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How to Build a Healthy Relationship with Exercise

how to build a healthy relationship with exercise

So you’ve worked on your relationship with food, now what about exercise? Do you treat exercise like a dreaded chore? Do you only work out to change your body? Are you stressed out or ashamed if you miss a scheduled workout? If you’re not actually enjoying the kind of movement you choose to engage in, it’s time for a change!

Maybe you aren’t aware of the implications of your current relationship with exercise. If you haven’t read my introduction to intuitive movement, be sure to check it out! I discuss unhealthy exercise habits and suggest positive behaviors to replace them with.

Having a positive relationship with exercise sounds great, but how do we actually get there?

How do we take steps to change our mindsets concerning movement and our bodies? I crowd-sourced some seriously insightful words of wisdom from non-diet registered dietitian nutritionists and here is what they have to say.

“Exercise should feel rewarding and energizing, not punitive or draining. Contrary to the societal pressure you may feel, there is no right or wrong way to do it; find your favorite way to move your body and let that be enough,” says Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT, who helps others make peace with food to end disordered eating.

When it comes to health, did you know all movement “counts?” We don’t need to spend hours running on a treadmill or pumping weights to get the benefits of regular physical activity. Dancing around the house in your underwear, playing tag with your nieces and nephews, pulling weeds in the garden, mopping the floor and gentle stretching at the end of a long day all contribute to health.

exercise should be a form of self-care not self-punishment

“Clients can have the same type of relationship to movement and exercise as they do with food. It can be very all-or-nothing, just like the restriction-binge cycle. So many people are either exercising in a way that feels forced, or doing nothing at all and feeling guilty about it. Just like with intuitive eating, the answer to intuitive exercise is to find the ‘middle ground’ with joyful movement,” says Jennifer McGurk,RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD, who helps clients gain the insight needed to make positive changes for their health. “To me, joyful movement is all about moving your body in a way that feels good. This can mean planned exercise a few times per week, spontaneous walks or hikes according to preferences, or it could be following a flexible training plan. For some clients it means knowing when to push yourself in a challenge, and for others it means cutting back because it feels good to do so. Basically, just like intuitive eating, intuitive exercise is listening to your body and overall having a good relationship with movement in general.”

Stock image of exercise equipment with text box that says "how to build a healthy relationship with exercise" from Taylor Wolfram

“Perhaps the most important key to developing a positive relationship with exercise is learning to disentangle it from how you want it to make you look. I encourage my clients to explore this idea by finding things to do with their bodies that couldn’t possibly be construed as toning or ‘calorie burning’ but make them feel really great physically,” says Marci Evans, RD, CEDRD, CPT, who conducts nutrition counseling for food and body image healing. “This could include stress relief stretches midday, playing with your kids, or trying a new activity like learning to float in a pool. While it might sound silly, learning to use your body to relieve stress and have fun is a critical component to finding joy with it.”

Quote from Marci Evans about having a positive relationship with exercise

The moral of the story: move in a way that feels right for you.

The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to make it a normal part of your routine. For some people that might look more structured than others. The point is to resist the pressure to conform to mainstream fitness culture and instead move your bod in a way that brings you the most joy.

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