I’d like to pick up on a theme from last month – the idea of exercise as an all-or-nothing, stressful event, and how that kind of thinking actually holds you back from having an optimal experience before, during, and well after exercise. Basically, it’s this: you’re not built for these waves of dreaded activity.
A few years back, I held thoughts about exercise that were very different than they are today. Mostly, I believed what most other people believed, that exercise was a good way to drop some weight. At the time, I decided to walk 10 miles a day on my annual 10-day family vacation. I achieved this, but it wasn’t easy, and there were days when I struggled with the challenge of it. I didn’t look forward to the walks always, and I would sometimes just get in a mile to get the numbers up, to make my ego and my FitBit happy, even though my body was not 100% into the experience.
I wrote about the feeling of completing a pretty steep task for me – 10 days in a row of 10 miles of walking a day, no days off – how on the last day, ticking off mile 100 felt empty. And when I went on the scale and had not lost 1 pound, I was just confused about why I’d chosen to do this in the first place.
So, fast-forward 2 years (thanks, Covid) and I’m back with my family in Colorado again, back racking up the miles again, but this time I’m focusing on the path. Instead of walking on the sidewalks to the store, I choose the path that takes me high up a hill, with a great view of the foothills and the Rockies. The path is a mile longer, and for part of it I’m going in the opposite direction of where I want to be headed. But that’s the direction of greater natural beauty, and it takes an extra 2 miles to walk it, so I do it. I’m just going into day 9 of 10, and I’m looking forward to the miles ahead today, wondering what animals I’ll seem what sights and smells and sounds await me. Instead of 100 miles of walking, it’s 100 miles of experiencing, of filling the senses with 100 miles of a location, of getting to know the shadows and breezes of morning vs. the shadows and breezes of evening. I didn’t weigh myself all week, and when i get home, I have no expectation of losing even a single pound. I feel that not caring about that one fact has given me the understanding of walking as a gift from myself to myself, rather than the expectations of transactional walking, where I would expect to be “paid” in pounds lost for miles walked, like it was my job. And it makes total sense to me now that I couldn’t really enjoy walking as long as I had the expectation that I would be given a reward or payment (e.g., weight loss) – I needed to be walking for no other reason than to fill my senses with the world.
The more time we spend treating exercise as something to endure rather than to look forward to, the less we’ll want to do it. Thats just logical. And the only real way to change your approach to exercise is to change how you value it. Sure, you should focus first on finding an exercise regimen that you like and can do repeatedly, but most important is to look forward to it because it is a special time for you to commune with your body & mind. It’s not super easy, and if you find it hard going at first, just keep trying – it takes practice to change a viewpoint we’ve had for many decades as a society. The mental results are far worth it.
And to wrap up, this second 100-mile challenge is making my body much happier – instead of being dead tired, at the end of a day, I could just as easily go and get in another 10 miles. That’s been the biggest unexpected surprise – that enjoying walking for itself has doubled my ability to do it, recover, and rest. I used to wonder about people who could just head out their back door and pound out a 20-mile run, and I’m finally starting to see that it’s the seeking of joy and peace that fuel movement.
Remember that our society doesn’t value non-work, because we over-value working. We ‘allow’ ourselves to exercise by turning it into work…and then it’s not enjoyable, so we look forward to the reward for working instead, like lower cholesterol, lost pounds, improved blood pressure. And then, while we think about it like getting paid (in test results), all those hours of exercise actually are contributing to bettering us, but we can’t see it. We lost sight of the fact that none of those things might happen when we demand them, or that maybe there are ways to measure human health…that maybe human health isn’t easily described if all you look at is numbers in a medical chart.
The pendulum swings from one impossible idea to the the other: exercise is work, and work should not be enjoyed. Your brain knows that’s bullshit. But the language of fitness all around us still preaches work and rewards. Take your energy away from this pendulum, and just enjoy your body more. Move more, because it feels good and feeling good is always good for the body, mind & spirit. It helps you love yourself. And don’t feel guilty for loving yourself because loving doesn’t feel like work, it doesn’t feel hard enough. It’s the only work that matters.