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!


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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  • I totally agree with you. I know there is little chance I’ll exercise if I don’t like it or won’t have fun. So I make sure that its something I can look forward to – de-stressing, relaxing and working up a little sweat. It should be about reconnecting with your body – not being yelled out and feeling like your dying!

  • I totally agree! I know I won’t workout unless its fun and I actually like the activity. You should enjoy this time to reconnect with yourself and your body! Not dread it.

  • Amen! Run your own race has been my thing for a long time now…run your own miles, because you own them, no one else does! We should be exercising in ways that make us happy, not in ways in which we feel as though we’re settling and then lose all faith and become discouraged.

  • 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. Thanks for sharing.

  • Exercise is not some sort of punishment. It can be an activity for you to enjoy, not suffered through.Make exercise a regular part of your life, though it takes time for you to get the results you always wanted, but it’s worth doing.

  • Exercise is a fun thing to do and at the same time, beneficial to our body. Having a rigid exercise or sort of like a punishment exercise is not necessary for us to be more fit, even simple exercise would do, in fact simple and light exercises are more advisable than those rigid ones. It doesn’t makes sense we experience problems because of the kind of exercises or workouts we are doing, we should think always what could be the best and safe for us.

  • In the warm weather months, (which as many as I would like where I live) I am very active outside and do a lot of walking. I’ve never been a runner. The winter, however is another story. (I find I’m a fair weather person) So, a friend and I decided to try a home workout…..Zumba. We are both well over 50, and we thought we were going to die so we watched it more than participated. We did find a program more suitable for our age and level of fitness and we are sticking with it. And the important thing, we are having fun! We figure sticking to an easier routine that we can handle is better than doing nothing.

  • Kathy

    I am a fitness fan myself and I know the power of motivation. When I am lacking energy or feel too tired to go to the gym I take Navy Seal Formula manufactured by MGNutritionals which makes me quickly recharged. Due to this supplement I never miss my workouts and never loose my motivation. As a result – I am constantly improving my shape.

  • I like the idea of “Easing into Exercise”. When I was younger, it didn’t matter all that much, but now at 56, I need to get the muscles and joints moving slowly. Especially after a winter with less movement and exercise. If I try to overdo it, right from the start, I pay dearly for it. By easing in, it makes the whole experience more enjoyable.

  • Beverly Cooper

    Try the “Silver Sneakers” classes at the YMCA! they’re great if you’re just getting back into exercise; and your body with thank you! (we really do crave movement). Their Water Workout classes, water aerobics, are fun, too, and great if you have a dicky knee or other joint problems.

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