What's the difference between movement and exercise? The former has no particular purpose or outcome. The latter does. The expectation of particular outcomes can lead to stress and other complicated feelings.
What happens in your body when you hear (or see) the word "exercise?" If you find your jaw tightening or your stomach dropping, you're not alone. Why does it have this effect on people?
The short answer: this word is associated with outcomes, performance - and yes - diet culture, food restriction, weight cycling and fatphobia (e.g., the need to "burn" calories, "earn" dessert, or the false cultural notion that fat people wouldn't exist if every person exercised).
The word "exercise" emerged in the fourteenth century. Its etymology includes the following definitions: "practice for the sake of training" and "execution of power." These definitions hint at expectation, measurement, observation, maybe competition and raised stakes.
These things (expectation, measurement, observation, competition and raised stakes) land differently for different people. Some experience these things as positive or inspiring. However, this word can skew negative if you've been taught - like many of us - that exercise is the key to becoming thin, being more disciplined (which, in our culture, is associated with morality), or ensuring a long life.
In particular, the idea of exercise can be painful or even triggering if you've ever believed that exercise was the key to having a body that would garner you love, acceptance, romantic or sexual attention, success, and a life free from weight stigma.
Right now, our culture understands movement as something that sits under the umbrella of exercise. In fact, the opposite is true. Exercise is merely one narrow type of movement.
The sweat-drenched idea of exercise can sometimes limit our imagination or understanding that we are already always moving. It may limit our understanding of the amazing, positive and wellness-promoting things that we do with our bodies already. There's nothing wrong with sweating, but it's important to debunk the idea that movement only "counts" when sweating is involved.
Movement is something human beings do naturally. Though babies aren't born knowing how to walk or even hold a cup, they still wiggle and roll and cry and move. In short, humans don't need to be taught to move. We do that naturally.
Here's a list of 23 things that you may have never considered movement (because they don't necessarily involve wearing athleticwear, breathing heavily or sweating profusely):
Stirring batter for pancakes
Playing an instrument
Going for a leisurely walk
Brushing your hair
Wiggling your fingers or toes
Making the bed
Reaching for something on a high shelf
Rolling out cookie dough
Rolling down a hill for fun
Playing your favorite game
Living in a culture that is obsessed with outcomes can turn fun things into stressful, hard things. But make no mistake - movement is meant to be fun.
If you love the word exercise, then your homework this week is to expand your notion of what that word can mean. Do some movement that's silly or purely for fun.
If you have a hard relationship with the word exercise, then your homework this week is to chuck that word from your vocabulary. Look at the list above. See what you're already doing. Add new things to it. Try practicing doing something from your or my list, and just notice how it feels. If it feels bad, give yourself permission to stop and self-care. But keep trying when it feels right because we all deserve to feel good about moving in our bodies.
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+ If you love deep conversations about body image and food, listen to my podcast Rebel Eaters Club
+ I have a new book coming out in Spring.ody Positive Journal. Pre-order it now.
+ Take a look at my books: You Have the Right to Remain Fat (I narrated the audiobook), The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion