I’m not a very fitness-y person. Other than horseback riding, I didn’t really play any sports growing up. That is, unless you count that one season I played soccer and literally didn’t know the rules so I just ran around the field maintaining a 10 foot radius away from the ball. The only time I kicked it, which was only because someone made the mistake of kicking it to me,I kicked the ball the wrong way.
I hate the gym. I don’t think I’ve been to one in over 10 years. I’m not very coordinated, so group fitness classes stress me out. If you’ve seen the opening scene from Bad Moms (randomly starring my dear friend Meme of Living Well Kitchen), I’m basically Mila Kunis. When it comes to the idea of doing weights, I would rather have one dropped on my big toe than to lift it.
Like I said, I'm not a very fitness-y person.
But despite that, I move my body pretty regularly. I definitely meet the general guidelines of 150 minutes moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week for general health, which I think is pretty moderate compared to what most people expect. And you know what? I actually enjoy those 75-150ish minutes (or whatever it comes out to be) because over the years, I've learned how to be intuitive with my movement.
Just like intuitive eating, there's intuitive movement. And it's basically the same concept, but applied to movement instead of food. Intuitive movement is the practice of connecting with your body and it's internal cues and using that to determine what type of movement, how long, and the intensity you'd like to engage in. It also incorporates mindfulness, by being present in whatever movement you choose to do. Doing this, you'll nurture a healthier relationship with movement and your body, and discover how to make fitness pleasurable for you.
* P.S. I use the word movement instead of exercise, because I find exercise conjures up images of very planned, formal activities, while movement can be any way you choose to move your body, even outside formal fitness settings
Here's five ways you can begin to move more intuitively:
Do what you enjoy.
Pay attention to what movement you enjoy and forget the rest. Many times I see people doing exercises they don't enjoy (hi elliptical machine 👋) because they think intensely burning calories or pushing their muscles to the point of pain during exercise will help them lose weight. In fact, that actually backfires - studies show people who exercise for weight loss goals actually end up eating more during the day, plus the inflammation that comes from doing something stressful (i.e. forcing yourself to exercise and feeling miserable about it the whole time) can undo the health promoting benefits.
Think about movement you find enjoyable, and don't be afraid to think beyond what's considered exercise. Walking the dogs, hiking, dancing, riding a bike to work, chasing your kids outside, and yardwork/gardening all count. If something doesn't bring you joy, drop it.
Discovering what you enjoy may require some experimenting on your part, especially if you've been forcing yourself to do activity for some time. Take advantage of introductory packages at different studios or living social deals. If you live in a city cool enough for ClassPass, take advantage of it. If you prefer trying to new workout at home so you can be awkward and uncoordinated with only your dogs to pass judgement, try Booya Fitness with a low monthly membership that let's you try boutique fitness class videos at home. Check out the mind body plan I created for them awhile back.
Aim for loose, not rigid structure.
When trying to understand the right balance of structure and flexibility for fitness, I like to use the example of meal planning.
For most people, rigidly planning and deciding exactly what to eat each day, doesn't leave room for being intuitive about what you want to eat. When life inevitably happens and you have to work late/get sick/forget to buy an ingredient/etc, there's no wiggle room.
Now, if you're prepared with a fridge and pantry stocked with enough ingredients and flavor enhancers to make balanced meals you enjoy, and maybe even a couple new (or old) recipes you plan for, there's flexibility. If you're craving something cheesy, you can make something cheesy. If you want a salad, you can make a salad. If you don't have a lot of time one night, you can go out to eat or whip up something quick. If you do have time one night, you can tackle that new recipe.
Loose structure for intuitive movement looks different for everyone. For me, it means penciling in a couple of yoga classes into my schedule so I know to plan around it. It means knowing what time of the day I like to do certain activities. For example, I like to run in the morning, so I typically don't schedule clients before 10 am so I'm not rushed to wake up, run, shower, eat, and get all my emails done before an appointment.
Connect with your body.
Pay attention to your body's cravings for movement. Note what kind of movement it wants. If I'm feeling angry or upset, I want to run it out of my system. Turning on the news in the morning has become a great motivator for my morning runs! When I feel anxious, I want yoga. If I'm in a happy mood, I like to walk outdoors or go hiking and connect with nature.
Also connect with how your body feels during exercise. Practice mindful movement, the act of intentionally engaging in all your senses during exercise. Here's a post I wrote about how to practice mindful movement awhile back.
Embrace mini-movement sessions.
Part of being more intuitive with your movement means moving your body when you're in the mood for it. And sometimes the craving to move strikes at times where more formal exercise doesn't make sense. Like, my legs might crave a run in the middle of the day when I'm at the office, but if I've got a client coming in 30 minutes and don't want to be dripping with sweat from running outside in our SC hot soup air, it doesn't make sense . Instead, I take a break to walk around the block or do 10-15 minutes yoga in the office.
Other ways you could embrace mini-movement:
- Vigorously clean your house for 15 minutes
- Throw on a song you like and have a dance party
- Play an active game with your kids
- Run up and down the stairs to stretch your legs during a commercial break
By embracing mini-movement when your body craves it along with a few more planned, longer sessions of movement, it easily adds up to the recommended minutes of activity. Plus, studies show mini-bursts of movement are just as beneficial as longer activity sessions. And as an FYI, I don't actually recommend counting the number of minutes you exercise each week, I just share that because I find most people feel they need to do significantly more (i.e. almost daily workout sessions), when in reality it's a lot more realistic.
One last note, if you're struggling with compulsive exercise or exercising excessively in eating disorder/disordered eating recovery, part of being intuitive may mean taking a break. Just like if you break a leg, you would have to stop exercising while you heal, you may need to break for your body to heal from pushing it too hard. It's not forever, and it will give you space to nurture a healthier relationship with movement.
What do you struggle with in staying active? Which one of these four tips would you incorporate?
More support for intuitive and mindful movement: