Moving beyond exercise

An uncomfortable thing happens sometimes when I’m with friends. We start talking about this or that, but before long the conversation turns to exercise and how they aren't getting enough. Work, kids, the commute — life is just so busy that it’s hard to find time, energy, and motivation to go work out.

For many of us, exercise is measured by time, calories burned, amount of sweat shed, maybe even number of curses required to finish. A lot of people think it's not exercise, therefore it isn't valuable movement, if it doesn't require a gym membership and Lycra workout pants.

I understand where my friends are coming from. I used to feel the same way. In fact, I used to schedule everything in my life around my gym workouts. But in the last few years I've changed my entire outlook on exercise. I move a lot every day, and I can do a full day of movement without ever putting on my workout gear. (Owning stretchy jeans helps.) I haven't had a gym membership in about seven years, but I am strong, fit, and healthy all the same. I wear the same size that I wore eight years ago before I had my first baby.

How do I do this without working out at a gym? Read on.

What's wrong with exercising?

First, you may be wondering what exactly is my problem with exercise. It’s not about the exercise. I actually love to exercise. The problem is what we do with our bodies after the workout. How many times have you logged a killer workout and then sat the rest of the day? It’s okay to admit it, we’ve all done it. We think we’re done when the workout is done. Unfortunately that’s not the case. 

It turns out that the exercise isn’t helping you as much as sitting for the rest of the day is hurting you. Case in point, this great Atlantic Monthly piece: “The Futility of the Workout-Sit Cycle.” 

In addition, exercising isn't the weight loss miracle it has been made out to be. This talk by the brilliant Yoni Freedhoff might help reset your thinking on exercising for weight loss: Rebranding Exercise: Why Exercise is the World’s Best Drug, Just Not a Weight Loss Drug

Exercise is great for us, but it isn't all the movement we need, not by a long shot.

I know, this may be disappointing and jarring news. Does this mean you might as well quit exercising? No, but it does mean you should stop sitting so much and think about moving differently. We all need to move throughout the day no matter how we choose to spend 30 or 60 or even 120 minutes of the day exercising.

In short, if you like exercising, keep it up, but don't stop moving when your workout is over.

If you dislike exercise, challenging yourself to move more may show you that you actually enjoy moving. It may simply be the sweat and workout pants you just aren't into.

Action plan: Learning to move more

  1. Before you try to add more movement to your day, first log how much you are sitting.
    Starting when you get out of bed, write down the times you sit on a typical day: At the breakfast table, in your car, at your office, on your sofa … You will probably be surprised by how much time you spend sitting every day.
  2. Start looking for opportunities in your daily life to move more.
    Going for more walks is great, but what about choosing to stand more often, or sit on the floor more often? (Getting down to the floor and up from floor is great movement. Try it!) Can you carry things in your arms more often rather than using carts and bags? Can you walk to run errands in your neighborhood, or take the stairs more often instead of the elevator? Once you start looking, you'll find opportunities everywhere.

Special resource for office workers

If you are desk-bound during the work day, check out the book Don’t Just Sit There by Katy Bowman (affiliate link) for great tips to make your workstation more dynamic.

Please read this important caveat

Some of us have young children, mobility differences, or other special circumstances that make movement more challenging. If this is you, your answers to some or all of the above questions may be "No, I can't." Please, don’t feel discouraged, but know that any extra amount of movement is beneficial. Walking slowly with a toddler or simply raising your arms as high as you can a few times a day absolutely count toward better health. No change is too small, and you are worth the effort. 

Want to work with me?

If you like what you're reading and want personalized help to start moving more, get in touch!