Exercise is another word that is often tainted with negative connotations. Why do most women exercise? Usually to burn calories, lose weight, tone up or compensate for over eating. Thinking about exercise in this way makes it feel like a chore or a punishment. It’s no wonder that it can be so hard to build healthy habits around working out!
As someone who has a history with chronic over-exercising and gym obsession, I prefer to use the words body movement rather than exercise. Exercise reminds me of pushing myself through intense circuits and hours of cardio all in the pursuit of weight loss. But moving your body has so many more benefits than burning calories. When done in the right way, body movement:
- Boost your energy and vitality
- Improves your mood
- Helps you to get better sleep
- Reduces your risk of chronic disease
- Improves circulation, bone density and joint health
- Helps you to live longer
What is the right way to exercise?
There are several factors that take the benefits of body movement to the next level. These are:
- Moving outdoors, especially in natural environments
- Social activities e.g. a walk with a friend, a group exercise class
- Moving at a non-stressful pace for your body
- Staying present and mindful during the activity
- Having a SMILE on your face as you move
The most important point is that movement should feel light, joyful and a chance to enjoy being in this human bodily experience. If exercising feels stressful, anxiety-provoking or is tied to the goal of weight loss of changing your body in some way, many of the additional benefits will be lost. Basically you are selling yourself short! This is a result of conditioning around what it means to exercise and your pre-conceived notions of fitness.
That is not to say that moving your body should never be challenging. Of course, it is good to push your limits but the trick is to do it gently. It should be so subtle that it doesn’t feel like a strain. You want to support and encourage your body into better health and fitness, not beat and submit it to your will. Perhaps at first, it will take some persuasion to get yourself off the sofa and onto the yoga mat or the hiking trail. But once you’re there it should feel good!
How much movement is ideal for health?
Most experts recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise OR 75 minutes of high intensity exercise. Personally, I recommend moderate intensity exercise as you also get the added benefits of stress reduction. Too high intensity exercise can actually increase your stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which make you feel good in the moment but can cause a crash later on!
So 150 minutes per week is equivalent to 5 times 30 minutes per week – that should be achievable, right? However, over 40% of women in the UK don’t meet this recommendation. If you are one of these women then think about why? Perhaps because you have a conditioned idea of what exercise should be and it puts you off. I’ve lost count of the number of women who have told me they are too old, not fit or flexible enough to join my yoga class! Or maybe because life is already exhausting and stressful and exercise feels like another thing on the list that you don’t have time or energy for?
But as I said earlier, body movement can be many things outside of what we formally see as “exercise”. Simple activities such as walking to the shop, cleaning the house, gardening, walking the the dog, playing games with your kids all count as movement. Getting outdoors and enjoying nature through hiking, swimming, cycling or climbing are also great ways to move your body which don’t feel like formal exercise. Personally, hiking, yoga and dancing are the ways I love to move my body and they never feel like a chore.
You want to find ways to move your body that you genuinely enjoy and look forward to. That way, you will not have to rely on motivation and persuasion to get yourself moving.
What are some ways to exercise?
The two files below give some examples of how you can bring body movement into your routine. The first pdf shows low, moderate and high intensity activities and explains how you can minimise stress by keeping high intensity activities to only short bursts, whereas low intensity exercise can be kept up for longer periods of time. The second pdf shows the different types of movement (cardio, resistance training and flexibility/mobility) which each have their own benefit for your health.
Tips for creating habits around movement
As I shared in yesterday’s post about food as nourishment, habits are key to creating a healthy lifestyle. You want to make it as easy as possible for yourself to make choices that are in line with your goals. Ideally, you want exercise to be something you don’t deliberate on each time but you just do it because that’s the way you always do it. Some tips for creating body movement habits include:
- When starting out stick to 1-3 activities and commit to them
- Always do the activities in the same way in the same place i.e. create a routine
- Start with a monthly schedule and stick to it i.e. make the decisions in advance
- Involve a friend or exercise buddy to keep you motivated and accountable
- Make sure you have the right equipment e.g. comfortable clothes and shoes
- Have all your equipment ready to go so that preparing is not a barrier
Today’s challenge: Create a body movement plan
Now it is time to take action! Using the template below, fill in the activities you want to commit to over the next 4 weeks. You can either repeat the same schedule each week or change it throughout the month. I prefer to reduce the intensity of movement around my period (more on that in a future post!) and increase it during other times of the month so that overall there is a good balance of effort and rest.
If you are in the Moon Life Well Women Facebook group, I will be sharing some additional resources to support you in building healthy habits around moving your body. So enjoy and I will see you tomorrow when we will be moving onto to the topic of getting a good nights’ sleep!
Over to you…
- Comment: What is YOUR favourite way to move your body?
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