Why You Love Exercise, but Don't Know It

Part One: Why You Love Exercise...
Human beings are born to move.  Once babies gain enough development and coordination to go, parents quickly learn to keep their children in either constant view or physical confinement, so great is a child's innate desire to move.   You were born into a naturally athletic body, and there was no end to the fun you had running around in it during your earliest years.
Many things changed as you got older.  Television seemed entertaining enough that you were willing to trade away increasing amounts of your precious active time for it.  Perhaps your parents were among those who, though troubled by your hypnotic trance in front of the TV, were nonetheless relieved to be able to leave you unsupervised for brief bits of time, knowing your natural tendency to move had been squelched.  If television didn't get you, computers or electronic games almost certainly did.  With all that mental activity going on while you sat still as a stone, you hardly noticed the loss of the physical activity that was once so joyful and rejuvenating.
There was school and then work, each with their requirements that you spend much time sitting.  If you are like most U.S. adults, the vast majority of your waking hours are now spent sitting:  At work, in front of a TV, in front of a computer, on the phone, or in your car as you drive from one place to another.  You have been quietly retrained to seek mental experiences over physical ones, and your natural love of physical activity falls even further by the wayside as life becomes too chaotic to make time for it anyway.  By now, you may simply not remember all that physical activity does for you, so here are a few reminders of what you get when you reclaim it as an essential part of your life...

