Activity Yes, Exercise Maybe

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I’m often preaching about the value of physical activity, but physical activity doesn’t always mean exercise. Even when you do exercise, there’s no need to spend money and travel to a fancy gym. There are some better ways to move.

Everyday Health had an article last week called “15 Ways to Burn 150 Calories.” Their ideas include walking, riding a bike, team sports, hiking, horseback riding, games (like Ping-Pong or Frisbee), swimming, dancing, yard work, home improvement, housework, and my favorite, “doing nothing (or next to nothing).”

Good suggestions. But why do such things have to “burn calories?” Why not do them because you like them? Focusing on exercise as a means to a goal takes the joy out of movement and often kills your motivation to do it.

Alternative exercise is kind of a theme on Everyday Health. In an earlier article called “The No-Gym Workout,” author Dennis Thompson, Jr. points out that gyms cost money, and sometimes “you’re just afraid of all those tanned and toned people judging you as you go through your workout routine.” It might not feel safe or welcoming at some gyms. But we don’t need them!

The best activities are those that bring you pleasure, provide social contact, make you feel you are doing something useful, and/or take your mind off your troubles. The best movement is a combination of mindfulness and fun. Even housework can be enjoyable movement if you do it mindfully, paying attention to your body and how it feels as you move, and remembering to breathe.

In their book Healthy Pleasures, David Sobel, MD, and Robert Ornstein, PhD, provide the following sample weekly exercise plan: walking, sex, walking, shopping, playing with children, mowing lawn, gardening, sex, ballroom dancing, bowling, hiking, raking leaves, playing pool/billiards, roller skating. Sounds good to me!

“Why kill yourself to save your life?” they ask. “Fitness should be a healthy pleasure. Popular health advice hypes vigorous aerobic exercise and most often ignores less intense, more enjoyable forms of activity… Human beings, of course do need some daily activity to be healthy, but it need not be a grim regimen.”

Going to a gym can have some benefits. There may be people there whom you like to talk with while you move. The gym will have better equipment and maybe some good classes that you really enjoy. It’s up to you. But equipment isn’t necessary. Cans of food and heavy boots make good weights, sidewalks make good walking tracks, and streets make good cycling paths.

Too Heavy to Move?
Many of us learned at an early age that we weren’t supposed to move. A woman named Amy on a Health at Every Size (HAES) site wrote, “When I was a child, my mother enrolled me and my older sister in gymnastics and swimming lessons. I used to love jumping on the trampoline and doing cartwheels. I recall at the age of 6 participating in an exhibition of my gymnastics class at a local shopping mall. I wore my black leotard and my little kid belly stuck out and my thighs rubbed together, and I suddenly became very aware of how my body differed from another little girl in my class, who wore a white leotard and whose belly was flat and whose thighs didn’t touch… and I understood the difference to be a distinctly negative one.”

“From the age of 6 to about 18, I firmly believed that only certain body types could be deemed ‘athletic,’ and since I didn’t fit into that category, I quit doing anything physical, thinking that it wasn’t meant for people like me.”

Many people have stories like these — they were heavy, or gangly, or uncoordinated, or something that made them feel unwelcome among the physically active. Heavy people learn that exercise is for the purpose of losing weight, not for pleasure or to get things done. So they turn off to it. Generally, people do things they want to do, not things they feel they should do or have to do. Set up activity plans that you want to do, preferably those that provide some mindfulness and fun.

Next week I plan to write more about healthy approaches to movement, and the psychological and spiritual factors involved in getting active. Believe me, there are a LOT more things you can do. But what would such movement plans be for you? What do you do to keep active? How do social attitudes and personal attitudes get in your way, and what do you do about that?

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