Start Moving

Stop Exercising, Start Moving

October 15, 2015

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines exercise as “physical activity that is done to become stronger and healthier.” Exercise is a word I have always hated. For many, the word brings feelings of competitiveness, ambition, and achievement. For me, even after losing 140 pounds and becoming a group fitness instructor, it shines a floodlight on my struggle with obesity.

The word, exercise, demands action. It demands us to buy that expensive workout outfit, hit the gym, and sweat it out on the treadmill. It demands us to commit an hour daily to a high-intensity workout as punishment for being overweight. It demands us to do something that often seems impossible. And, it causes us to shut down, hiding behind excuses for why we can’t do it or why we’ll do it tomorrow.

Our Ancestors Didn’t “Exercise”

A long time ago, I forced myself to replace the word “exercise” with the word “movement.” Movement felt more natural and much less demanding. Movement is part of nature: water, wind, and fire all move without any expectation of results. Movement is a natural state of being from the time we are born.

As children, we weren’t told to go exercise. We were told to play, climb, jump, and dance. And our ancestors stayed fit by gardening, cleaning, and walking to the grocery store – not by forcing themselves to walk up and down a flight of stairs 30 times to get their steps in for the day. Move to feel good, not to burn calories to lose weight.

Today, we are moving less throughout our daily routines than ever before. That’s where exercise tries to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, the exercise phenomenon tends to be quite polarizing: you’re either the marathon runner or the couch potato. If you’re lucky, the pressure of exercise will turn you into a gym rat. But for many, especially those with an all-or-nothing mentality, it can be quite crippling.

Changing How We Think

If the word “exercise” makes you cringe, challenge yourself to revamp the way you think. Those of us who struggle with obesity often have the same mindset when it comes to fitness.

From struggling with obesity for years, many of us have subconscious opinions about exercise that keep us from experiencing the amazing benefits and joys of movement. I'll challenge some of the more familiar mindsets below:

I have to exercise because I need to lose weight

Here’s the tough reality, as explained by Dr. Arya Sharma, a leading expert on the topic of obesity: “Losing weight is not a behavior. Behaviors are something you do, and weight loss is something that happens.”

We often set weight goals and think we have control over the number on the scale. The truth is we can only control our behaviors: eating healthy food, sleeping more, moving more, reducing stress levels, etc. These behaviors will help you become healthier. They won’t necessarily help you lose pounds. Start freeing yourself of all your expectations of exercise. Move more for your physical and mental health, not just because you want to see the number on the scale fall. Take a walk to enjoy your surroundings, not to exercise.

Make this your goal: Move more to feel better!

If I don't exercise intensely for 30 minutes daily, it doesn't count

If we set our goal to “move more to feel better,” then this mindset of the "all or nothing" belief should be dispelled. Moving for your health doesn’t require you to put in an hour on the Stairmaster every day. It doesn’t require you to hit your 800-calories-burned goal. It just requires you to be active, and that level of activity depends on your circumstances.

Think about your everyday activities and consider where you can add movement. Wash dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher or try climbing onto the playground with your child instead of sitting on the bench while they play. There are many opportunities to move more that you probably haven't thought of before.

Make this your goal:  Find daily opportunities to move more!

I can't exercise because I have a disability/injury/joint pain

Some people may quickly get defensive here, but hear me out. I’m not saying you should go against your doctor’s orders if he or she tells you to rest your sprained ankle or limit your physical activity. But in most scenarios, especially those involving long-term or permanent disability, movement is still very beneficial. Check with your doctor about what movement you can do.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week for adults with disabilities or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. They also suggest that adults with disabilities do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. This may be as simple as walking your dog around the block or lifting dumbbells while watching television. Any activity that gets your heart rate up can bring significant health benefits.

Make this your goal:  Obtain a doctor's clearance to be more active and do it!

Exercise is boring

Yes, exercise can be boring – incredibly boring, but movement doesn’t have to be boring. I didn’t enjoy moving until I found something that sparked my passion. I love dancing, and even at 305 pounds, I could dance for hours. Stepping into my first Zumba class transformed my life. That day I found something that kept me coming back week after week. Eventually, it led me to become an instructor.

Several years ago, I also realized that I had a strong competitive nature. I used to love playing hockey when I was young and promised myself that if I ever lost enough weight, I would get back into it. Now I spend my winters on the ice as part of a local women’s hockey league. It’s not exercise -- it’s pure joy. Movement doesn’t have to be boring.

Find what you love, whether it’s gardening, foraging for mushrooms, taking a walk to enjoy nature, or bouncing on a trampoline. There is something out there for everyone, so don’t let your old ways of thinking keep you from discovering what that is.

Make this your goal:  Find the movement that you love and brings you joy!

Get Ready To Move

Sometimes making a change for the better is just a matter of changing your perspective. You might hate your bedroom until you repaint the walls and hang new curtains. Do your body and mind a favor and let go of your negative attitude toward exercise. Throw out your boring, excuse-filled exercise towel and get excited about simply moving more for a healthier and happier you.

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Yelena Kibasova


Yelena Kibasova is a 14-year bariatric post-op, certified fitness instructor and professional writer. She has spoken at numerous obesity-related conferences over the years, including ObesityHelp, Obesity Action Coalition and WLSFA. She is passionate about fitness for all levels and sustainable weight maintenance plans that combine physical, mental and social well-being. She coaches clients on habit transformation for weight loss and regain. Website: Read more articles by Yelena Kibasova!