How to Make Exercise Fun!
We all encounter times of transition or sometimes find ourselves stuck in a rut waffling around for motivation. We know that exercise provides a plethora of benefits, such as improved thought processing, stress relief, and endorphin release, yet we still do not always want to move our bodies. I have felt this more than ever in the last year or so, and have spent a fair amount of time figuring out how to get back into healthy, regular exercise that is appropriate for what my body is feeling.
There is no end to fitness. It is never, “Yay, I’m fit… I’m done now!” Movement is something that our body wants and exercise is something we need throughout our entire lives. That does not need to sound daunting though, because it does not mean that it will be the SAME for our entire lives. There are seasons (unless you live in Santa Barbara) and life changes, so should our exercise.
When I get in these phases the thing that helps the most is to adjust my approach to make movement fun again. There are many ways to do this, here is where I usually start:
First, make it as comfortable as possible.
Buy running shoes that fit you well. Make sure you have a comfortable sports bra. Figure out the basic gear that makes your activities of choice more inviting.
For me, it means wearing ear plugs when I swim and a one-piece swimsuit. This way when I push off the wall I can feel like a human torpedo instead of worrying about the lifeguard getting a peep at my buttcrack.
Most recently, I even added an extra-dorky looking swim cap to my ocean swims. I accidentally bought the wrong size, so I had to cut a whole in the top and pull my hair through for it to fit. But it keeps my ears warm, which makes ocean swimming a gazillion times more comfortable!
Exercise by nature stresses the body to induce change, but we should not have to stress about UNnecessary discomfort.
Then, remove the pressure.
As I see it, there are two kinds of pressure: internal and external. Some examples…
The internal pressure I create when I am in the pool is that in order for the swim to count as a ‘workout’, I must swim a certain amount, at a certain pace, with all the right technique, and flip-turns at every wall.
External pressure showed up recently when I signed up for a half marathon after only having run ONCE when I moved to San Francisco. Before I signed up, running felt enjoyable, despite the hills and weird smells. But after I signed up for that race, my head filled with doubts and pressure to run a certain number of miles, at a certain pace, no matter how much my body started hurting. At that time, that kind of pressure was too much. It was not fun anymore.
Needless to say, I decided not to compete in the race. And each time I have been in the pool since then I have set a timer for 20 minutes and just made it my goal to move for that 20 minutes, no matter how goofy my strokes felt and without counting my laps. And you know what? I did not do a single flip-turn.
Remove the pressure. Set some parameters /goals/ guidelines, whatever feels good to you so that you will do more than the bare minimum, but in a way that feels approachable and accomplishable.
Now, use your imagination.
Oh, the irony. While I’m running, I use my imagination to my advantage and picture myself playing soccer and scoring the winning goal or finishing a tough race with all my loved ones watching instead of thinking about how hard it is to run, how much it hurts and how much I want it to be over. For now, I am a complete hypocrite and only run imaginary races, but it works like a charm. As soon as I imagine myself in a competitive situation I instantly feel my posture improve and my stride lengthen. Use your imagination to take yourself somewhere that inspires your movement. If you are not the competitive type, maybe imagine you are walking on a tropical beach, instead of the treadmill or sidewalk.
It also seems to work just as well to praise my body, “great job, legs, you’re so strong.” You know, that kind of cheesy, positive self-talk.
Your mind is powerful, use it to your advantage. If you tell yourself exercise is fun, eventually it will be.
Yes, this is basically brainwashing. It works.
And for a while, keep it light; make it silly.
Remove the pressure that workouts have to look and feel a certain way. Instead, just let your body move and it will want to move more. There are SO many ways to exercise -
Grab a hula hoop, go roller blading, work in your garden, play lawn games with friends, play on the monkey bars, try pilates for the first time, swim in a lake (or a pool, or an ocean…), take your TRX straps to the beach, do a normal workout in a silly outfit, challenge your best friend to a dance off, play catch in the yard, walk around a new city and try not to get lost…or do get lost - it will be more walking!
It is natural to fluctuate with the seasons. Trust that the seasons will change again and there will be plenty more time for lifting heavy things and pushing your body to new limits.
For now, make it fun.
And if you need any help being silly, channel Pheobe.