“I really dislike working out.”
That’s what Jillian Michaels — the trainer on The Biggest Loser — recently told a magazine while promoting one of her workouts.
So why does she do it? Because, she says, she loves her skinny jeans and playing with her kids. Then she shares her thoughts on how often everyone needs to work out per week.
This is just one of countless articles making the rounds in January — the month that’s all about the new us (“New Year, New You”). Articles filled with shoulds and have-tos and you-betters.
Articles that talk about exercise as a chore, as a punishment for eating too much or eating certain foods. Articles that demonize foods like dessert and pizza (When Michaels’s daughter, who loves Katy Perry, asks her: “Mom, does Katy Perry like this?” she responds with: “She hates pizza, honey.” What’s wrong with pizza, exactly?).
I remember reading these articles years ago and getting swept up in the shoulds. I remember thinking: I should work out more. I should work out harder. I should work off what I ate today. I shouldn’t eat pizza. Ever.
None of these articles made me actually want to exercise. In fact, I hated exercise. I resented having to exercise. I remember thinking, Why can’t I just be naturally thin? This way I didn’t have to work out. Ever.
None of these articles actually inspired me to take better care of myself. They only inspired me to feel overwhelmed and fueled the erroneous beliefs that exercise has to be painful, that exercise is something you do to look a certain way or to shed enough pounds.
None of these articles encouraged me to pause and consider what physical activities I actually enjoyed and wanted to add to my life.
None of these articles mentioned that exercise can feel good, in the moment. That I didn’t need to have an end goal.
Sadly, our society — including magazine articles, ads, commercials — perpetuates a slew of myths about exercise. And these myths can lead us to abandon movement altogether.
But here’s the reality behind “working out”:
- Exercise is meant to be enjoyed. You don’t have to do anything you dislike. You don’t have to punish yourself. You don’t need to get a gym membership, if you hate the gym.
- There are countless ways to move your body, and what you pick is entirely up to you. Maybe you prefer dancing, walking, biking, workout DVDs, skiing, swimming, bootcamp-style classes, Pilates, gentle yoga. Maybe you prefer engaging in physical activities by yourself or with a friend or in a group setting. Take the time to explore what you really like to do.
- What you prefer may change day to day, depending on how you feel, what you’re in the mood for and how much energy you have. It helps to pause and check in with yourself to see what you’re interested in doing.
- Movement can be playful. As I wrote in this post, we can look to our childhood and remember the activities we loved as kids. And start from there.
There’s no doubt that exercise is vital for our mental, emotional and physical health. It boosts mood, eases anxiety, sharpens our minds and increases energy. But what that looks like is entirely up to you.
Physical activities are an opportunity to nourish your body and mind. They’re an opportunity to have fun and enjoy yourself. They’re an opportunity to tune in and satisfy your personal needs and wants.
I know it’s often hard to ignore the barrage of workout and weight-loss articles (ads, commercials, etc). Sometimes, it helps to just laugh at all the shoulds and musts and ridiculous rules and restrictions. (That’s what I do.)
And, most times, it helps to remind yourself that this is your life, and you can fill it with the activities that you genuinely enjoy, the activities that help you feel good and strong and fulfilled.