4 Tips for Mastering Intuitive Exercise (and why it matters)

You may have heard of intuitive eating, but what about intuitive exercise? In my practice as dietitian-nutritionist, I help clients improve their relationship with food, but we also explore their relationship with exercise.

If you’ve landed here, chances are you’re starting to explore that yourself. Enter the concept of intuitive exercise. To begin to understand it, let’s refer to Merriam-Webster, or dictionary.com for you millennials.

What is Intuitive Movement?

In·tu·i·tive (adjective):
using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive.

Ex·er·cise (noun):
activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.

If we mash these two definitions up, what sticks out to you the most? To me, it’s that I very rarely hear clients describe their relationship with exercise as instinctive. In fact, all too often, I hear them say things like:

  • “I do XYZ because I have to.”
  • “I do XYZ because I should.
  • “I hate XYZ, but it burns a lot of calories.”
  • “I started XYZ because my friend did and lost a lot of weight.”
  • “I do XYZ so that I can eat ABC.”

Insert the larger problem: most of us subscribe to a definition of exercise that is so far from the true benefits. Your relationship with exercise can get murky when it comes from a place of guilt, comparisons or compensation.

The real benefits of exercise are:

  • Improved mood, hello endorphins!
  • Improved brain function + memory
  • Supporting metabolism
  • Building + maintaining lean muscle
  • Maintaining + improving bone density
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced risk for chronic diseases
  • Better sleep quality

Please note that I did not mention “if you do XYZ, you’ll have abs like your friend” or “if you do XYZ, you earned a margarita at happy hour”. Yet those messages are everywhere!

I’m a firm believer that the benefits of exercise are both physical and mental. Yet it’s hard to reap the rewards of those happy hormones when you’re miserable because you hate running.

And it’s hard to move the needle on improving your health when you just used that cycle class as an excuse to order an extra martini.

Do you have a negative relationship with exercise?

If you’re starting to think your relationship with exercise needs help, ask yourself these questions (and answer honestly):

  • WHY do I exercise?
  • What do I like about my current exercise routine?
  • What do I not like about my current exercise routine?
  • How do I feel if I miss a planned workout?
  • Does my routine allow for flexibility, or is it more rigid?
  • Does my routine leave me feel ‘filled up’ or ‘run down’?
  • How has my routine impacted my physical and mental health?

How to Exercise Intuitively in 4 simple steps:

1) Dive into your WHY.

We all have a why behind how we choose to move our bodies. If this why exists at the surface level, like ‘I want to lose weight’, we are far less likely to enjoy movement than a deeper ‘I feel more energized and mentally clear when I move’.

Surface level why’s can also contribute to guilt if you miss a workout and deepen self doubt when you feel like you’re trying so hard but not reaching your goal.

2) Schedule your movement, but remain flexible.

Scheduling time on your calendar to workout just like any other appointment can help you be consistent. The key to moving consistently and intuitively lies in giving yourself permission to be flexible with how you choose to move.

Ask yourself: what would feel best today? Checking in with yourself increases mindfulness and lessens the ‘autopilot hustle‘. Remaining flexible can increase your self-compassion, which research shows can help improve motivation + health in the long run.

Repeat after me: any and all movement can be beneficial. Getting sucked into “I have to burn XYZ calories or it wasn’t a good workout” can be highly problematic. Give yourself permission to follow whatever sounds best, whether it be a HITT class, yoga, a hike, a deep stretch, a dog walk or simply hitting 10,000 steps that day.

3) Maintain a spirit of curiosity.

Especially when you’re first starting to explore intuitive exercise, I encourage all clients to try various forms of movement until you find one (or a mixture) that feels best. When you find a form of movement that lights you up more than it drains you, you’re probably right where you need to be.

Most gyms offer a free first visit or a week trial. Searching Groupon or ClassPass for promos can also be a good way to try a few new forms of movement without breaking the bank.

4) Don’t discount the benefits of rest days.

Exercise, especially when vigorous, can be stressful to the body. Hello, Cortisol! This stress hormone is catabolic, meaning it can cause the break down of muscle instead of the growth. Over training can actually impair performance and strength in the long run.

If you check in with yourself and decide a rest day is best, unapologetically give yourself permission to chill! Your performance and strength can actually improve in the long run when you balance work with rest.

Feel like you could use more help?

Sign up for a discovery call so we can chat more, and check back for more content to dial in your relationship with food and exercise.

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