Easing into Exercise

No judgment.

Those were the words I heard this weekend during a hot yoga class.  I liked that. Everyone was encouraged to do their best with a pose.  If you can’t do it, or if you can’t hold it, that’s OK.  The instructor was simply reminding us that he’s not judging, and we shouldn’t be judging ourselves either.  That’s such a positive message — both for exercise and for eating!

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I think a positive approach is much more motivating, especially if you haven’t been active for a while.  That really hit home for me when I read about a new study in the American Journal of Health Behavior that suggests the often intimidating, “yelling” approach used on The Biggest Loser can backfire.  Yoni Freedhoff, a physician and blogger at Weighty Matters, does a great job in his blog post reviewing this new study and commenting on the implications. The researchers suggest that watching Jillian Michaels work with contestants on The Biggest Loser”

“…may result in lower motivation to participate because of the anticipation of an unpleasant experience.”

I’ll say.  I haven’t been a big fan of The Biggest Loser, especially the new episodes featuring children.  Yoni Freedhoff also wrote a compelling blog post about that.  I’ve also been troubled by Jillian Michaels’ decisions to promote extremely questionable “fat-burning” diet pills, which I’ve written about in the past.


The new study reinforced the concept that people will be more likely to exercise if they think it’s fun and not work. I agree, there does need to be some factor of fun, and you also need to feel good about yourself doing it. Having a goal and starting small will help.  That’s the approach I took when I first started to run two years ago. I wrote about my journey training for the Chicago marathon in my new book with the editors of Cooking Light: The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook.

HH_cover_asp1106_FNL.inddIn chapter 4, the healthy habit Get Moving: Small Doses Deliver Big Payoffs, I write about the benefits of starting slow.  I couldn’t even run 3 blocks before I signed up for a group training course with Chicago Endurance Sports, a fantastic local group that offers a run-walk training program for novices like me.

I had such positive encouragement from my coaches — never felt bad that I was slow or found it difficult.  I got better, week by week.  Finishing the marathon was a huge accomplishment for me.

I didn’t care about my time, I cared that I finished.  I previously wrote about my experience in this blog post: Journey is Over, Now On to Next Challenge. Here are a few things I learned along that way:

Run your own race. Don’t compare yourself to others.  I was often the slowest in our training group, but I was OK with that.  Focus on your own improvements.

Make a commitment. Signing up for a group training program helped me be more accountable. Explore local races in your area, then share your intentions with your family, announce it at work, or post it on Facebook — whatever helps you stick with your goal.

Cherish the time. The minutes you’ve carved out to run or walk are all about you.  Enjoy this time alone to focus on yourself, make plans in your head, and think positive thoughts without any distractions.

Exercise should be a positive experience.  You should feel good about yourself doing it, no matter how small. Ease into it, if you’re just getting started.  Often starting is the hardest part of all. Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t let anyone else bring you down either.

image courtesy of Begatell on flickr

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