Photograph of a person moving joyfully and energetically

10 min read

What is Joyful Movement?


Maybe you feel like you have your fitness routine down pat, or perhaps you are in an exercise rut. Wherever you are regarding your relationship with exercise, a good question to ask yourself is: why do you move?


Like most health topics nowadays, there is so much information on how we "should" be exercising. With social media, we're bombarded with messages about exercising, with some swearing "HIIT training is the most effective workout" to others claiming "strength training is the fountain of youth!" These contradictions can leave you feeling defeated before you even start!


Does this sound familiar? Let's dive into a new way of thinking about exercise that centers around you!


What is Joyful Movement?


Joyful movement is the ninth principle of Intuitive Eating, and it focuses on moving for pleasure.1 For many people, movement may have a tie to rigid rules and guidelines. Joyful movement, in contrast, preaches moving based on your internal cues instead of solely focusing on external factors, like body changes or calories burned. Joyful movement is beneficial not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. It poses the difficult question: if you are moving yet your body never changes, would you still do it?


Why is Joyful Movement Important?


Research has shown that for habits to be sustainable, they should be realistic.2 This means the all-or-nothing "no days off" mentality can be detrimental to long-term health goals. Never taking a day off is not realistic or sustainable, and it can also lead to damaging consequences to our bodies, like injuries!


Joyful movement is more likely to turn into a lifelong behavior because it focuses on moving in an enjoyable and safe way for the individual. Adding joyful movement to your life can increase your bone density, improve your balance, decrease your blood sugar, alleviate stress, improve sleep patterns, and, best of all, make you feel energized for the rest of your day.1

 

What does a Healthy Relationship to Movement Look Like?


Many people on fitness journeys can get caught up in the notion of feeling like they "have to" do something. Just like in relationships, feeling like we have to be "perfect" all of the time can become toxic.


Example one; say your friend told you that they feel great and run a certain number of miles each week. As humans, we can easily fall into the comparison trap. This well-intended conversation with your friend can turn into you feeling like you also have to run a certain number of miles each week to feel the benefits they are feeling. BUT what if you never liked running before? You might start to run for a few weeks or even months. But eventually, this habit will likely fall by the wayside because it never came from a place of joy. It was never a healthy relationship.


Another example could be forcing yourself to work out for an extra 30 minutes because you ate a cookie. Now, in another scenario, you would see that is completely unreasonable, like buying a gift for your partner every time you argue. We recognize that buying a gift is unhealthy, but we often don't acknowledge that bartering with yourself is harmful when it comes to exercise! Working out more to eat a cookie is not a healthy mindset, and it certainly does not sound like a positive relationship. Joyful movement is about shifting the perspective away from "I have to" or "I should" to "I get too" and "I want to" by finding an activity that you genuinely enjoy. There is no "earning" your food in this relationship. There is also no such thing as "falling off the wagon" with joyful movement.


What Qualifies as a Joyful Movement?


Movement does not have to be a formal exercise to be beneficial. All of the following examples are forms of movement:


  • Walking
  • Running
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Barre
  • Pilates
  • Gardening
  • Swimming
  • Playing tag with your kids
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Lifting weights
  • Going to a workout class
  • Hiking

When we incorporate a variety of activities, we benefit our bodies in a variety of ways. Strength training helps with our bone density and muscle mass, cardiovascular exercises benefit our heart health, yoga benefits our mental health, and the list goes on.


The Bottom Line


Focus on movement to take care of yourself, not as a means to torture yourself up or earn food. Make it fun, switch it up, reflect on what types of movement brings YOU the most joy, and continue doing that. Regardless of how you move, be proud of your body for its ability to do so!


Sources

  1. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A revolutionary anti-diet approach (pp. 216–228). St. Martin's Essentials.
  2. Bailey, Ryan R. "Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change." American journal of lifestyle medicine vol. 13,6 615-618. 13 Sep. 2017, doi:10.1177/1559827617729634
Cheat Sheet
  • Joyful movement is the ninth principle of Intuitive Eating, and it focuses on moving for pleasure.
  • This practice is more likely to turn into a lifelong behavior because it focuses on moving in an enjoyable and safe way for the individual.
  • Adding joyful movement to your life can increase your bone density, improve your balance, decrease your blood sugar, alleviate stress, improve sleep patterns, and, best of all, make you feel energized for the rest of your day

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