The best activity is the one you love to do

volleyballI follow a few bloggers in the world of nutrition, health and functional medicine whose articles are well written, thoroughly researched, and informative. One of these bloggers is Mark Sisson, whose website Mark’s Daily Apple is a trove of information, especially for Paleo and Primal enthusiasts, but there are nuggets of wisdom for everyone. Recently he wrote about the best exercise anyone can do which, to no surprise, is whatever exercise you do consistently. What I found most fascinating was his reference to a study in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunology. The researchers studying mice with colitis discovered that forced moderate exercise exacerbated colitis in mice and even led to death in three out of the ten mice in that group.  On the other hand colitis in mice who were allowed to voluntarily exercise was alleviated by exercise, and no mice died.

We are not mice, and none of us is forced to exercise, but I bet many of us find ourselves doing exercise that feels forced upon us and even punishing at times. In fact, many articles written about beginning an exercise program encourage people to push through their resistance for at least ten minutes with the premise that once you are into the exercise, it will not feel as daunting. This may be a good strategy when beginning an unfamiliar activity, but if you resist or dread an activity you have been doing for a while, it might be time to rethink its place in your life.

I have been all over the place with exercise. As with diets, I tried many different activities – calisthenics, jogging, aerobic dance, swimming, dancing, yoga, Pilates, one-on-one training, group classes, elliptical trainers, treadmills, weight machines, gym memberships, home training, and so on. I found logistic excuses to abandon my efforts; I injured myself and was unable to sustain the activity du jour. I bet most of my injuries were my body’s pushing back against punishing exercise, my body’s message to let up when reason failed. I wish I had heeded my resistance instead of ignoring pain and pushing myself. My most challenging health issues followed periods of intense and unremitting exercise. In essence, my body shut down, and I had no choice but to let up and rest.

Without reading Mark Sisson’s post, I know my best activities are the ones I look forward to, the ones that energize me, the ones which make me a little sore without debilitating me. I have given up my ambition to achieve an athletic, muscular body, and by doing so, I have also given up punishing exercise. I walk as much as I can. The endless winter in the Northeast has put the kibosh on my daily walking habit, and treadmill walking feels forced most of the time. I swim when I am near a pool. I do Egoscue exercises (I will write more about Egoscue in another blog post) almost every day to keep myself aligned and to retain functional movement. When I am tired, I rest.

Here are some things to keep in mind to help you find the best activity for you:

  • Just as with diet, what works in our twenties may not work in our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and so on.
  • If you are a social person, think about combining activity with socializing.
  • Love your body where it is and find activities that enhance your physical and emotional well-being.
  • If you are in a rut doing an activity you enjoyed in the past, take a break from it. You might return after a rest or you might find something else you like more.
  • Try doing an activity you have always dreamed of doing. If it requires you to move your body in new ways, schedule a few one-on-one sessions with a skilled trainer or practitioner to make sure you use the right technique – you might love it, but if you hate it, move on.
  • Give up exercise you dread.
  • Find joy in movement, and move with joy.