Making Exercise Enjoyable


Making Exercise Enjoyable

Ayana HabtemariamContributor: Ayana Habtemariam MSW, RDN, LDN

Physical activity can be a source of joy and satisfaction for some and a dreaded chore for others. It is a fact that exercise (or movement, as I like to refer to it), offers an abundance of benefits including better sleep, stress reduction, increased bone density, cardiovascular circulation, improved mood, appetite regulation, cognition, memory, and stamina - to name a few. Notice that weight loss is not listed as a benefit of exercise. This is because exercising for weight loss, or to achieve a certain aesthetic, can take the focus off how it makes you feel. Consequently, you experience the tremendous benefits of movement less when you are only participating with a goal of weight loss in mind. Furthermore, when you participate in exercise because you feel you must, not because you desire to, it can feel like a chore, and burnout is usually not too far behind. Movement offers many other therapeutic benefits that you can tap into and feel in the moment, so try not to rob yourself of that by focusing solely on a physical outcome.

Intention Matters: What is the intention behind your movement? You will not remain motivated to exercise if you don't enjoy the activity or if the intention is to please someone else or to fit a certain aesthetic. On the other hand, if the intention behind your movement is to get that boost of energy that feels magical or because you feel so satisfied after a long walk or because it makes you feel happy, it's more likely that you'll stick to it. If you have a complicated relationship with movement, try exploring the intention behind your movement. Ask yourself the following questions?

  • Why am I doing this particular activity?
  • Do I enjoy this activity?
  • If I don't enjoy this activity, what other forms of movement can I engage in that might be joyful for me?

Reframing: Forget everything you learned about movement! It does not have to be painful, scary, or difficult. Instead, choose activities that provide pleasure and joy. There is nothing wrong with a good challenge, but it doesn't need to be exhausting if that's not something you enjoy. Movement can be dancing in your living room, going for a long (or short) walk, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, or doing old-school line dances. It does not require a gym or a matching outfit either.

Getting Started: If you are feeling motivated to get started or to change your routine to something more accessible or enjoyable, ask yourself what it is you like to do. Write down a list of activities that are accessible to you. Some ideas include walking, dancing, gardening, swimming, rock climbing, hula hooping, jumping rope, or yoga.

Start with 10 minutes a day or whatever feels best for you – be sure to check in with yourself.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 75-150 minutes of physical activity per week, depending on the level of intensity. They suggest that at least two days of activity are spent on muscle strengthening. Remember that these are guidelines. You are the expert of your body and should do what feels best for you.

Ayana Habtemariam MSW, RDN, LDN is a nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and macro social worker. She is the founder of Truly Real Nutrition, LLC, a private nutrition practice where she empowers clients to give up dieting in exchange for trusting their bodies and breaking free from food rules that result in feelings of failure and shame. Ayana is committed to increasing awareness of intuitive eating and weight inclusive philosophies in Black communities. She believes that weight-centric approaches to health and wellness only serve to exacerbate body image issues, stress, and anxiety, which contribute to increased rates of chronic diseases commonly seen in Black and other communities of color.