Exercise: It’s Not About the Numbers
I am tired of how exercise is talked about . . .
Calories burned, inches lost, pounds dropped.
“Making up” for what you ate yesterday, losing weight, changing your appearance.
In this discussion, exercise becomes a strategy used to try to achieve a goal rather than the goal itself.
Being able to move our bodies is a gift–one that gives us energy and endorphins, relieves stress, and fights depression. Yet so much of our focus is on how it makes us look rather than how it makes us feel. You may have heard the term “fitspiration” in the past few years. Fitspiration is “any message (usually in the form of an image with a quote included like the ones below) that encourages one to “persevere,” “push,” or even “suffer” through exercise for the sake of achieving change in one’s physical appearance.”¹
Fitspiration, as the name implies, is supposed to be inspirational and motivational. However, what fitspiration really does is diminish the power of movement. It reduces movement to being about “achieving the body you’ve always wanted” and merely sets a new kind of standard for what we should look like. Despite its claims to the contrary, fitspiration isn’t about health; it’s about appearance. And guess what? You can’t tell someone’s health status simply by looking at them.
Exercise isn’t about “the perfect body” or “doing it and getting it over with.” It’s not simply for your physical body but for the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of you too. Imagine climbing the flights of stairs in the windowless stairwell of an office building. Now imagine hiking a tree-lined path in the fresh air while you can hear the rustle of the wind through the leaves. Both will work the physical parts of your body but which would feel more nourishing to you? To all of you?
As is often the case, we can look to the wisdom of children to learn a valuable lesson about exercise. Most children will choose movement that stimulates their senses–they feel the fresh cut grass under their toes, hear their friends laughing, smell the leather of the basketball and the warm cement, and see the world around them–while we climb on a treadmill in a big box gym and run in place while watching a TV screen*. Children, if given safe places to play, experience joy in movement. They are curious about their bodies and all they can do, so they jump, climb trees, do cartwheels, ride bikes, run in a game of tag, shoot baskets, jump into the water and climb back out. And jump in and climb back out again (and again and again). And give no thought to how they look while doing it. Their movement is PLAY while adult movement is WORKING OUT. What a difference. Play versus work. So many of us lose the fun, the delight, the play of movement as we get older. *(Not that there is anything wrong with this form of exercise if it’s what you enjoy! The point is that this is not what movement has to look like.)
Let’s talk about exercise differently. No punishment, no numbers, no drudgery but instead mindful movement, vitality, joy. Is exercise empowering? Healthy? Absolutely. But so is accepting your body–regardless of how it looks in yoga pants. So focus on transforming your relationship with exercise instead of transforming your body. Trust me. It will be a whole lot more inspirational than any before and after picture could ever be.
You are not your body,