3 ways to have a healthy relationship with exercise

Do you have a healthy relationship with exercise? Or perhaps you’re not sure?

For so many women, their relationship with exercise is far from healthy, and they may not even know it.

In this post, I explain how to know if your relationship with exercise is unhealthy, and how you can create a healthier relationship with it.

Listen or read below:

What’s your relationship with exercise?

With almost every client I work with, the topic of exercise almost always comes up.  For so many of them, their relationship with exercise isn’t a healthy or enjoyable one!

If they’ve been a dieter for much of their life, they relate to exercise in the same way they do to food.

Rather than it being a source of pleasure, exercise is a way to mould their body – to make it smaller or conform to a particular shape.

And because we live in a culture that normalises the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ when it comes to movement, clients often have a very unhealthy approach to exercise

So, what exactly is an unhealthy relationship with exercise?  Well, here are some examples to help you understand your own relationship with exercise.

Examples of an unhealthy relationship with exercise

Feeling that you must exercise to ‘earn’ food

Not allowing yourself ANY pleasurable foods (and sometimes ANY foods; especially food that you might label as ‘bad’) until you’ve done a predetermined amount of exercise.

Prioritising exercise over family time

Choosing to do exercise sessions rather than spend time with your children or other family members.

Over exercising

Doing an excessive number of workouts or too much in one workout.  I had a client who didn’t feel she’d exercised enough unless she had walked at least 15 kilometres in one go!

Feeling guilty for, or not resting

Not allowing any rest days from exercise or pushing through pain or injury.

Doing exercise just to change your body

The exercise is purely about moulding or changing your body, without getting any enjoyment from the movement

When you relate to exercise in any of these ways, it’s not sustainable and it’s unlikely to bring you much joy!

There’s no doubt that regular movement can be good for both physical and mental health, but only when your relationship with exercise is healthy.

If you’re stuck in a cycle of doing exercise you don’t enjoy just to change your body, it’s unlikely to bring many positive benefits. 

Instead, this cycle can become obsessive, and create feelings of guilt, exhaustion, and resentment, none of which are good for your mental health!

When you relate to exercise in an unhealthy way it also reinforces the idea that your body isn’t good enough, which moves you further away from body acceptance.

So, how can you create a healthy relationship with exercise?  I’ve got 3 strategies to guide you.

How to create a healthy relationship with exercise

Focus on movement that you enjoy

For exercise to be sustainable, it must be enjoyable.  You are never going to do anything for the long term if it isn’t joyful.  There are so many ways to move your body, there is something for everyone! 

Ask yourself, how does this exercise feel for me?  Do you look forward to doing it?  If you do, that’s a good form of movement for you.  If not, perhaps you need to try something else.

I love dance classes.  They don’t feel like a chore to me.  I love learning new routines and dancing to the music.  I have so much fun during the class and feel good after.  Put me in a circuit training or HIT class, and it’s a different story – they are not for me and that’s okay!

Listen to your body

If you tune into your body, it will tell you what it needs.  Being able to understand when your body needs rest or movement is vital for a healthy relationship with exercise.

Pushing through extreme tiredness, pain or injury is not healthy.  When you honour what your body needs, you’ll not only avoid injury, but you’ll get the maximum benefit from exercise.

Some days I don’t have the energy for a dance class, so I rest or do some gentle form of movement.  I trust my body to tell me what it needs on any given day.

Question your motivation

It’s important to understand what’s driving your desire to exercise.  If you’re doing it because you hate your body, then exercise is simply a form of punishment!

Ask: what is driving you to exercise?  If you notice thoughts coming up about needing to earn your food or to burn calories, that’s a sure sign the desire to exercise is motivated by shame.

When you notice this happening, try to connect with your body to notice what it needs.  What would feel good today?  Doing this is form of healthy self-care.

So that’s it, 3 strategies to help you have a healthy relationship with exercise. 

I’d love to hear how you get on with these. Please leave a comment below.

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