Once upon a time (not too long ago), I was “that girl” at the gym-the girl that spent forever and a day on the elliptical machine. I had a very scheduled, rigid routine, and devoted my gym time strictly adhering to this regimen.  Day in and day out, I dreaded the seemingly endless minutes I would spend on the elliptical. Despite my dread, I never questioned this routine. I blindly followed this monotonous, mundane habit because it was what I had always done.  In retrospect, I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, really.  I wasn’t exercising to be healthier, stronger, or to bring more vitality into my life. I did it because I feared if I stopped, I would gain weight. I had been doing it for so long, without question, that I never even stopped to think about if it was benefiting me and impacting my health in a positive way.

Earlier this year, I was introduced to a different type of workout. It incorporated many different aspects of exercise: strength training, body resistance movements, cardio, stretching, and aerobic exercises.  For the first time in my life, I actually looked forward to going to the gym. It became an enjoyable part of my day, not something I dreaded.  It was the jump into this new routine that helped break my old boundaries and shift my mindset around exercise and health.  At first, I was afraid to give up my “elliptical addiction”.  I feared that if I stopped that daily regimen, I would gain weight. I told myself that I would try this new type of workout for a month, and if I really didn’t like it, I could go back to the old, boring elliptical. And lo and behold, I haven’t looked back since.  The exercises that involve a variety of movements and different types of workouts are much more interesting and fun than my old gym routine. Yes, I had to push myself outside my comfort zone, but that leap helped me examine my beliefs about exercise, and allowed me to really get honest with myself about what the purpose of exercise was in my life.  It helped me shift into the mindset of using exercise as a healthy tool, not as a way of burning off unhealthy foods I may have eaten or sticking to a routine that didn’t enhance my well-being.

For so many of us, we latch on to views and ideas about exercise routines, when in reality, we are holding on to beliefs and habits that no longer serve us. Asking yourself some tough questions around the role of exercise in your life will help bring awareness and clarity around why you do what you do.

Why do you exercise?  Looking at your motivation behind the “whys” of exercising can be extremely useful in determining if your habits are really serving you in becoming your best, healthiest self. Why do you go for a run, hit the gym, or use the weight machines? Is it to burn off the 9 cookies you ate yesterday? Is it because you want to be able to eat fast food twice a week?  Do you feel like you “have” to exercise or else you will gain weight? Begin to explore your reasons behind your daily or weekly exercise routine.  Sticking to a habit simply because it’s something you’ve always done may or may not be moving you forward to better, more radiant health.  Knowing the why’s behind what you do will help bring understanding to behaviors you may have been previously unaware of. 

Does anything you’re doing seem forced?  When I was blindly following my exercise elliptical regime, I remember “forcing” myself to go the gym every day. I hated doing it, I didn’t enjoy it at all, and I couldn’t wait until I was done. A complete lack of enjoyment is not a sustainable motivation.  When I switched up my routine, and began to incorporate a variety of different movements and activities in my exercise, the issue of force faded away. Yes, you may need to “make” yourself get out of bed in the morning to go for a run or push yourself to go to the gym after a long day of work.  The difference is how you feel about your workout. Do you dread the actual activity? Is it fun? Do you look forward to engaging in this activity? It does take some motivation and self-talk to work out when you are tired, but once you get there, you should feel energized and excited about moving your body.  Not dread and anxiety. Be honest with yourself and explore any exercise you are doing that feels forced.

What would your “ideal” exercise look like? Taking part in workouts and activities that feel good to you will help keep you engaged and motivate you to make movement a part of your daily life.  If you dread your current exercise routine, you will lose interest quickly and it won’t be sustainable.  Remember that exercise doesn’t have to mean being a slave to the elliptical or treadmill. There are all types of different activities that can keep your body healthy and fit.  What type of exercise excites you? What activity appeals to you? Perhaps it’s trying the Zumba class at your gym. Or going for a long walk after work. Maybe you’re drawn to more outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and snow-shoeing.  Whatever it is, find an activity that you enjoy.  We need to redefine our concept of exercise. Remember, exercise should be synonymous with movement.  How can you move your body in a way that brings enjoyment and health?  What activities support your physical, mental, and emotional well-being? If we shift our ideas about exercise towards doing activities that promote strength, vigor, and health, as opposed to working off the dessert we ate last night or to get a six-pack, we will begin to bring more enjoyment into our lives. Going to a yoga class, heading into the mountains for a hike, or taking a dance class at the gym is so much more satisfying than spending 45 minutes tediously and repetitively using the elliptical. These types of activities bring health to not only the body, but the mind and spirit, as well. And that’s what keeps us coming back for more.

As we head into the season of New Year’s Resolutions and the inevitable draw towards resolving that “this year, I’m going to lose ten pounds”, begin to explore these questions behind your exercise routine. Ask yourself what changes you want to make around your habits and beliefs.  Do you want to try a new gym class? Take up dance? Walk during your lunch break? Let me know how you’re incorporating healthy, positive exercise into your routine!