Having your body move can help with a lot of things: mood, maintaining your wellness, and learning new skills are just a few. There are some really joyful things that we can engage in, and a wide range of personalized goals for us to work towards, when we take exercise for what it is. There is even plenty of evidence that gentle exercising can reduce inflammation, menstrual cramps, and joint pain if done right.
Unfortunately, we do live in a world where the very word “exercise” makes many of us cringe. It joins next month’s topic, diet, in a weight-loss industry that uses it to shame people’s bodies so that we will buy their particular brand of services. In the process, exercise has been framed as something that you must do, a chore, or you’ll be the exemplar any one of an assortment of negative (and “negative”) adjectives. We are influenced by people wielding these things for personal profit, instead of our wellness. And sometimes, we are made to wield it against ourselves.
It is a cultural set of emotional trauma that we all carry in the west, particularly when that “we” is narrowed further to women. It can be a difficult process to work through the feelings we have, but it is a worthwhile process to dissociate exercise from the weight-loss industry. We need to reclaim it as part of the many experiences we are entitled to rather than an obligation to be tolerated.
For me, it helps to realize that a lot of the rhetoric we hear from that industry will come out of weight-loss doesn’t come from weight-loss at all. When you get down to it, a lot of the studies out there have shown that it’s when we exercise that we gain a lot of those mysterious health benefits that we hear. And the confidence that comes from learning a new skill, like dancing or kayaking, can be so much more lasting than that we get from our appearances.
For me, it’s more than that. I have hyper-mobility, which means that my ligaments are too stretchy to prevent my joints from bending past what they were built for. The wear on my joints, as a consequence, is more extreme. The cartilage that normally protects the joint heads are not enough to cover all the places that are exposed, particularly when the surrounding muscle tissue is weak. From my medical history and my mother’s personal records, my hyper-mobility has been around for my whole life, but doctors told my mother that it would resolve itself. In my case, it didn’t.
I need to exercise if I want to retain my current level of mobility. Over the years, I pushed myself physically in ways I shouldn’t have, and avoided mentioning my pain as a teen when the physical therapy would have been more preventive, because of fat-shaming. I’ve been in physical therapy twice a week since September. While I’m getting stronger — and fall over less — the damage is still there. But if I don’t exercise, if my muscles get weaker again, they will be more damaged. More importantly, I will be in more pain. While I’m in plenty of pain between the myriad of medical conditions on my chart, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to be in more pain.
There are other people with other complicated issues as well. This month, I want everyone to think about a couple things as you come up with your routines. I want you to consider your relationship with exercise: what is it to you? What things have influenced how you look at exercise? Think about what you want from your routine around this. Do you have a goal, be it running a 5k or being able to pick something up, that motivates you?
Don’t forget about the things you are going to use to protect your wellness in this goal. Are there medical conditions that need to be supervised? What are your limits that need to be kept in mind? Whose advice should you seek on making this routine in order to meet your needs? Is your routine based on your wellness, or is it based on self-destructive behavior? Is there someone you should have supervising you, or is that something that is emotionally unhealthy for you at this time?
As for me, my routine goal is a maintenance one: to get into the gym to do my routine twice a week. This is the level I need in order to maintain my current mobility levels. Considering I went from being dependent on a cane when I started PT to only needing it for distances or occasions where I’m on my feet for extended periods, I think that I have a good chance of improving what I can do without pain as well. There’s a chance that in the next few months, they will have to discontinue PT, and after that point I’ll really need to have this routine set. I would also like to work towards being able to walk my town’s 5k in a few years, but that is more of a long term motivator to me.
What exercise routines are you looking at? Do you have any resources to share?