Exercise should be fun

A recent episode of the iWeigh podcast featuring Tally Rye on a playful approach to fitness clicked a few more pieces into place in my brain.

I know I seem to mention this podcast a lot, but something strange seems to happen with my brain and the iWeigh with Jameela Jamil podcast. A few times now I’ve just decided to change something in my life, or my mindset, and then a new podcast episode drops on that topic! It happened when I had just stopped the birth control pill and she had Rikki Lake & Abby Epstein on, and I also have another episode to thank for finding Period Power. Truly something that transformed my life and my relationship to myself.

This week my brain the podcast feed synced up on the topic of exercise – although perhaps this one is a little less coincidental, it being January and all!

For the last few years I’ve been consciously trying to reframe my thinking around “exercise” to make it just about moving more and in a way that feels good, and doesn’t require a lot of time or effort. I mentioned in my last Newsletter blog that I’m trying to work on building better movement habits, and I’d just got myself an under desk treadmill to give me more easy opportunities to get off my arse.

This changing mindset I actually also credit to Jameela and her Move For Your Mind campaign on social media around 2021 I think. I can’t find the post now (way too much to wade through 3 years later!) but I remember her posting videos of herself in baggy clothes, eating jam on toast while dancing around like a mad woman – both increasing her heartrate and having a fantastic silly time. This was about just moving in a way that felt good and fun without all the fitness industry bullshit and worrying about calories.

This was a major epiphany. Exercise should be fun.

I already kind of knew that, but I didn’t think it could be fun for me because I don’t like sports. In my mind the only normal people having fun doing exercise are the ones on a sports team. Or at something like Zumba, which I might eventually find fun but those kind of classes have additional barriers of social anxiety, and its a whole chunk out of my evening once a week.

It didn’t seem like there were exercise things that I would find fun.

But Jameela was pointing out an obvious fact that I was for some reason blind to – dancing around to music is fun and it also gets you out of breath. Just dancing around can be a workout without it having to be a “Workout.”

So for a couple of years I’ve primarily been walking, dancing around my kitchen and on and off skipping rope as my exercises. All things I enjoy doing, but my problem is consistency. My problem is always consistency. So I’m trying to really consciously work on that this year.

It’s not about discipline. It’s about making it easier.

Potential mantra for 2024

Listening to this podcast episode was a conversation I didn’t know I needed, and helped loosen up some of the knots I had in my brain still around fitness and diet culture.

I’m going to share with you some of the notes I made and my favourite takeaways.

iWeigh: A Playful Approach to Fitness w/ Tally Rye

Jameela’s guest was Tally Rye an “intuitive movement fitness coach.” She’s a personal trainer who has gone from deep in fitness culture, to realising that all those rules she’d been holding on to were not helpful for her, or millions of other people in getting the true benefits of exercise.

I wrote a whole post last year on science based benefits and reasons to exercise (this was the beginning to trying to motivate myself to workout again!). If you can’t be arsed to read that, in a nut shell exercising – and especially strength – have a million benefits for your whole body and brain (especially as you age) that have nothing to do with losing weight and looking slim. It’s never too late to start gaining the benefits, and moving a little bit a lot each day is on balance probably better than being sedentary then doing an hour in the gym.

Is Fitness Culture a cult? Kind of.

Early on Jameela likened gym culture to church, or even a cult, which I kind of loved. Even if its not a Cult Cult spotting some of the cult-like elements can be helpful to unpack what might be unhealthy about it!

It’s like there’s a biblical attachment to the tenants of exercise culture and that includes the no pain, no gain and all of the fucking slogans and the protein shake culture and the uniform.

Jameela Jamil

I feel like that is so true, every one does look the same. And when did it become about wearing expensive outfits? When I went to the gym in my early twenties people were just in old t-shirts!

Movement should be playful, connect with your inner child!

I think one of the biggest reframes I want to get across to people is, how can you make movement fun and playful and kind of meeting your inner child?

Tally Rye

This is what I discovered when it clicked that I can just dance around my kitchen to Fitness Marshall videos for 30 minutes and get as out of breath and sweaty as I might if I went to a gym and plugged away on some equipment. But, that 30 mins dancing would go so much quicker and I’d have a huge smile on my face!

