Deciding to lose weight or get healthier is a big decision, one that many people put off. When they finally decide, they are immediately out of their comfort zone. If they sign up for a gym membership, a dance club, or even a walking group, they will immediately be surrounded by people who have been there, done that, and have a certain look and confidence. At least that’s how it seems to someone just starting out.
One of the first steps many people take is to sign up for a gym membership. Few things are more intimidating than walking into a gym for the first time. Every direction you turn you see fit people, complicated machines, and endless walls of mirrors. Asking for help is beyond overwhelming, so you march yourself over to the treadmills and spend an hour walking in place. While walking is great and a perfectly valid form of exercise, when you are surrounded by a bunch of gym rats who seem more like professional bodybuilders than approachable human beings, a simple walk on the treadmill can feel like a colossal failure.
That feeling of self-doubt gets stronger and stronger until eventually you may give up on the gym and continue paying for a membership you are no longer using. The gym has become a place of shame, a place of fear. Even if you do manage to develop a passable routine, are you truly enjoying it? Working out is difficult by design. Add feeling miserable to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for failure. The secret to finding success with exercise is a surprisingly simple one: find joy in movement.
Traditionally, some segments of the fitness industry have gone to great lengths to manipulate our idea of exercise. We have been told that exercise is valid only if you lift weights, run on a treadmill, or spend hours in a gym. Instead of all that, what if you sign up for a kickboxing or yoga class and end up having a blast? What if you take the dog for an hour-long walk every afternoon and that time to yourself revitalizes you? What if you simply dance around your kitchen while cooking dinner? The possibilities for joyful movement are endless.
Like food, forms of exercise cannot be easily qualified into lists of “good” and “bad.” All that matters is finding types of movement that you enjoy and look forward to doing again. It is so much easier to show up for a class you are excited to attend than to enter a routine where you might feel uncomfortable or judged. Remember, that whether you choose to run marathons or jump on a trampoline, no method of movement is superior to another.
If you find yourself struggling to find joyful movement, look to your past. Children do not need a gym membership to stay active. Did you play a sport that you really enjoyed? Check for local house leagues you could join now. The beauty of a bunch of adults coming together to play a sport they love is that there is little pressure to be perfect. For a couple of hours a week, everyone puts aside their responsibilities and has fun. Were you an avid bike rider? Get yourself a bicycle, second-hand is always an option, and start going for a ride every night after dinner. Rediscovering the activities that your younger self loved is a great way to start your journey to movement you can find joy in.
When we equate exercise with weight loss, the exercise itself tends to become a tool for punishment instead of a tool for growth. In fact, several studies have shown that while exercise on its own can help reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and increased cholesterol, it rarely – if ever – leads to large amounts of weight loss. One study found that people who are considered obese successfully lowered their risk of major health concerns by gaining fitness, regardless of whether they lost weight or not. Health and fitness can be achieved in any body shape and size.
The more you embrace joyful movement – whatever that looks like for you – the more your confidence will grow. One of the best parts of being a human on this planet is that we are each unique individuals. Some of us are elite athletes, some are novices, and some are unsure where to start. All of those are valid and perfectly acceptable.
It can be difficult and frustrating to learn something new. Being a beginner feels uncomfortable when you feel the urge to be perfect from the start. When you feel those frustrations bubbling to the surface, remind yourself that you decided on that particular activity because you thought it sounded fun. Hold onto the joy in that because joy is what will bring you back to it again and again. If the joy is gone, move on to the next thing that you think you will enjoy. Take away all the restrictions and rules you put on yourself. Your chosen form of exercise might just become something you love.