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Joyful Movement: Making Exercise Fun Again

Updated: Jun 18

intuitive movement, joyful movement, exercise, body image, eating disorders, disordered eating, health coach, health and wellness, wellness blogger

Embracing Joyful Movement: Finding Freedom in the Way You Move

What if I told you that you never have to exercise again? Would you believe me? Tell me I’m crazy? Think I’m sentencing you to a life of inactivity?

I’ll let you make that call after you read this blog post, but here's the short of it

👉Exercise - aka MOVEMENT - doesn’t need to be rigid, controlled, forced, or unenjoyable.

Unfortunately, that’s the association many people make with moving their bodies.

So, I’m nixing the concept of exercise and, instead, introducing the idea of joyful movement: a celebration of the ways your body can move, doing what feels good, and listening to your body’s cues on when and how much to move.


The Diet Industry's Misconceptions About Exercise

The diet industry has you believing that exercise is the ticket to a life of bliss and sex appeal.

If you work out enough, you’ll get six-pack abs.

If you work out enough, you’ll prevent cancer.

If you work out enough, you’ll never gain weight.

Guess what? NOT TRUE.

Not only are a majority of the claims that fitness “experts” make not backed by science, but these claims are also perpetuating a cycle of shame and guilt.

Exercise has become an obligation, something we feel we “should” do to be healthy and to feel accomplished. But this is the product of advertisements, mass media, fitness “gurus,” and systems that have profit on the brain and fear in their hearts.

Over the years, exercise has become a source of revenue - not a source of healing.

So much so that most eating disorder treatment facilities require their patients to refrain from exercise while in treatment because it emphasizes appearances, achievement, comparison, and fixation on numbers.

Exercise has become triggering for many people whether they have an eating disorder diagnosis or not due to the strict and intense way in which our society has come to approach it.


What is joyful movement?

Joyful movement encourages you to move in ways that nourish your body, mind, and spirit. It's not just about moving your body for the sake of physical health, it’s about moving your body in ways that feel good, make you happy, and light your soul on fire.

That’s the difference between lifting weights in the gym under fluorescent lights and foul smells because you feel you “have to” and:

  • Practicing yoga in a candlelit room with people who genuinely care about you

  • Taking a pole dancing class and tapping into your sexy side

  • Going for a gentle walk in the woods to sift through your thoughts

I have nothing against going to the gym. If you are an avid weightlifter or feel a therapeutic release running on a treadmill, please continue to do what makes you happy.

But from my experience, many people have a limited view of what counts as exercise. And most of the time, the word exercise is associated with calories, sweat, gym, running, cardio, weights, and dread.

All fine things—if they make you excited to get out of bed in the morning.

joyful movement, exercise, people dancing


How to discover movement that feels good

Reflect on past joys

Take a look at what you’ve done in the past that you’ve enjoyed. Sometimes this first step is all it takes.

  • Remember that time in college when you played on an intramural volleyball team and laughed until it hurt?

  • Or remember growing up taking dance classes and feeling freedom through expression and creativity?

  • Or maybe there was the time you vacationed in a big city and came alive when you got to walk everywhere instead of driving.

👉 Think back to any activities that brought you joy, even if they don't seem like traditional exercise.

Did you enjoy riding your bike around the neighborhood as a kid? Did you love splashing around in the pool during summer vacations? Any movement that made you feel good is worth revisiting!


Examine Your Current Life

Look at your typical week and ask yourself if there are any ways you can naturally incorporate movement that feels good into your routine.

  • Maybe you have an hour lunch break and decide you’ll eat in the break room for 30 minutes and use the other 30 minutes to go for a walk.

  • Maybe you live near a bike path and can plop your bike in your truck and go for a 30-minute ride after work before heading home.

  • Maybe you work on the 10th floor and could take the stairs halfway and the elevator the rest.

  • Maybe you work from home and could prop your laptop up on the kitchen counter and create a makeshift standing desk.


Explore New Avenues

If you cannot recall a time that you enjoyed moving your body in the past and you don’t see a simple way to naturally bring more movement into your weekly routine, it’s time to try something new. And for that, I’ve created a list of 50 super fun ways you can move your body!


Tips for starting a joyful movement routine

  • Start Small: Begin with short sessions and gradually increase the duration as you get more comfortable. Even five minutes of movement is a great start.

  • Mix It Up: Try different activities to keep things interesting and find what you enjoy the most. Don’t be afraid to switch things up if something isn’t working for you.

  • Listen to Your Body:  Focus on how you feel rather than on specific outcomes. Continually check in with your body as you're moving to learn what your body wants or needs.

  • Make It Social: Invite friends or family to join you, turning movement into a fun, shared experience. Whether it’s a weekly dance class or a daily walk, having a buddy can make it more enjoyable.


But what if movement never feels good?

I will be the first to tell you that, no matter how exciting the activity, sometimes movement simply doesn't feel good in our bodies.

For me, that's due to my chronic illness and chronic pain. Whatever the reason, in instances where your body hurts most of the time, we need to adjust the expectations here.

Instead of joyful movement, shoot for tolerable movement.

If there are little to no forms of movement that feel good in your body, I'd encourage you to seek out professional support (a physical therapist was most helpful for me, but you do you) to figure out what type of movement would be tolerable and do no harm.

At this point, the act of moving your body might not be a source of joy, but perhaps other aspects of the experience could be.

  • Maybe while doing your gentle pilates exercises you could blast your favorite music.

  • If you go to a rock climbing gym, maybe the experience of overcoming obstacles and using your problem-solving brain elicits happiness, even if your body aches.

  • Going for a walk in your neighborhood could be a great time to have a phone date with a loved one.

I'm not a doctor. Please don't force movement if it's not advised for you or your body. And if movement isn't good for your mental health right now, honor that. This post isn't here to create another 'should' in your life ("Chelsea told me I have to find movement that brings me joy!!!")

This post is to give you ideas for ways to pursue movement that isn't dictated by rigid rules and aesthetic goals. And if that movement can't feel good, let's at least try to make it tolerable.



Your unique path

The journey to joyful movement is personal and unique. It’s about breaking free from the rigid and often punishing ideas of exercise and finding ways to move that bring you happiness, peace, and fulfillment.

Joyful movement is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about finding what resonates with you and makes you feel alive. By exploring different activities, reflecting on past joys, and incorporating movement into your daily routine in a way that feels natural and enjoyable, you can heal your relationship with movement.

Remember, your body deserves to be celebrated, not punished. ❤️


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