More than half of Australia’s population avoids exercise and even the word itself sends shudders down people's spines. Many people say exercise feels like a punishment in the scene of weight loss and dieting, and others say it is a purely painful event with zero joy – not just physically but also socially and emotionally. The words, “disgusting”, “unfit”, “lazy”, “painful” and “too fat” are words I hear from my clients (as well as loved ones, friends and strangers) on a daily basis when this topic arises, often accompanied by tears, anger and defeat.
After seeing the first-hand day in and day out the hugely degrading things people associate with themselves and exercise, our clinic saw the need to provide a space where people can be with others who also ‘hate’ exercise. We want people to feel comfortable to give exercise another shot in a supportive, fun and judgement-free zone.
People often avoid exercise due to common reasons such as, “I don’t have time”. Interestingly, it’s not about the time – because we can make time to do things we love, like seeing an old friend, or watching a movie, because these activities feel good and give us an immediate reward. The barriers to exercise are actually the ones I mentioned earlier, plus more, masked as “I don’t have time”. In saying this, can we blame ourselves for avoiding movement, if all it brings is pain and shame which can be too deep to speak of?
There is also a misconception that body size prevents movement. People often associate being in a larger body with discomfort and a low level of fitness, but reality is that this actually has very little to do with being able to exercise. It is a guarantee that even if someone’s body size were to drop suddenly to a size they predict would “make life easier”, they would still feel uncomfortable, unfit and inflexible, because they have been sedentary, and their muscles, bones, joints and organs have still not been used very much. The beauty of engaging in safe exercise is that it can improve your joint strength, heart health and mental health, among hundreds of other things, regardless of your size, and actually makes life easier irrespective of your weight. We have to remember that we all have the exact same anatomy and physiology underneath our external looks, and that it still needs to be cared for the same as anyone else’s. You will find that getting in and out of chairs, going up stairs and walking through the mall will be a breeze – even in the exact same body you have right now.
Our new Movement with A Purpose (MWAP) hub has been created for people of all body sizes to overcome barriers to engaging in exercise. The first release of classes, aptly named “Getting Started”, are for people who avoid engaging in exercise due to negative past experiences and predicted future consequences. The one-hour sessions are divided in half, with the first half spent debunking the exercise ‘hatred’ and the second half trying new, safe and enjoyable movement supervised by myself, with others who are also ‘getting started’. Importantly, the sessions run under a CBT framework, whereby old negative thoughts are challenged by engaging in new behaviours in the same space. For example, you may ‘hate’ exercise because it hurts physically, and you predict this will be a never-ending trend in your life. You will then try, in the same session, new and pain-free movement which I will help you choose, which allows your brain to notice that choosing the right type of movement is actually the key, and that exercise can be okay if the right style for you is chosen. This framework helps to re-wire your brain with its’ own proof that exercise doesn’t have to be ‘bad’, which means that over time, the negative thoughts are experiences are replaced with positive ones.
Whenever, I suggest these classes to anyone, they often say they could not possibly attend because they will be ‘worse’ than everyone and that everyone will be judging them. I always smile, because they don’t yet know that every other person in the class will also feel the exact same way, and that they are actually designed to be a level playing field – to address that there are more people in the world than we think who also feel the exact same way; that we are not alone in this journey and that we can work it out together.
MWAP acknowledges that irrespective of weight or ability, exercise and other health behaviours (like eating intuitively, getting enough sleep, socialising and prioritising time for self-care) can be great goals to work towards, achieve and maintain for any individual, as part of the Healthy at Every Size (HAES) concept. We know that when people feel better within themselves, they are more likely to engage in healthy life-enhancing behaviours like exercise and feel motivated to take care of their bodies.
No matter your size or feelings towards exercise don’t give up and remember there is help available. As health professionals working with people who have weight and body image concerns our clinic recognises the need for a safe space where people can address the critical, shaming voice they have lived with for so long, and which has prevented them from living their most meaningful life. If you or someone you know would like to re-develop your relationship with exercise, body image or sense-of-self and you live in Brisbane reach out as we’d love to see you at our classes, which are starting on June 26.