The Exercise Hangover Myth

Blank stare.

I had just finished describing to a client how exercise is a resource for well-being. How it does not have to make you feel worse in order to get the benefits. How suffering through a grueling workout does not give you ‘extra points’ towards your goal of weight loss and health. How when exercise leaves you feeling better, mentally and physically, it is healing the body and brain in the present and setting the course for a future of health and well-being.

“It sounds great, but I am just not believing it” she said calmly, looking as if I was living in some Pollyanna fairy-tale land. She had a long history of the exercise hangover, the cycle of jumping into a program and suffering through until it finally felt okay. Then “life got in the way” and the guilt of not exercising would surround her like a heavy fog as she hoped for something to spark motivation again. This cycle of suffering and guilt made exercise seem more like a nightmare than a life-enhancing activity.

This cycle is a combination of two exercise myths – the myth of suffering and the myth of ‘not enough.’ The former is due to the perception that exercise needs to make us feel worse before we can feel better. This idea of delayed gratification is necessary in sports and military training, where the only goal – to gain an edge over the competition – is relatively short-term.  When we exercise because we want to be healthy and well, delaying gratification drains motivation. We all want to feel successful – it’s a basic human need – but when we are suffering, we do not feel successful.

To nurture sustainable exercise motivation, each session needs to be successful – but not by outside measures, not by how many miles we move or calories we burn or pounds we lose. Those are empty sources of motivation, keeping us living in the should because there is always more we could accomplish, always someone else who is more successful. Lasting motivation is built on internal success, feeling better mentally and physically – having more energy, less anxiety, more confidence, less pain, more patience, less depression. Those are the gems found by looking inside ourselves for measures of success and are the building blocks for exercise as the valuable resource for well-being it is.

I invited my client to try a two-week experiment. Do 5-10 minutes of exercise each day, letting her body guide how much she did. The goal was to experiment with ways to make the 5-10 minutes her time – away from work, kids, to do list.  A time to work out some stress in her body and let her brain take a little vacation from all the things she should do. For two weeks, notice how she feels before and how she feels after. Just notice.

Activate it:  Are you tired of the exercise hangover? Give this little two-week experiment a try.  Let go of the idea that it is not enough to make a difference and see how it feels to use movement a source of well-being for a few minutes a day. Please share what you notice in the comments.

Be Well Now,

Janet

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