OK, it’s not really exercise I hate. But, I’ve had to overcome some skewed ideas about it. I like my first memories of motion — the ones where my mom would say “go outside and play” that include tag and jump rope with friends and games of catch with my older sisters.
As I grew older, I internalized the idea that exercise was anything but a joyful experience. Media fitness messages weren’t about achieving enjoyment, but a certain size. I quit playing organized sports because they valued winning over sportsmanship or teamwork. School recess was about avoiding bullies.
Later in life, I was fortunate to rediscover how much fun it can be to put my body in motion. For example, when I visited friends in Colorado, we rode everywhere on bicycles, which rekindled my absolute love of pedaling around on two wheels. There are many reasons I enjoy riding a bicycle. I like the DIY nature of it. You don’t need fuel, silly gadgets or fancy equipment, although some of it is helpful. All you really need is a bike and your own energy. Biking is also an efficient use of time. I have places to go and I have to be active in order to keep my body healthy, so combining these two things by riding a bike is practical. I can’t explain the joy and freedom I feel on a bicycle.
Hiking has become another of my favorite activities. I enjoy it because it puts me in touch with the wild. I don’t mean wilderness, although I love to be in those places. I mean wildness as described by Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild. The wildness found in involuntary reflexes we don’t notice while we sit scrutinizing data we put into our computer or glean from a heart-rate monitor. I mean the wildness of breath, the reflexive turn of the head when you hear a whistle and the adjustment of your body to the terrain around it. It is these moments of exercise that satisfy both my mind and body.
If you are like me and the thought of “exercise” is unappealing, know that you are not alone. If hearing the word exercise conjures unpleasant flashbacks of grade school gym class, I’m with you. I’m certain you are not alone if the word reminds you of being the last person picked for any athletic endeavor. But, I hope you don’t let those soured memories prevent you from enjoying movement. I’ve overcome my own unpleasant memories and found the peace and joy that moving can provide. These moments have given me so much more than big muscles.