Letting go of pictures around exercise
Letting go of pictures around exercise
For many, exercise comes loaded with expectations of what can be achieved, whether that be a fitter body, supporting an injury, losing weight etc., whereas movement is anything that happens when we are not completely still so it doesn’t have the same connotations and expectations of an outcome, which can set us up for disappointment when we do not achieve whatever it is that we have set out to do.
When we are aiming for a specific outcome, we tend to push our body to achieve what we have decided we need to accomplish that day whilst not being sensitive to any feedback from our bodies whilst we are exercising: we thus often push them past the point of exhaustion, or we overstretch, or we override how we are feeling to achieve a picture we have of our desired end result.
In the 1980s a famous actress produced a series of exercise videos in which she was talked about ‘going for the burn’, where you exercise so intensely that your muscles actually feel like they are burning, which pushed many to try and emulate her in the hope that they would be able to achieve her ‘impressive’ body.
So many people have strict training regimes they follow that ignore any messages from their bodies – such as feeling fatigued, sore or stiff – and that today something gentler is called for, or even a rest day.
More is not always better when it comes to exercise: recognising when your body is going through a time of stress for whatever reason and adjusting your exercise accordingly is the caring thing to do and will pay dividends in the end if what we are hoping for is a body that can support us over our lifetime without descending into injury and pain as we age.
We look up to sports stars as role models, but they continually push their bodies to extreme lengths and pay the price in later life when they often have to retire through injury and then have years of deteriorating health and pain to contend with. Why is this when they are supposed to be super fit and healthy?
My experience of pushing my body in multiple different ways was that I struggled to maintain the momentum for any length of time in any exercise class I joined: as soon as an excuse presented itself I would drop out and then try something else in the never-ending quest for the perfect exercise routine as I instinctively knew that my body felt better when it was getting some sort of movement. Yet it was only when I started to tune in and listen to my body that I found the best style and level of exercise for me.
Shedding the beliefs that more is always better and pushing my body to keep going or to overstretch has been a gradual process of unpicking the patterns of behaviour that have led me to ignore the messages from my body. This unpicking has increased over the last couple of years since developing a long-term lung condition and feeling that I wanted to maintain a level of fitness to support my body, but to listen to what it was telling me and not go into the push and drive of what my mind dictated was the desired end result.
For me, gentle exercise and activities like walking have been the most supportive daily movements, and even this has been a learning curve of noticing how driven I can be to achieve a certain distance in a fixed time, instead walking with a relaxed body and a purpose to keep my body fit but not imposing on my body that I have to do anything that does not feel true on that particular day.
I have also supplemented this with an online exercise programme on several days a week that offers different levels and allows me to tailor my workout to what I feel would support my body that day. The increase in my overall fitness has been remarkable and much appreciated as I feel it is another aspect of my life that will support in staying well and active as I age.
Letting go of the pictures that we have all been fed about what exercise involves and needs to look like to be successful and choosing instead to move in a way that supports our bodies and our whole being to remain vital means we can live life to the full and continue contributing to society as we age.
Our bodies are designed to move and the more we embrace this and let go of our beliefs of what it should look like, the more our bodies will thank us as we move gracefully through our lives.