You’ve been using exercise all wrong.
For decades we’ve been treating it as something to keep our bodies in check, to punish ourselves for what we eat, and to make us look “better.” Exercise has been swallowed up by diet culture and it’s time to reclaim it for its true benefits.
Exercise alone won’t make you lose weight (1). In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Aerobic activity, such as running or cycling can actually increase your appetite- because your body probably needs the calories. Anaerobic activity, such as weight lifting, increases muscle tone and size. And hopefully we all know by now that muscle weighs more than fat. I’m not even going to get into how some of us retain water when we start a new exercise program (anyone else gain weight when they start a running program?). So let’s leave this idea that exercise is a good way to “burn off” that cake you had last night or that you need to punish yourself as though you did something bad.
When we use shame to propel us towards our goals, we always crash. This leads to more shame and more punishment through exercise.
If we approach exercise through a lens of self love, we are not only more likely to stick to our goals, we are much more likely to experience the many benefits that exercise can give us, including the following:
Perhaps one of my favorite benefits of exercise is the mental health and wellness benefits: exercise reduces stress. When we come across a stressor, our sympathetic nervous system is activated as though we are being chased by a tiger. In our modern world, that metaphorical tiger never goes away. Day after day, it’s sitting there in the office waiting for you, crying in its crib, or meeting you at the front door when you get home. With the actual tiger, you either escaped it…or you didn’t. Stress was acute. We have a huge variety of tigers in our lives, and unlike actual tigers, they stick around. The stress hormones and effects are there for the long haul, and it creates massive wear and tear on the body.
But when we’re able to demonstrate to our body that we’ve escaped the tiger, we’re able to complete the stress response. Our hormones can regulate, our blood pressure and heart rate return to baseline, and we are able to release that stress for the time being. Think about your dog who “shakes it off” after confronting a stressful situation. They are literally shaking off the stress and completing the cycle (Nagoski, 2019).
You see, our bodies don’t discern between stressors. You can tell yourself all day that the stressor is just your asshole boss and not a deadly tiger, but your body doesn’t know the difference. When we take time to complete the cycle every single day, we bring our bodies back to baseline. We can release the tension in our bodies and relax, so that you can enjoy life and be ready for the next “tiger.” If we don’t release it, we put ourselves at risk for pain, disease, and burnout (Nagoski, 2019).
There are many ways to complete this stress cycle, but none is better than MOVEMENT. Exercise in its many forms allows us to “shake it off” and complete the cycle. Movement tells our BODIES that we are safe and that we’ve successfully out run the tiger.
Because we experience stress most days, we should move our bodies most days. Of course there are other ways to complete the cycle (really, go check out Burnout by Amelia and Emily Nagoski like right now), but movement is so efficient at it AND has a ton of other benefits.
I know, I know. You’re a crazy busy mom. Doesn’t chasing after your kids all day count? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say…NO. No, chasing after your tiny tiger cubs doesn’t NOT count. You deserve more care than that, anyway.
I understand just as much as anyone how difficult it can be to get into an exercise routine. I’m pretty sure that I was allergic to exercise before the age of 22. Running a mile in PE never ever happened. But when I discovered running in the middle of nursing school, I never looked back. I was working, leading the clarinet section in marching band and concert band, doing my nursing caring plans, working on my honors thesis, and going to class and clinicals at 5:45am, but running kept me SANE. The same girl that could run more than a few minutes throughout high school ran her first half marathon at 25. While running doesn’t do it for me currently, it did back then. And while I may have kids now, exercise is still an important part of my week- even if it’s more difficult to prioritize these days.
So how do you make exercise a habit if you’re not doing it to punish yourself for what you’re eating? How do you create a routine out of love, rather than shame? Here are some ways that I approach it:
Look for the non-scale victories. Just as we do with Whole30, look beyond the scale. Take a look at the effect on your body- and I’m not just talking about the sexy muscles or the booty gains. I’m talking about how you FEEL in your body, the transformation of aches and pain, and how much better it functions for you. I encourage you to journal about your experiences, focusing on sleep, stress management, and strength.
Keep it fresh. While running was so good for me in my early twenties, it also was not balanced. My hamstrings became very tight. My core was weak. And I developed back pain after a few years of nursing at the bedside. When we vary our activity, we give our entire body a chance to be strong. We avoid overuse and boredom.
Combine it with other activities! Have kids to entertain? Take the family for a walk. Have a meeting for work? Walk and talk. Have a phone call? Pop in the bluetooth headset and go for a walk. Socializing with a friend or going on a date night? Go to an exercise class together. We sit so much during the day, little breaks like this add up and are better than nothing!
Get some help! I know that sometimes it can be insanely difficult as a mom to fit in a trip to the gym or leave the house for a walk. That’s why I’ve included my list of movement resources for busy moms right here. Click below to get them!
I’m also leading a free challenge this month over on Instagram. It’s super casual, but I’ll have a new challenge each week for those of you who want to revamp your exercise routine. Go check it out here and DM me if you’re in!
It doesn’t take much to benefit from movement and it may be the most important thing you do for yourself and your family all day. When you are taken care of, you are much better able to be the care taker! I believe that you can do this, Mama.
May you be happy & healthy,