No matter how hard they try, some people just aren’t programmed to enjoy exercise for exercise’s sake.
I’m one of those people. To me, running with no final destination feels fruitless; lifting weights over and over again sounds like a form of torture; and spin classes do nothing other than give me a bruised bum.
However, when we stop thinking of exercise as something that has to take place in a gym, or involve repetitive actions, and start thinking about what hobbies or activities we might be interested in, it can help us reframe how we feel about it.
Activities like paddle boarding, wild swimming, and roller skating, or team activities like netball and football make us just as fit as working the rowing machine at the gym, but are less likely to feel like hard work – and more likely to feel like fun.
‘There is a variety of reasons exercise can be framed negatively and people feel that it is not something they can easily attach too,’ explains psychologist and wellbeing consultant Lee Chambers.
‘A big one is the perception of exercise itself, this gruelling exertion where you are grinding and burning, all or nothing, hard and difficult, makes it not particularly appealing.’
‘In addition,’ Lee continues, ‘so much of the marketing around exercise is about ideal body types, making many people feel isolated and others struggling to resonate with it.
‘Many individuals hold negative childhood experiences of exercise that reinforce beliefs around it, and for some gyms don’t feel safe or accessible, especially if we don’t have social support in those scenarios.’
Photographer Rachel Murphy, 38, describes herself as being the ‘biggest gym avoider.
‘I’m really not into the idea of exercising or fitness but did decide that I needed to start doing something to keep active now that I’m nearing the end of my 30s,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I had tried a few circuit classes but really couldn’t find the enjoyment in them and kept eventually giving up.’
A few months ago, Rachel saw a post for a local netball team looking for players and I thought she’d give it a go.
‘Despite having not played in over 20 years, I signed up and flipping love it!’ she enthuses.
‘Being part of a team keeps me accountable and makes me turn up every week, and its so much fun. I’m committed to those girls. It also pushes me to be better and work harder.
‘But we also laugh hard,’ she continues. ‘Having fun is just as important as getting fit to me. I don’t see it as exercise, it’s much more of a social activity. I feel like I’ve also made a new group of friends.’
But as well as the fun, Rachel is seeing the physical benefits too. ‘I have found that my stamina is increasing, as well as enjoying all of the endorphins after a match, even if we lose,’ she says.
The social aspect, improved mental health and – something we don’t prioritise enough – sheer fun and enjoyment of taking part in activities like this, can help us to enjoy fitness, rather than see it as a chore.
‘Reframing exercise gives us the ability to see where exercise can be an addition to our lives, beyond a single target or objective we are looking to achieve,’ explains Lee.
‘It also helps us see the opportunities exercise can provide and be more open to trying new experiences and meeting new people.’
He continues: ‘It can ignite your competitive side, distracting you from the feeling of exertion, help you build that social network that provides so much more than moving your body, and also helps you to harness the benefits of play, connection and enjoyment.
‘It can shift from punishment to self-care, from an obligation that you dread to an activity that you gain joy from.’
‘So often we think of exercise as a personal wellbeing pursuit, but the social wellbeing benefits of exercise are just as important, especially given the uncertain times we are living through, Lee says.’
Clare Willetts, from Dorset is the CEO of not only pink and blue, a company which exists to grow generations of equals by challenging buying behaviour that perpetuates stereotypes.
‘I’ve tried running and I just really don’t like it – and I’ve really tried,’ she says. ‘Treadmills – you aren’t even going anywhere and it’s so tedious.’
Claire has recently taken up street dance, which she absolutely loves – and doesn’t feel like ‘exercise’ to her. She decided to take it up after lockdown, and hasn’t looked back.
‘It’s fun!’ she says. ‘And, it’s a physical and mental challenge as you are learning the steps as well as moving.
‘I forget that I’m exercising because I’m concentrating on being in time to the music, learning the moves, and laughing.
It keeps me fit and it’s an escape from the everyday of running a business and looking after kids. We dance to a range of music from the 90’s depending on which style of street dance we are doing that week.
‘Then when I get home I have to show my kids what we did, so I get do the routine all over again!’ she laughs.
This element of forgetting you are exercising is crucial to many people’s enjoyment.
‘Being part of something bigger than ourselves helps us to be accountable, gives us a way to express ourselves, feel connected and forget how much we are sweating,’ says Lee.
‘Having that shared experience helps keep exercise fun and sustainable and gives us that social support that extends beyond the gym. As we look to find balance, it so often helps us find something we enjoy and enjoy it in moderation.’
Additionally, classes and activities such as ice skating, badminton, horse riding – whatever it may be – focus less on weight loss and appearance, and more on the activity itself.
‘It is a challenge in itself, with fitness culture so often propagating a message of weight loss and beach bodies as a reason to hit the gym,’ Lee explains.
‘But if weight is the sole focus, it can make it difficult to see the other benefits of exercise, leave us completely focused on outcomes, and stop us from enjoying the positives of moving our body.
‘It can also make finding an exercise we truly enjoy harder, as we are looking for weight loss rather than sustainable fulfilment or social wellbeing.
‘And it can encourage short term thinking and decisions rather than a longer-term of our health and happiness.
‘Exercise can then become less of a chore and more of a choice.’
So, if you’re someone who struggles to get motivated to lift weights at the gym, why don’t you think about trying your local pole dancing class, or ice skating rink?
By taking up a hobby, rather than starting an exercise regime, you may find you become fit by stealth – often the best way.
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