The messages and definitions surrounding the concept of exercise are mind-boggling.  No pain no gain, push it to the limit, mind over body …. These mantras all instill the sense that exercise is something that must have an intensity to it.  Just as challenging is the focus on using exercise as a means to change our body size or somehow be used in a manner to compensate for what we eat.  

As you read that first paragraph, what thoughts or feelings are you aware of?  Has it generated a sense of calm and connectedness or a feeling of urgency, rigidity or guilt?

Take a breath.  What if exercise could mean something totally and completely different for you?  What if it could actually be a skill that helps you navigate your physical and emotional health?

As living, human beings, we are designed to move.  It’s part of our make-up.  Notice how your arms move as you walk.  Recall how you instinctively stretch when you wake up in the morning.  Movement gets us from one place to the next and oodles of research have proven the benefits to our physical, mental and emotional well-being.  We know it’s “good for us”.  Then if it helps us, why do so many people have a yukky relationship with it?

It starts by changing our approach to exercise.  Consider the following as you try viewing it from a whole new angle.

1.   Start by switching out the word:  instead of exercise, consider the idea of activity, movement, play or fun.  

2.  Begin to identify activities you actually enjoy.  Yes – ways to move your body that are fun.  It doesn’t have to include the words gym, fitness, training or competition.  Open your mind to endless possibilities and start jotting down ideas of things you like or would like to try.

3.  Start to identify intentions for moving.  Relaxation, anxiety release, lifting mood, boosting confidence and social connection, are just a few real benefits to our whole nervous system.  And make sure those intentions aren’t about weight loss or changing your body.  Focus on intentions that help you right now, in this moment.

4.  Catch your shoulds.  Forcing yourself to be active by making yourself feel guilty is counterproductive, since anything we feel we “should” be doing is usually short-lived.  We often end up hating it and feeling worse about ourselves.  Repeated often enough, this leads to beingexercise resistant, shutting down any interest in moving.(not to be confused with resistance exercise!).  Instead, start asking yourself what your options are, what you could do today, what would be helpful and fun. 

5.  Be realistic.  Start to notice any rules or expectations your have regarding activity.  Do you think you must sweat for 60 minutes for it to be effective? Guess again.  Researchshows simply 10 minutes of movement can boost brain chemicals and support cardiovascular health.  

6.  Paring movement to your current emotions.  Refer to that list of fun activities and notice what may be useful for your current mood state.  

Consider the following examples:


the motive:  reduce stress, feel more at ease

look for activities that offer:  a “time-out” to create a body-mind release

such as:  yoga, skating, gardening, dancing


the motive: social interaction

look for activities that offer:  verbal & non-verbal interaction possibilities

such as:  ballroom or folk dancing, bicycling or fishing with others

Low self-esteem

the motive: increase self confidence

look for activities where:  you set the standard & just show up

such as: walk, hike, swim or splash around

As you continue to build your emotional regulationtoolbox, consider how movement can be another amazingoption, one that can serve you in so many ways.  As you pare it with other skills, such as being mindful in nature, you can continue to develop your life worth living in rich and beautiful ways.

Using Activity in Your Life Worth Living