Especially around the holidays, the internet is overflowing with workout plans — whether it’s tips for avoiding weight gain, guidelines for New Year’s Resolutions, or training plans for the latest workout craze, the pressure to exercise can be pretty strong.
But for most of us, the time required for daily, dedicated workout sessions simply isn’t there. This can conjure all sorts of feelings of guilt, shame, or worry, but rest assured — even if you don’t have 2 hours to dedicate to the gym, you still can include exercise in your day, and feel good about it!
The concept of “gentle exercise” (a principle of intuitive eating) means that in order to be healthy, we need to move our bodies. But, it doesn’t have to be a grueling; we don’t need to count calories, measure our heart rate, or reach a certain number of reps for the exercise to “count.” Instead, it means that we should strive to honor our bodies by recognizing that we feel better when we get up and get going, and then regularly do that. Of course, this looks different for every person, so it’s important to figure out what works for you. Whether you have an unpredictable schedule, a demanding job, or are chasing young kids around your house, movement can and should be a part of your day. But, it doesn’t have to be another stressful item on your to-do list.
I have had seasons of my life where I felt enslaved to working out. I was running way too much and not eating nearly enough, and my health was suffering because of it. Like many others, I was very concerned about weight gain, and was afraid that if I didn’t run a certain number of miles or spend a certain number of minutes on the elliptical, I would totally lose control of my body’s shape and size.
The truth is, though, I never actually had that control! None of us does. Each of us was born with a unique genetic code that determines our individual weight set point. Really, it’s more of a five to ten pound range, and when our bodies are within this set point, maintaining weight is easy and effortless. We have the freedom to enjoy the foods we love — both cookies and kale — and enjoy movement that feels good. In order to find that set point, however, we need to learn how to listen to our bodies.
I work with women all the time who are initially terrified of giving up their strict eating and exercise regimens, but once they do, they are amazed by how much or little they naturally end up eating and exercising just based off their body’s own cues. They also find that they still end up wanting to exercise, but don’t feel enslaved by it any longer.
So, what does intuitive exercise look like?
It looks different for everyone, but for me, it usually ends up something like this: a few 20-minute runs throughout the week as they fit into my school and work schedule, supplemented by leisurely walks and the occasional yoga flow.
I didn’t always exercise this way, but once I gave up control of my body shape and size, I naturally fell into this pattern.
There was a season of my life when I hardly engaged in any exercise at all, and I really didn’t feel great. I felt sluggish and tired most of the time, and I constantly had knots in my neck and back. Over time, I came to realize that I feel best when I take a 2 mile run a few times per week to loosen up my muscles and get my heart rate up. Any more than that, and I start to feel aches and pains in my legs. Any less, and I find myself antsy and irritable. Yoga helps me stretch out and maintain my range of motion, and I find myself feeling more energetic and relaxed when I spend some time on a mat. In the past, I’ve attended local yoga classes (my college town had $5 hot yoga on Sunday evenings) but lately I opt for a 25-minute DVD session in my living room. It’s economical, convenient, and requires absolutely zero commitment, which is ideal for this season of my life.
Walking is another form of movement that I really enjoy. I can do it absolutely anywhere, and I don’t have to shower afterwards. That sort of convenience is something that I really appreciate! It’s easy to take a few laps around the building to break up a long stretch of sitting, but I also love going for longer walks and hikes with my fiance, or even just printing out my school notes and taking my studying outside instead of sitting at my desk. (This isn’t as easy in the winter, but sometimes I even go to the gym and walk with my notes on the treadmill because I feel cramped and restless.)