It seems hard to write something positive around exercise that doesn’t immediately cause shame to people who don’t like their bodies or who have tried and feel they have failed to exercise well.
I’m going to try, with the assumption that you take what I say as encouragement and not condemnation! Exercising means different things to different people, however what I don’t think is healthy is when it is used in ways that leads us to feeling worse about ourselves.
We are bodies, and our ability to look after our bodies both reflects something of how we see ourselves and also can help us feel much better about who we are. If we look at most animals they live fairly active lives that are a balance of excursion and rest. Sleep, eating, socialising, moving around are all part of their and our lives (for most but not all animals). What we know about exercise is that it helps promote all sorts of benefits:
Improves muscular and cardiovascular fitness
Improves bone health
Reduces risk of high blood pressure
Helps manage weight
Helps with socialising (if you take up a sport)
Can help with depression and anxiety
The NHS see’s exercise as one of the main things people could be doing to improve their health, and alongside counselling, exercise can help to manage difficult moods and increase self esteem. Along with this exercise actually helps brain function too when we begin new ways of exercising; our ability to learn new skills in one area of life promotes positive change in other areas.
I have found that whilst it helps to feel fit, exercise can be combined with other activities which again promote positive moods. Kayaking as an example allows for an hour of exercise whilst also spending time with nature. Starting a team sport quickly allows us to feel part of something and connected to others. Added to all of this, and at this point I feel I am pushing the benefits a little, most ways of exercising cost little or nothing.
A fast walk for half an hour three times a week can improve our fitness levels quickly whilst also having the bonus of requiring no kit and being possible for nearly everyone. As a last and more counselling related point around exercise; many forms of exercise help us to become more aware of our bodies, and more at peace with our bodies. For people struggling with body image issues of trauma, exercising helps us feel more attuned to who we are and as such more capable of loving every aspect of ourselves. So… happy exercising!