Discovering the fun of dancing also lead me to skipping rope! Which really is something I did as a little girl! It’s actually a kind of trendy fitness workout these days – turns out gym bros love it too – but you can easily tune out all that noise. I like to stick on my playlist and jump away to music until my calves start protesting.

Drop the “all or nothing” mindset

If we get trapped in this idea that workouts should be at least one hour or 45 minutes, otherwise they don’t count, we then get stuck in an all or nothing mindset again, because if I can’t do the whole one hour, then what’s the point? We need to, we need to kind of challenge that rule by doing shorter little bursts of things. There’s this phrase called “exercise snacking.” I quite like it.

Tally Rye

Throughout they discussed the “no pain no gain” and “all or nothing” mindset that people get caught up in. We decide we want to lose some weight and start exercising, we go too hard with something like a 30 day challenge and start a restrictive diet, then we invariable get worn out by, find it chore and don’t complete it, and because we didn’t see any results (i.e. weight loss) either we just completely give up. We stop exercising again and go back to eating lots of junk food, and feeling horrible until we start the cycle again.

I’ve been there! When we get stuck in a cycle like that we don’t have any consistency, just discouraging periods of either too much or nothing at all.

So finding something you enjoy, finding something that’s a suitable effort level for you is really important because that means you can have consistency. We think more is more, but it’s not. It’s quality of movement over quantity, and it’s about consistency and sustainability. And I think that is always missing from a very mainstream fitness conversation because we’re always looking at what’s the best workout for results rather than what’s the best work out for me, for my body, for my mind. And that’s different for everyone, you know.

Tally Rye

This is where I am with things now. I just need to get more moving into my day, even if I only do 10 minutes of something that’s still 10 minutes I did instead of not moving at all. If I can shake off this idea that I’m not doing “enough” and the weird feelings of guilt that come with that, moving and exercising can feel like an easier, positive experience.

This was something I also struggled with with some of the advice as presented in Atomic Habits – that all or nothing “don’t break the chain” mindset when James Clear (just a man on the internet, not a qualified expert in anything) applies it to exercise. At the time I read that I didn’t make the connection, but I can see now that is another reason that book bugged me so much.. so much I’m bringing it up again!1 I guess it touched a nerve around the shame I carry in my subconscious from fitness culture brainwashing, as well as the terrible diet culture advice he gives.

I now understand (thanks to Period Power) how much my menstrual cycle effects my energy levels and response to different kinds of exercise and these days I pay attention to this (I even have a section in my cycle tracker for how hard I found any exercise I did that day!). This is something Jameela mentions in the podcast as well. The female biological system is a delicate balance of hormones, and doing too much high intensity exercise in certain phases of your cycle can really put your whole body out of whack. You see a lot online from Fitness Influencers about using exercise to “balance” you hormones, but I don’t see much about how it can also cause them to tip out of balance if you do too much.

Tally also points out that we do a lot of movements that we might not think of as exercise. Hoovering I know can be a pretty good work out, as can scrubbing the shower. And one of my favourites it gardening! I can’t think of many better workouts I’ve had than trying to dig out those bloody St John’s Wort roots or sawing tree branches!

It is OK if you don’t have the bandwidth to make exercise your priority

As we know in our lives, like things ebb and flow, sometimes we’re in chapters of progress, sometimes we’re just treading water and it’s the same with movement. And so if right now you’re just able to tread water with doing the little bits you can, do that.

Tally Rye

This felt good to hear, and it’s something I have been trying to internalise for a while. I’ve done quite a lot of big life moves in the last year which is I know why I’ve basically stopped exercising. I am starting to feel like I might get the bandwidth back to put more energy into again this year, but I’m wise enough now to know not to go full speed right away. Don’t try to do any 30 day challenges because they do not work for me!

Instead I’ll try easing myself back in a bit more movement at a time – 10-20 mins of dance or strength in the weekday mornings, standing more and walking at my desk while I work/write – and then see how I go. No pressure – make it easy and make it fun!

If you are interested in more from Tally you can find her on Instagram @tallyrye and or her website

  1. I hate how this stupid book infected my brain! ↩︎
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