Do you think of exercise as a necessary evil or as an activity you get excited about?
How many times have you said to yourself, “Ugh, I have to go to the gym,” when what you really want to do is wave a magic wand and be done with your workout.
If this sounds familiar, you may need to re-examine your exercise choices and explore movement that makes you feel great – maybe even joyful!
In this article, I’ll share dozens of ideas for shifting away from feeling “Uck” and towards feeling awesome about exercise. You’ll find lots of ideas to reward yourself during and after exercise to help you stick with it. By the end, you’ll be motivated to move in ways that improve your health, fitness, and increase your connection to friends and family.
Ready to learn more about joyful movement? Let’s go.
What is joyful movement?
Joyful movement means thinking about physical activity in terms of what feels good to your body rather than thinking that exercise needs to be hard or punishing to be effective.
Intuitive Eating, principle 9 – Movement: Feel The Difference – focuses on including movement that makes you feel terrific. Lots of Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors like me call this kind of movement Joyful Movement instead of just calling it exercise.
While that may just seem like semantics, it involves a mental shift, too. Changing your mentality around movement can help keep motivation high by encouraging you to tap into how movement makes you feel inside, rather than following external factors like distance, steps, or calories burned.
Additionally, thinking of activity as joyful movement broadens the definition of exercise. It takes into account all kinds of movement, not just moderate to high intensity movement for a set period of time, such as 30-60 minutes of running, for example.
It brings the fun into physical activity, further enhancing the benefits of being active by providing a reward to engage in exercise.
Perhaps most importantly, thinking of activity as joyful helps you build a sustainable, healthy relationship with movement. Connecting exercise to calorie burn or weight loss (especially with fitness app use) could lead to over-exercise or disordered behaviors.
But, when you can focus on the pleasure and reward you get from movement that makes you feel great, behavior is different. You look forward to doing the activity rather than feeling mandated to do it to change your body size.
Benefits of joyful movement vs. exercise
The benefits of joyful movement include:
- Improved consistency: you’re more likely to stick with movement you enjoy
- Increased energy levels, especially as your endurance grows
- Enhanced motivation: it takes less effort to convince yourself to do an activity you love versus one you feel you have to do
- Reduced stress and anxiety: especially when you enjoy the activity
- Improved self-esteem: especially if your preferred activity incorporates resistance training
- Improved sleep: both sleep quality and duration
- Social connection when you include friends and family in your joyful movement
- Improved cardiovascular fitness and physical strength because you stick with it!
Joyful movement ideas
1. Bring back play
Remember when you were a kid and your mom had to drag you inside from playing with friends to have dinner? You were running around, moving without paying attention to how long or how intense or how far. You were just playing. And it was fun!
Recapture that fun by bringing play back into your life! Playing games such as pickle ball, tennis, golf or ultimate frisbee automatically brings enjoyment and a social reward to fitness, making it more likely that you’ll stay with it.
Other group games such as laser tag or paintball combine laughter and a little fun competition to spending time with family or friends. You can find movement that’s totally new to you or go retro with roller skating or bowling.
2. Think outside [the box]
Heading outside with your family or friends brings even more benefits to joyful movement. Aside from the physical benefits of the movement you choose, being outside its own mental health benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety.
Outdoor joyful movement ideas for every season:
Ice skating, skiing, snow shoeing, broomball, curling, pond hockey, shoveling snow, sledding with your kids/nieces/nephews, making snow people
Walking, gardening, cleaning the windows of your house, frisbee, outdoor cycling, playing softball in a league, seeding the lawn
Swimming, mountain biking, washing the car, paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, tennis, pickleball, sailing, beach volleyball, paddleball, weeding the garden, making sand castles at the beach, flying kites
Biking, hiking, raking the yard, roller skating, skateboarding, disc golf, rock climbing, basketball, playing catch in the yard
3. Recruit or join others for joyful movement
Doing movement with a partner or friend can be really motivating. Break out of the box and see how movement can be fun and help you feel connected to friends and family.
Having a movement partner increases accountability, camaraderie, motivation, and helps you stick to your movement routines. Walk, partner dance, hike together, lift weights or get creative with your movement!
4. Explore your gym or studio in new ways
You may have a routine for the gym that feels great to you already, but if you don’t, why not try to mix it up? Physical benefits of including a variety of styles of movement include injury prevention, increasing strength and cardiovascular conditioning, improved balance and mobility, among others.
Group classes are available at most gyms, fitness centers, dance studios and yoga studios. You can try everything from swing dance to swinging kettlebells, pilates to plies, rowing to restorative yoga. Check out what your local spot offers!
5. Expand your definition of exercise
Physical activity does not have to be done all in one session or at a gym to “count.” You also don’t have to end in your movement session in a pool of sweat to benefit from it. Just five to ten minutes of activity or doing physical chores can help improve your physical fitness.
Movement that adds up:
- Commuting by foot or bike
- Walking to get lunch away from your workplace
- Taking the stairs a few times a day
- Indoor chores like vacuuming, washing windows or cleaning the baseboards
- Outdoor chores like cleaning the gutters, raking or shoveling snow
Not all of the activities listed above may be your favorite forms of joyful movement, but some of it has to be done. Why not make it fun by popping in your airpods and listening to your favorite audiobook or podcast?
6. Balance it out
Different activities have different benefits. Dancing, biking and walking improve cardiovascular fitness, while yoga and thai chi improve balance and mind-body connection.
Weight lifting and high impact activities like running enhance bone density. Endurance activities like long bike rides lower blood pressure. Pliates improves your mobility and core strength.
All these elements of fitness and health are important. Practicing a variety of activities will support and promote overall health. Getting rest days a couple times a week will help your muscles recover and keep you from burning out.
7. Build the habit slowly
There is no need to go to extremes when it comes to exploring movement, even though there might be pressure to do so, especially in January.
Going from zero days of movement per week to 5 days a week is not sustainable for most folks.
Try one day a week for a few weeks, then two days a week. Build from there.
8. Reward yourself
The fun and pleasure you get doing joyful movement is often a reward in itself. If you need more motivation, however, you may need to reward yourself during and after physical activity
- Play your favorite music during your movement session
- Listen to an audiobook or podcast
- Choose movement that includes time with friends
- Wear comfortable, well-fitting clothes for your activities
- Purchase new gear for your movement of choice
- Plan active vacations that incorporate your favorite activities
Exercise doesn’t have to be a punishing, “no excuses” chore. Instead, when you tap into movement that feels great to your body, you can gain health benefits and well-being while having fun. Whether you choose indoor activities or head outside, go solo or join a group, focusing on movement you love will keep motivation and rewards high.
My favorite fitness community is Green Mountain Community Fitness! If you live in or are visiting Vermont, check out their amazing, supportive, fun community of folks pursuing joyful movement!
Hello there! I’m Britt, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. I can help you find freedom from life-long dieting, disordered eating and eating disorders. When I’m not writing about ditching diet culture, joyful movement or improving body image, you can find me hiking in Vermont’s Green Mountains, eating pizza, making modern quilts or sipping a hot cup of tea. Let’s connect!