When Not-So-Joyful Movement Is Needed

Caring for a hospice patient is a lot like caring for a newborn – very intensive for everyone helping out.  Feeding schedules, medication schedules, sleep disruptions, round the clock care, nurses and aides coming and going. I had a few days off because my husband and I felt that it would be good for kiddo to have some time at home with his normal routine and his friends. So I was on kid duty at home and my husband stayed to help my father-in-law care for my mother-in-law. The break also gave me time to attend to some of my own feelings and anxieties over the past week several weeks.

Anyway, we are back at my in-laws home now, and I have a bit of time to myself. My husband is playing with my kid after not seeing him in several days. My father-in-law and the home health aide are with my mother-in-law.  And for now, it feels like an act of self-care to write about something much less emotionally charged than what we are going through.  So here are some recent realizations I’ve had about the role of less-than-joyful movement when rehabilitating an injury.

One of the most healing things for many people who adopt a non-diet lifestyle (such as Intuitive Eating or Health At Every Size) is finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active, without the expectation of a change in body size.  In order to heal their relationships with exercise, many people need to reframe how they see it. For some people, that means calling it something different, because even the word “exercise” is too closely associated with diet trauma. If that statement applies to you, you might enjoy using words such as “movement” or “physical activity” instead of “exercise,” or even just naming the specific activity (e.g. – walking, swimming, lifting, dancing, running, etc.).

For some people, healing their relationships with exercise means only doing forms of movement that they really enjoy, and not forcing themselves to do exercise that they dislike. Many people with dieting histories tend to gravitate towards forms of exercise that they think will burn the most calories, because they believe they must change the way they look and are using exercise as a means to do that. For example, someone might choose to run instead of walk or bike – not because they like running better, but because they feel it has the most potential to change the way their body looks. This can contribute to a negative relationship with exercise, similar to the way dieting can contribute to a negative relationship with eating.

In order to help people improve their consistency with exercise/movement, some (very smart!) coaches will say things like “the best exercise is the one that you will enjoy and can fit into your life consistently.” I think this is very wise advice.

However…..my recent injury has taught me that while this is wise advice, it is not always complete in special situations.

Confession time: I don’t enjoy doing some of my physical therapy exercises. I think of them as a chore and I don’t like feeling obligated to do exercises I don’t enjoy. However, some of them do seem to help with my back aches.

Here is where my experience as a parent of a preschooler comes in handy. There are times when my preschooler doesn’t want to do certain things, such as brush his teeth, take a bath, go to sleep at bedtime, use the toilet before leaving the house, or save some of his Halloween candy for another day.  If I simply followed his lead all the time, I would probably have a dirty, overtired, less healthy kid on my hands (and yes, there are times when children are dirty, overtired, and sugared up no matter what…..but I trust you know what I mean. Don’t take me too seriously 😉 ).  During those times, it is my job as a parent to lead. “Yes, we do have to brush your teeth, because we want to keep them clean and healthy so you have them until your adult teeth come in. Yes, we do have to go to sleep so you feel energetic and happy tomorrow (and so mama’s nerves aren’t shot from listening to a cranky kid screaming all day). Yes, we do have to try to use the potty, because you drank a lot and we have a long ride ahead of us and we might not be able to stop due to traffic. Yes, we do have to save some of your candy for another day so you don’t get a stomach ache tonight.”

I find the whole joyful movement thing extremely empowering. However, I needed to acknowledge that while rehabilitating an injury, movement that is less than joyful for me also plays an important role. I tell myself things like “no, Bethany, you don’t have to do these planks and side planks. I know you are tired of them and you don’t have to do them. But if you don’t do them, you know from experience that your back might ache more tomorrow.  And remember how you are so over these back aches? You’ll be more annoyed at back aches tomorrow than you will be at spending a few minutes on these exercises today.”

And so a lot of the times I do the planks and side planks, motivated by neither joy nor aesthetic goals, but by quality of life goals. It is not joyful, but it serves a purpose and doesn’t take that long.  Sometimes I listen to music or watch TV as a distraction.

It also helps me to think of approaches such as Intuitive Eating and HAES as toolboxes, not rule books or identities. I find these approaches very similar and very valuable to me personally. Both of these approaches encourage finding the joy in movement, but that doesn’t mean that there is never a place in one’s life for movement that feels less than joyful. Many people (myself included) enjoy moving in a way they find empowering, but that doesn’t mean there is never a place in one’s life for movement that feels less than empowering.

It has been nice for me to write about something that doesn’t provoke anxiety or sadness, for a change. Hopefully this is helpful to some. Thanks for reading!

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