I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who craved exercise. You know who I am talking about, the folks who say they just can’t wait to get to their morning run. A part of me always thought, yeah right, that’s just what they are telling themselves. No one can actually enjoy running right? I still tried for years to be that person and fit a square peg in a round hole. I would go for a run with the best intentions and every cell in my body was screaming ‘what are we running from?! Quit this insanity right now!’ I just couldn’t muscle my way through it.
I was going about it all wrong. I do really enjoy physical activities. I was on sports teams starting around age 8 through college. My favorite vacations are when I get to go hiking in a new place. It feels so good to move my body and work up a sweat. That didn’t feel good enough. I needed to push my body hard and punish it into looking a certain way.
Last year, I went through some physical challenges. I have herniated discs in my back that impinged on the nerves leading to my legs causing extreme pain and difficulty walking. I had to relearn how to walk and move my body. This was a transformative experience for me. I felt pure joy when I walked a block for the first time again. From there I moved up to power walking and recently I’ve graduated to running for the first time in years. After being limited in my physical ability, it feels so freeing to be able move by body without restrictions. I am caught up in the enjoyment of physical movement. During the time I was rebuilding my physical strength, I experienced another mindset shift when I read Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Reading their description of our ‘stress cycle’ and how it has to be completed every 24 hours by physical activity really clicked for me. I have a full life right now and physical activity is keeping me sane. We evolved with a complicated stress response system and physical activity is a critical piece. We must move our body to let it know that we are safe from the stress stimuli. This has inspired me to do something physically active every 24 hours even if it’s just taking my dog for a walk before I go to bed.
Several times in the past few months I have found myself craving a run, leaning in to that craving and feeling so good during and after. Of course, I still experience the old punishing thoughts about how I should exercise more to change the way my body looks or as penance for eating what I want to eat. I just let the thoughts come in and remind myself about all of the real reasons I move my body.
Shifts in my mindset that have helped create a practice of consistent physical activity:
Replace ‘exercise’ with ‘physical activity’.
-This has allowed me the mental freedom to explore many activities. Walking doesn’t feel like ‘exercise’ but I can’t deny that it is classified as physical activity and daily physical activity is my goal.
Physical activity is for my mental health and stress management.
-I am breaking free from the false belief that physical activity is to force my body to look a certain way.
-Physical activity is how I keep my mood up while managing a full schedule.
-Physical activity helps manage the impacts of stress on my body.
Physical activity is preventative medicine from experiencing additional pain/limitations.
-Keeping my body strong and active is critical in preventing future pain and difficulty. My job is very sedentary. Years of sitting and a lack of physical activity were a major factor in my nerve impingement.
-Our mindset is incredibly powerful. If you are still skeptical that shifting your mindset can help you be more successful in reaching your health goals check out Dr. Alia Crum’s work here.