and be a really inspiring way to bring extra purpose to your activities and regularly highlight the benefits you’re achieving, while taking the focus off how you look. Working towards a fitness event like a fun run, hike, ride or walk can bring an awesome sense of accomplishment that will be forever woven into your character.

Note: You don’t need to be striving towards something to enjoy benefits of moving your body and just being in the moment. Goals aren’t for everyone.


Know that there’s no perfect amount or intensity of exercise

I’m often asked “What’s the best exercise if I don’t have much time?”, or “What’s the minimum amount of exercise I can get by on?”. I’d love to see people choose movement they enjoy and do it regularly because they feel awesome when they do it. The best kind of movement is something you love and that you’ll actually WANT to do. Unfortunately we’ve wrongly got the impression that certain physical activity “doesn’t count” if it’s not hard and for a particular duration. Every bit of movement counts towards our health!


Let go of guilt

There will be days you don’t get to move your body much at all, and there will be days that your body needs rest and recovery. This is a normal part of a healthy life and I’d love you to practice letting go of any guilt. It’s not what you do in one day (or even one week!) that determines your health, its a long term picture. Some inactive days are a perfectly normal part of the tapestry of a healthy life.


Practice listening to your body and responding

Some days your body will be telling you that it needs rest and recovery. You might be unwell, fatigued, or injured. Respect that message and know that the best thing you can give your body for good health is rest. Other days your body will be telling you that you need to move. If your back is feeling stiff while you’re at your desk, or you have pent up energy and can’t sit still, then respect that message and get moving in a way you love. If you’ve overridden your body’s messages for a while this could take some time and practice. It can also be very tough for anyone with a disordered approach to exercise (or an eating disorder) because your mind will keep telling you that you need to move (regardless of injury, pain or fatigue). If you or someone you know needs assistance with disordered exercise or an eating disorder please contact:

The Butterfly Foundation

Eating Disorders Victoria 


Could you change your thinking towards movement?

Many people think about physical activity as a “I have to” – just another chore to squeeze into an already busy life. But what if you thought of movement as “I get to” and feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity and ability you have? Instead of “I have to fit in a workout” you could be thinking “Today I get to walk in the fresh air with my dog, and we’ll both enjoy the sun on our faces”. Choosing movement you love, rather than exercise you think you should be doing, will really assist this. Even moving away from defining it as exercise and instead calling it movement can help too if you’ve had negative associations with ‘exercise’. I’d love you to feel that movement is a joy to feel grateful for, rather than drudgery to feel guilty about.


Try new things

You may need to try a few different styles of movement to see what you like. Give yourself permission to be a beginner, and think of it as an adventure. Take a friend too if you need some encouragement. What seems like fun to you? Hula hoop workshops, iceskating, boxing, kayaking, indoor rock climbing, spin classes, bush walking, swimming, tennis, salsa dancing, yoga, tai chi, adult ballet, netball… There’s so many fun ways to move our bodies! You can join classes with a qualified instructor, or community groups via the MeetUP app (or similar), or give the things a go yourself. You may just find something you adore and meet some like minded new friends. Don’t underestimate the joy of simply walking in new surroundings too!


You don’t have to be a certain person or look a certain way

Let’s forget about the silly #Fitspo memes. I’ve worked in the fitness industry for over 17 years and 99% of people do not look like that when they exercise! They come in all body shapes, sizes, ages, and definitely don’t all wear the latest tight shiny gear. You can get fantastic exercise walking to work in your work clothes, or dancing in your pyjamas in your lounge room!


Let’s expand our definition of what it means to move, and adjust our reasons for doing it. We’ll be more likely to make movement a regular and sustainable part of our lives.


The Moderation Movement Ebook Movement Handbook