Greater physical strength.  You can get more done without help; in fact, you can get more done, period.  Being physically fit gives you many more choices for enjoying your life, making good use of your time, and managing your stress.
Improved endurance.  When you tire less easily, you can be more productive and spend more time having fun.  Walking and stairs won’t tire you out.  You can keep up better with your kids and grandkids; you can be the “cool” grownup who can actually do things with them.
Improved coordination.  When you live more actively, you are less likely to have accidents in which you get hurt, and/or something around you gets damaged.  When you move with more confidence, you’ll enjoy moving much more, and can pursue new activities that make your life more satisfying.
Clearer thinking.  Intentional activity is a way to take a mental break without any harmful side effects, and an opportunity to regain your perspective if you’re fogged about something.  As a result, you can analyze and solve your problems more effectively. 
Overall improvement in bodily functioning.  You sleep with greater continuity and quality.  Your digestive tract works more consistently.  Even your cells do their jobs more effectively.  Regular physical activity reduces your pain levels.  It keeps you more flexible, limber, and able to move.  You get more energy and enthusiasm.
Improved mood and sense of self.  Active living stabilizes the mood-regulating chemicals in your body generally, and intentional exercise can boost your mood on a bad day. You get to feel proud of taking good care of yourself. 
Balanced living.  In an increasingly sedentary world, intentional activity keeps your body moving as it needs to.  Chosen well, exercise gives you more opportunities to enjoy yourself.  It’s a great way to enjoy moving to music when dance is not an option.  Some forms of exercise give you a good way to get outdoors in nice weather, while others give you a good way to make a gray, indoor day better.  Some forms of exercise help you connect and bond with other people, while others give you a good way to enjoy personal recharging time.
Improved parenting.  Physically active living is a great pattern to role model for your kids.  You may develop forms of exercise or other activity that you can share with your kids, increasing quality time with them in addition to teaching them good self-care.  By staying active, you are taking care of yourself, reducing your risk of burnout, and managing your stress so that you’re less likely to take it out on your kids.
To summarize, active living improves every aspect of being:  You simply feel and function better in every way.   How could anyone possibly not love this?  And why do most people scowl at the mere thought of engaging in the physical activity that provides such incredible rewards?  It's like saying, "Being rich is such a pain, what with all that money to keep track of, having to hire an accountant, and paying all those taxes."  Do you know a single person who would turn down the opportunity to be rich because of the administrative burdens associated with it?  Probably not.  Yet you know many people who routinely reject the riches that come from physically active living; some even do it with a kind of defiant pride.  What's that all about?  One explanation follows:
Part Two: ...But Don't Know It
As your life choices have moved you more and more into sedentary living, you've probably had your share of struggles with weight, and have likely made numerous attempts to control it.  Some of those attempts have probably involved exercise, since weight management is just math: Burn more calories than you eat and you're losing weight.  You've been told -- thousands of times over, from various sources -- that you'd better exercise to control your weight.  And this is where you truly lost your love of physical activity: The world of weight management changed physical activity from something that's fun to do and a natural part of living, to something that you have to do whether you like it or not, in order to reduce or avoid a problem.  Exercise morphed -- just that fast -- from something you do for reasons you like (as when you were a child), to something you'd better do because of reasons you don't like.
Human motivation is simple: we tend to do things that we like to do, and to avoid things we don't like to do.  When you liked being active, nobody could hold you back.  When being active became a "should," nobody could make you move.  Physical activity didn't change, but your perception of it did.
Most of us now see exercise exclusively in terms of weight control, and this connection needs to be broken.  As long as exercise is only about weight, you'll feel like you "should" and will therefore rebel; you'll also fail to see any value to it if you are not concerned about your weight, or have simply given up.  When you can get back to thinking of exercise as your birthright and something that makes you feel better in every way, you'll want it, and won't allow your schedule or anything else to prevent you from enjoying it regularly. 
Part Three: How to Get Exercise Back in Your Heart
Many people exercise regularly just because they like it so much -- they either like the activity itself, or the way it helps them feel overall, or ideally, both.  These people spend no time feeling resentful about exercise because they understand it as a natural aspect of living (just like when they were kids), rather than defining it as a weight management tool.  These people tend not to have weight problems, not because they are tracking every calorie, but because they are living in a manner that naturally keeps them fit and healthy.  Regular exercisers make a point of seeking activities they enjoy (just like when they were kids), and finding ways to make it even better, such as making themselves custom music tapes, or sharing the activity with friends.
If you would like to reclaim this aspect of your life and all the benefits that go with it, but are not sure how to start, there are several ways to get information and ideas.  First, consider talking to people who do have it incorporated happily into their lives.  Find out how they think about it, and how they manage the time for it.  Ask them how they feel during times when they get regular exercise, as compared to how they have felt during times when they did not exercise.  Find out how they make it enjoyable for themselves.  If you don't know such a person (and sadly, many people don't), there are other ways to get the information you need.
Try going to a large sporting goods store, and make a point of walking every aisle in the place, just looking at everything that is there.  As you survey all the various bits of gear and clothing, you'll probably get some ideas, like, "Oh, golf.  I hadn't thought of that.  That might be worth a try." Or maybe you're prompted to remember when you used to enjoy throwing a Frisbee, or that bike-riding used to be fun, or that you were always a little curious about yoga, or whatever.  There's no telling what might inspire you or pique your interest until you go and see what's there.
Check your local Community Center or Parks and Recreation Department.  If your neighborhood doesn't have that kind of facility, check nearby communities that do.  You'll find a wealth of organized activities for adults that can get you playing and moving again.  It's also worth checking any nearby YMCA or YWCA facilities, as well as other health clubs and fitness centers -- you can't know what they offer if you don't ask.  Take a look at the class listings for the local community college; even if you don't see a class you want to take, you'll see more ideas for things to do that you could enjoy.  Finally, don't overlook the obvious: the brisk walk around your own neighborhood, local park, etc can't be beat for convenience and accessibility, and is a sure-fire boost to body and mind whenever you need it.
It doesn't matter how you move, it only matters that you do move.  You will be amazed how much better life feels when you do.  For additional information on how to change the way you think and feel about exercise, see Why You're Not Exercising, and How to Change.
Copyright © 2007, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.

Some other articles you may find useful:

Are You a Compulsive Eater?  Test Yourself and See...

Compulsive Eating: Serious Health Issues
Essential Truths about Your Body
Fat: Important New Findings

Raising Kids to be Emotionally Balanced with Food 

Why You're Not Exercising, and How to Change

Your Weight May Not be the Problem
Self-Help for Intense Anxiety
When is It Time to Consider Psychotherapy?

Depression Series, Part One: Depression -- Myths and Facts

Depression Series, Part Two: Who Gets Depressed, and Why? 

Depression Series, Part Three: What to Do about Depression 

Depression Series, Part Four: When Someone You Love is Depressed  


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