“Lose weight.” “Exercise.” These are often prescribed like medication…especially exercise. Do you feel daunted just by the word? Or get imagery of you strapped to a treadmill? (No disrespect to the treadmill!) Does the word exercise sound like a punishment?
I’m here to help you reframe exercise to physical activity to movement to using your body. You no longer have to equate exercise to a gym membership. Physical activity is really a broad term that can encompass so many different things. For it to be effective to “lose weight,” or improve cholesterol, it has to be sustained and in order to be sustained it has to be enjoyable.
Before we get to the enjoyable, why do we push the artist formerly known as “exercise” so intensely like it’s a prescription you can pick up from the pharmacy? The benefits of intentional and consistent movement are plentiful. Per the CDC and Mayo Clinic, there are immediate and long term benefits of physical activity:
- improved sleep
- improved stress and anxiety
- reduced risk of several cancers including bladder, breast and colon
- improved metabolic markers, such as HDL (“good cholesterol”) and triglycerides (fat), which can contribute to CVD and diabetes risk
- slow bone loss/demineralization (a natural part of aging)
- help to increase muscle and bone mass (also naturally reduced during aging)
- improved mood and energy boosting
- Last but not least, helping to promote and maintain weight loss. (This is intentionally last. I want you to remember activity is more than just weight.)
Let’s switch gears back to the images or ideas you have about activity. What are your barriers? Is it time? Is going to the gym just not for you? Because exercise can mean so many different things for everyone (and because the gyms are not accessible in the heat of a pandemic), maybe take a step back to reframe. Using the pandemic as an example, many people have gained weight during quarantine, including people who were not gym members. Why? Because our daily movement, including our commutes, endless stairs to get to the subway, standing for an entire rush hour ride, gallivanting around the office for juicy gossip, all of these movements count as activity. When they’re removed, there can be a noticeable change.
Now that we’ve highlighted these “little” but cumulative, meaningful movements, how do you see activity in your life? If it’s not the gym, what is it or what can it be for you? Because it has to be enjoyable to be sustainable, start with what you enjoy, then use that to be active. The benefits can’t be attached to just weight. What makes you calm? What makes you laugh? Are there activities that make you feel accomplished?
Think about your barriers and your motivators. If time is the major concern, how do you incorporate activity as a BOGO deal? Is walking your dog a necessity that you can extend to move more. Or maybe instead of ordering a balanced meal for delivery, you walk to the restaurant; maybe dancing it out relieves your stress. What playlist can you compile to do some choreography that gets you sweating in a good way?
Take hanging with your friends, for example. Do you have socially distanced coffee dates? Pick one farther away – make it a standing date and walk there! Is there a park that gives you zen? Go there (with your feet) or maybe a bike.
Maybe you love the gym, but you feel overwhelmed or pressured – what machine do you like best? Find it and set goals to keep it enjoyable but varied enough to be challenging.
Have equipment at home, but taking the time seems daunting? Pair it! Netflix and chill (well, ride your stationary bike) or listen to an intense podcast series. Now it’s not “I have to exercise.” But instead, I’m going to see the scenery in the park, I’m about to dance so hard in my mirror you’d think my room was a nightclub.
Exercise is so much more meaningful when it’s your decision. Find your agency and your voice and how you can be in touch with your body in a way that feels purposeful, enjoyable and sustainable to you. The next time someone prescribes you “exercise,” take ownership that this is a broad category, and you get to decide how that works for you; and if you’re struggling to find how to use your body, contact your neighborhood friendly dietitian. We (I) won’t prescribe a type of movement, but instead troubleshoot ways to combine movement/activity and joy. That’s a BOGO worth buying.