Body Love and Body Kindness, Uncategorized

How Cultural Messages About Exercise Mess Us Up

You may not know it, but cultural messages about exercise often mess us up. They’ve definitely messed me up in the past. I’d like to tell you a little bit about my exercise story and then relate it to exercise and all of us in general.

My Story about Exercise

I loved movement when I was little. I went to a really cool elementary school that had awesome gym classes in which we got to roller skate, do gymnastics, and play on unicycles and stilts.

I loved climbing trees, running fast, riding my bike all over the place, and jumping on trampolines. I loved playing.

And then I entered middle school, and it seemed like no one played anymore, and suddenly movement turned into exercise and was a tedious chore you had to do.

I didn’t want anything to do with it.

Luckily, my mom had an intuition that I liked dancing, and she signed me up for a local aerobics class, and I was smitten. I LOVE dancing.

I fell in love with movement again and felt alive like when  I was a little girl.

Crater Lake #1

Cultural messages about exercise mess us up because they make us forget that movement is playful, and exercise can bring us joy. Hoop dancing is one of my favorite forms of dance. 

But to be honest, I still often struggle with practicing regularly movement, and there is a pretty simple reason why:

Because ever since middle school, in the back of my mind, I have equated exercise with punishment.

It is a chore you are supposed to do. 

You are supposed to do it to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. 

If you don’t exercise, you are a lazy slug, and that is unattractive. 

Lazy Slug

Cultural messages about exercise mess us up because they scare us that if we don’t exercise, we are automatically a lazy slug. 

When I think of exercise this way, it turns movement into something that I shame myself with. So it is pretty easy for me to talk myself out of exercising because, really, who needs more shame?

Shame is No Fun

And when I think of exercise this way, it isn’t nurturing or freeing or playful. It is something I worry about. Am I exercising enough? Am I exercising hard enough? Am I exercising long enough? This is anxiety-producing.

Recently, however, I had a breakthrough in my thinking of exercise.

I have been a little more stressed out than normal lately, and the other day it was really getting to me. I thought to myself, “Okay, this has got to stop. I need to move to work out this stress.”

And I did.

I danced and did yoga. And I felt great.

And the next day, I felt calmer, and more peaceful. So I decided to exercise again because I wanted to maintain my peace.

I did more dancing and yoga. And I felt great. And the next day I felt stronger and more flexible. So, I decided to exercise again because I wanted to keep feeling strong and flexible.

I did more dancing and yoga. And I also walked in the park. It felt great.

And the next day I felt calm, peaceful, strong, flexible, and I had some really good, creative ideas. I decided to exercise again because I wanted to keep feeling all these wonderful things.

I just kept going.

So, I did more dancing and yoga and walking, and it felt great, and I thought, “Whoa. I have exercised four days in a row. And it was no big deal. What else can I do?”

And I suddenly thought, “I want to do EVERYTHING.  I want to run, bike, swim, climb trees, and lift stuff.” Why? Not because I wanted to maintain my weight or lose it. And not, technically, for my health. And not so I won’t be a “lazy slug”.

More Adventures

Walking in woods

Cultural messages about exercise mess us up because they make us forget how much fun it is to outside and go on adventures. 

I want to move and play and try all sorts of things because I love how my muscles feel when I move regularly, and I love being able to do new things. It is fantastic being able to meet different challenges I encounter during the day because I have been having fun moving in all sorts of different ways.

Our bodies are amazing, and they love to move and play. And when we move and play, we nurture our minds and spirits, and we blossom in the process.

So, think about moving and playing today. It is one of the best ways to show yourself love.

Me at Salt Flats

This picture was taken at the Salt Flats in Utah.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on social media. 

If you liked this post, you might like these ones:

And Now for Something Completely Different: Exercise So There is More of You, Not Less of You

My Cross-Country Hula-Hoop Adventure

I Practiced Deep Breathing Every Day for a Month and Here are All the Cool Things That Happened

25 thoughts on “How Cultural Messages About Exercise Mess Us Up”

  1. Loved this. I did ‘Go Ape’ last week with my fearless daughter. It involved scrambling up cargo nets, balancing on tight-ropes and bouncing on logs. I felt ALL my muscles the next day, and it was such a good feeling. It made me stand better and think about how I can use them more, in different ways. You are right, when we focus on the good sensations, and think like a child, with wonder about what our bodies can do, exercise takes on a much healthier dimension.

  2. I loved all your pictures and what you had to say. I agree, because I always feel so much better after a good swim! Way to go Shelly!

    1. You set such a positive example for me with exercise, Mom! I love asking you “How was swimming?” because you would always say, “Wonderful! Swimming is always wonderful!” That set a really good example for me about how good movement makes us feel. Love you.

  3. Lovely post! That lazy slug drawing gave me a good laugh. I started exercising in the same way you did. My husband and I went for a hike one day. We felt so refreshed that we went again the next week, and again the next week, soon I had a bunch of new muscle on my legs and my injured back that has bothered me for years was even feeling better! Now we have a rowing machine and I use it two or three times a week. My back feels better than it has in years.

    1. M.B. I love this! Your story is really encouraging to me to keep focusing on how good movement makes me feel, rather than focusing on whether I am doing exercise right. Your story is so amazing. My husband and I want to get a rowing machine, too. I’m so glad you enjoyed my slug cartoon :). I really had fun painting that. I was on a slug kick for a while.

  4. I love this! Your experience resonates so much with my own – realising that, rather than a form of punishment, moving our bodies is a way of looking after ourselves physically, psychologically and emotionally. In that way, exercise is actually enjoyable (who’d have thunk it?). Wonderful post, thank you, Shelly.

    1. Julie, thank you so much for reading my post! It is so good to meet other folks, like yourself, who have found this view of movement to be helpful, too. Thank you so much for taking time to comment. I love interacting with readers. Good day to you, Friend.

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