Photo by dusan jovic on Unsplash

What do you feel when you read the word “exercise”? 

For many of us, the word conjures up a love-hate relationship. Some get a burst of energy, while others may scrunch up their noses at the thought of leaving their couch. If exercise means “weight loss,” then exercise also means forcing yourself through difficult workouts and cutting out some of the foods that you crave the most. 

By that definition, exercise doesn’t sound like fun, does it?

De Elizabeth of the Huffington Post writes how the fitness industry, and our diet culture have created a possibly harmful link between working out to losing weight and controlling what you eat. This connection can cause negative physical and mental reactions to activity and healthy lifestyles. In other words, the problem is not you, nor is it exercise. Instead, it is your relationship to and definition of exercise that might need to be re-evaluated.

Past GNL speaker and all-around fitness instructor, Haley Machir, encourages others to find joy in exercising and leave punishment behind.

“My goal is to help people find connection and love [in exercise] so it becomes a more consistent practice, rather than something you feel forced to do,” she says. “It is a lifelong relationship.”

Haley has had a great relationship with exercise from an early age. She started competitively dancing when she was young, and is now a certified instructor for fitness classes like yoga, barre, and cycling, and is working toward her personal training certification. 

However, Haley’s journey with exercise has not been strictly linear: the road was filled with ups and downs.

“Sometimes you lose that connection as you get older and you approach fitness as having to look or feel a certain way,” she says.

If you have not always had a positive relationship with exercise, it can be hard to find the joyful, almost childlike, mindset for your workouts. To bring joy into your exercise routine, Haley suggests focusing on the positive gains.

Exercise can not only improve your mental health, but can also reduce your anxiety and give you more restful nights of sleep. According to Mayo Clinic, 30 minutes a day a few times a week can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Whether exercise means going to the gym or just doing chores around the house, working your muscles and moving your body is great for your overall health. Stick to activities that you actually enjoy doing so you are motivated to continue them long term.

“Look at [exercise] like it is a wonderful thing you get to do, not a horrible thing you have to do,” Haley says.

Try everything. Exercise can be HIIT workouts, walking, hiking, biking, swimming or heading to the gym. It means different things to different people. As with so many things, find what brings you joy and embrace it.