It is safe to say that there will be times, perhaps quite often, when we don’t feel like exercising. The data demonstrate that less than 5% of adults exercise for thirty minutes every day and only one in three adults participate in the baseline recommendations for exercise every week. The exercise recommendations are predicated on the scientific data that depicts a level of activity that reduces the incidence of disease and improves quality of life through optimizing health and physical functioning. In other words, we are presented with exercise prescriptions for our own good—even if it sometimes feels like the antithesis of that.
There are a number of ways to address our apathetic approach to daily exercise that will allow us to respond to the variations in how we are feeling physically, emotionally, and even our level of stress. We can consider our current state of being from a vantage point of self-compassion, and that will inform our choice of movement modality, duration, setting, and intensity. Research demonstrates that people who are self-compassionate are more likely to cultivate positive health behaviors; they are able to adapt to their emotions and they operate from a perspective of non-judgment.
Before deciding on a movement pattern on any given day, we can ask ourselves 1) how am I feeling physically right now based on the exercising that I have done lately/sleep quality etc. 2) what will my mind be able to embrace more easily today given my workload, stress level, and emotional well-being. The fundamental recommendations for exercise include thirty minutes of moderate level cardiovascular activity (walking, swimming, biking etc.) at least five days per week, and muscular strength and endurance exercise two days per week. In addition, flexibility work through static stretches and dynamic range of motion movements, should be performed at least two or three times per week for all of the major muscle groups. It may sound like a lot, but if we view our exercise patterns in seven-day blocks, that gives us some wiggle room to perform activities that feel right given our current state on any particular day.
If, for example, you are feeling stressed, tired, and unmotivated—just putting some music or a podcast in your ears and leading your feet out the front door (or driving to a local park with a serene setting) can set you up for mental and emotional refreshment, while embracing the rhythmic peace of a simple walk. If you are game for a more energy intensive session, you might click on your favorite YouTube exercise class in your living room, choosing an inspirational exercise leader who you connect with. Conversely, if peace is allusive and stress is the word of the day, maybe a gentle yoga session in your darkened bedroom using your computer, will usher you into a place of rest. Obviously, you can also add in a trusted exercise friend, if in communion you find motivation, engage your mind and emotions with another person or persons.
We can also productively approach the day’s physical exercise by combining activities that collectively serve us well. If we spend twenty minutes walking our dog, twenty minutes doing gentle yoga and meditation, and ten minutes doing a series of modified push-ups and sit ups, we have engaged our mind, body, and love of Fido to our benefit. Do we have to do these all at the same session—not really. Much research has investigated this question and found that exercise, even broken into parts during the day, is health-enhancing and beneficial. Remember too, that only one in three children are currently physically active every day. This provides some extra motivation to engage a beloved population; we can include them in these movement opportunities to support the development of health and fitness behaviors for life.
The scenarios are many and varied, recognizing that we have different needs on any given day. It is critical to view ourselves with compassion, embracing whatever exercise activity we do choose as an act of self-love and self-care. As a gentle way to spur yourself forward, you might even pause and record the feelings of agency and refreshment that come during and after completion of an exercise session, and then visualize that collection of feelings as a motivator on subsequent days.