Our perception of what it means to be fit and healthy has taken on an obsessive and extreme form. Today’s fitness culture paints exercise as an all or nothing, no pain no gain ritual and as a result walking, bike rides, zumba or low intensity methods are belittled and discredited as inadequate, lazy and dull.
The truth of the matter is, today’s fitness culture is dominated by an obsession with abs, disordered eating, exercise addictions and emotional imbalances. Misguided motives founded in aesthetics and hollow gestures claiming balanced and moderate approaches to fitness and body positivity have duped a community of health and fitness enthusiasts for far too long. The #FitFam and growing community of online coaches are regularly praised for their motivational and inspirational approach to fitness but it’s time to look beyond the abs and explore the relationships they are promoting to exercise instead.
Over the last few years I have worked hard to release myself of any negative feelings I associated with exercise. To say that I have learned a lot along the way - about myself, my environment and the people around me - is an understatement.
If you are training or exercising for a goal, any goal, there will be occasions when pushing yourself is a normal part of the plan. Even the healthiest and fittest person among us will have a miserable session in the gym. However, people with a healthy relationship with exercise know where to find the middle ground between feelings of duty and desire. Here are five habits I believe you will find in people who have a healthy relationship to exercise
YOU PRIORITISE THE MENTAL BENEFITS
The fitness culture of today abuses the gym for its appearance altering side effects. Our passion for fitness has dissolved into an obsession with leanness and the gatekeepers - personal trainers, gym instructors, social media influencers - have empowered a nation to become disconnected from the greatest gift our fitness can give us, health, vitality, longevity and confidence.
Exercise is one of the most powerful tools you can use to increase your happiness, energy levels and wellbeing. Exercise makes you less likely to get sick, helps you sleep better at night and will boost your confidence and self esteem. A person with a good relationship to exercise is motivated by the mental benefits and not the anxiety, stress or suffering that may result if their strict and impossibly high standards aren’t met.
YOU CAN GO WITH THE FLOW
Does straying from you exercise routine cause you to get upset? Sometimes due to travelling, sickness or busy schedules other appointments may bump your exercise commitments. If you’re one of the healthy ones, you know that’s OK! A person with a good relationship to exercise is relaxed and can accept to a situation, rather than trying to alter or control it. Remember, fitness is defined or measured by your ability to PERFORM certain tasks so if you are unable to follow your exercise plan today, instead of focussing on what you think you are missing out on, look to all the other ways you were active today.
YOU DON’T EXERCISE TO EAT, PUNISH OR MANAGE
A person with a healthy relationship to exercise doesn’t exercise to eat, or eat to exercise! They certainly don’t do “punishment cardio”. Approaching exercise in an anxious, fearful, self-punitive or addictive way or constantly feeling a need to push yourself past your limits in order to feel you have done enough does not embody a healthy relationship to exercise. Why? Because the attitude and beliefs you create around exercise are causing longer-term damage to your health and wellbeing, even if they’re alleviating your short-term guilt. Many of us who make the effort to exercise regularly we will experience some level of stress, obligation or inconvenience but I believe that the line that splits a healthy and unhealthy relationship isn’t as blurred as it used to be.
YOU CAN SHAKE THINGS UP
A healthy relationship to exercise is one that is flexible and compatible with your lifestyle, not rigid, restrictive or isolating. A person who has good relationship is comfortable and open to a wide variety of exercise methods and is not dismissive of activities that do not meet the intensity, speed or duration they have become accustomed to.
YOU DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
Exercise is something that many of us humans have a love/hate relationship with. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the uplifting feeling training provides and it’s OK to feel good for fulfilling that desire. However, beating your self up after missing a gym session, punishing yourself by exercising more later or depriving yourself of food to balance the calorie and weight loss equation is unhealthy, mentally and physically. Remember, your senses of identify and worth are not determined by your ability or commitment to exercise. If you cannot balance your thoughts about exercise with other parts of your life I believe you would benefit greatly from looking at your beliefs and motivations around exercise first.
The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Hollow gestures and empty promises aside, it is time that we demand a higher standard of others (and ourselves) and seek inspiration and motivation in balance, moderation and sustainability.