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5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Exercise Routine

By Kira Rakova--We have all seen those exercise videos that line the shelves of various department stores and are advertised all over YouTube. The ones often featuring the ever-peppy instructor who promises you “results.” Perhaps some of us have even tried these videos or we’ve seen our parents try them, back when the videos were still available on VHS. In other words, these videos have more or less been normalized by our society.

But what effect do these videos really have on people?

Trigger warning: This article discusses exercise and compulsive exercise.

Well, according to a recent study, they can be quite damaging. Part of the reason they can be psychologically harmful is the representation they choose. Often, they depict women who are over-sexualized and mimic the unrealistic beauty “ideal.” They emphasize physical appearance over health, essentially equating the two (which has, of course, been challenged by many). The researchers concluded that these videos can be discouraging and unrealistic for the majority of people.

This study is important in gaining a greater understanding of how fat-shaming and diet culture are harmful. But it leaves us with the question of alternatives. How can we develop a healthier relationship with exercise?

Since exercise activities and routines are personal, instead of providing tips or suggestions I’ve created a list of guiding questions. By asking yourself these questions, I hope that you will be able to reflect on your relationship with exercise.

1. Why am I engaging in this exercise activity?

This is perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself. Why are you choosing to start an exercise routine and why did you choose this particular routine? Is it because you are looking to add more movement into your life? Is it because you would like to feel healthier? Or is it perhaps because of a recent fat-shaming episode you experienced?

Taking a step back and examining the motivation behind your decision can help you to gauge how healthy your relationship with exercise is. For example, if your motivation for exercise is solely focused on calories or weight loss, you may need to re-examine your relationship with exercise (you might want to consider taking this informal test regarding your relationship with exercise here). Similarly, if you are being fat-shamed and pressured into changing your exercise activity (which has been proven numerous times to be an ineffective method of motivation), you may want to think about how your relationship with exercise can become more grounded in self-love. Such a foundation can help you to have a healthier and happier relationship with both exercise and your body.

2. Are there any medical restrictions I need to keep in mind?

Is there any reason you should be limiting your exercise or certain types of exercise? This covers not only any modifications you may need due to an impairment or chronic illness (on top of dealing with ableist approaches to exercise), but also considerations around being in recovery from an eating disorder or being sick with a “common” illness. For those recovering from an eating disorder, it is important to remember that exercise activities can be detrimental to recovery and an indicator of holding on to disordered behaviors. For someone who is sick or in recovery from any type of illness, some restrictions or modifications may be temporarily necessary as well. It may be beneficial to have a conversation with a professional about any concerns prior to starting a new exercise activity.

3. Am I respecting my limits?

It is important to think about one’s limits at all times–before, during and after exercise. Even if you have accounted for any medical restrictions, it is important to check your limits on a regular basis. Sometimes something may hurt and you may need to skip some activity. Sometimes some type of activity or exercise might be too difficult at first and you may need to modify or skip it. And that is absolutely okay!

It is not okay, however, to overexert yourself or to push your limits. Not only might you harm your body, but you are already establishing a relationship with your body that is punitive rather than healing. If you find yourself routinely trying to push your body’s limits, it may be wise to consider why (and even return to the very first question posed in this article). Listening to your body is an important part of mindfulness and self-respect.

4. Am I taking care of myself properly?

Similar to the above, this question is important to ask yourself on a regular basis. Exercise is only part of our lives, so it is important to also think about how we are taking care of ourselves during other times. Here are a few “check-in” questions you may want to ask yourself, especially if you seem to be struggling.

  1. Am I drinking enough water?
  2. Am I getting enough sleep?
  3. How has my relationship with food been lately?
  4. Am I taking breaks when I need them?
  5. What is one thing I can do today to take better care of myself?
     

5. Am I enjoying myself?

This may seem like a strange question to some people, but it is a question that most of us seem to forget when it comes to exercise. So take a moment every now and then during or after any exercise activity and ask yourself: Am I enjoying myself? How does this activity make me feel? How do I feel about my body and myself afterwards?

Exercise should not feel like a punishment. It should not feel like a chore or a necessity. It should not cause feelings of anxiety or stress. Exercise should be about what is best for you as a whole, complete person, and it should be built on a positive relationship with your body and self.

About the blogger: Kira Rakova is an undergraduate senior at the City College of New York studying international studies, communications and anthropology. Her research and advocacy passions include: gender justice, mental health justice and community organizing. Apart from schoolwork, she is part of various community-based organizations, including the Student Mental Health Initiative and the Body-positive Empowerment & Acceptance Movement (BEAM).

Also by Kira:

Trans Stories Have Power: An Interview with Sam Dylan Finch

4 Tips for Managing Triggers During the Holidays

7 Body-Shaming Phrases to Cut from Your Vocabulary…and What to Say Instead!

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