(Gratuitous pic of my walking buddies)

So January didn’t go quite to plan.  My month of ‘Move’ came to a bit of a halt 19 days in when I aggravated my back, an injury I had nearly 10 years ago but which reminded me it can still knock me down nearly as much as when it first happened.

I am a huge advocate of continuing to move despite pain, within your own limits, of listening to your body and doing what you can wishing your own pain experience, all the while understanding that when it comes to chronic pain, hurt does not (usually) mean harm (further tissue damage).  I’ve had to put my now beliefs into practice more consciously over the past 10 days, because I can tell you, laying on the couch seems the best option most of the time!

I live on a hill, so my usual morning walk has been put on hold until I feel walking down and then back up the hill won’t result in another flare-up, so I’ve been trying to be active in other ways – walking around town while doing jobs, standing more than sitting when I’m working, parking the car further away from my destination where I can.  I’m the first to admit that I haven’t done as much as I could have, but in conjunction with reading a book called ‘No Sweat’, I’ve been re-thinking what daily movement looks like in my life, movement with the aim of being active and contributing to my wellbeing.

We tend to think of movement as ‘exercise’, and that we need to schedule a certain activity for a certain amount of times per day/week/ etc, and there are certainly evidence-based recommendations and guidelines to this effect.  For the record, the Australian government (based on researched evidence) advises the following:

  • Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.

  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.

  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.

  • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

(For the record, they also say that absolutely any amount of exercise is better then none!).

These are perfectly reasonable and achievable guidelines, especially when we think about them in the context of activity and movement as opposed to specifically structured exercise.  I have tried to go to 2-3 gym classes or workouts a week for more than 10 years, and have always struggled to maintain the program.  However, I can maintain a daily walk for 20-30 minutes a day (sometimes more), plus walking whenever I can in other environments (e.g. around town doing jobs), plus gardening (which can certainly involve strengthening activities), even carrying the shopping requires strengthening movements! Of course there are many other activities that people engage in that probably wouldn’t be considered ‘exercise’ as such, but which keep up active and moving – golf, dance classes, housework, running around after kids (quite literally sometimes!), swimming at the beach – basically if you’re not sitting, lying down or standing still, you’re moving, and it counts!

What I like about the current guidelines is that they recommend an amount of movement per week, as opposed to certain amounts of time per day per week, which means that movement accumulated through the day ‘counts’ as much as if you have a 1 hour session of exercise structured exercise.  Of course, if structured exercise is you thing, then great, that’s what works for you!  That’s what this whole journey is about, finding what works for you and embracing it.

One of the key philosophies of Michelle Segar’s ‘No Sweat’ is looking at why we don’t sustain particular exercise programs, even when we have the best of intentions.  What she says really resonated with me, because the stories of her clients was just so familiar to me – set good intentions, for really good reasons (lose weight, become more healthy etc), and continually fail to stick with the program.  She suggests that the reasons we make decisions to exercise (generally all reasonable and good) aren’t actually effective motivators for behaviour change because they’re usually aimed at outcomes that are based in the future, and we don’t feel like we’re getting any immediate benefit, therefore we are more likely to stop what we intended to do.  However, by taking a step back and really looking at our motivations, we can identify what we want to achieve or how we want to feel now, in the present, and that becomes a more powerful motivator.

What I’m particularly loving as I read this book is how I can see the philosophy of motivation impacting all behaviour change in life, not just movement, because our actions come from motivations, and understanding our motivations will shape the outcomes we desire.  For example, my reasons for exercise/activity.moving have always been the same – lose weight, become more healthy, ward off any health issues in older age, keep fit to manage the chronic condition I have etc etc.  And yet I’ve never managed to maintain consistent, active behaviour.  So I’ve been asking myself ‘why do I want to move?’.  My answer was actually ‘I don’t want to, I’d rather lay on the couch and read a book at any given point in time’.  Ouch.  Talk about a reality bite!  So I reframed the question to ‘why do I want to make regular movement a part of my life every day?’, the answer to which surprised me – ‘because I want to achieve a goal (in this case of daily movement)’.  My motivation has nothing to do with health or anything physical – it has more to do with the satisfaction of ticking off a daily activity on a habit-tracker and achieving a goal, which comes from a life-long sense of disappointment at not achieving goals I set (for  whole variety of reasons), and feeling like I constantly fail and what I want to to.

Michelle also goes into looking at our perspective on the activity before us, and evaluating if we feel it is something we should do or something we want to do, because how we see what we do makes all the difference. For example, if I think ‘I have to go for a walk’, I’m going to immediately be resistant to the idea, because I feel like it is something I should do, as opposed to something I’m choosing to do, whereas if I think ‘I get to go for  walk’, my perspective is immediately flipped, because the same activity has now become something I am choosing to do (because I want to, not because I feel I have to), and I’m thinking of all the good things that will come with the chosen activity.  The possibilities of how we can apply this perspective to all areas of our lives is endless!!

So there you have it.  Whilst this month’s Way of Wellbeing didn’t exactly go to plan, I’ve still learnt a lot about myself, and gained some insight on behaviour motivation and how to apply that to probably nearly every area of my life, which can only be a good thing!  Next month I’ll be focusing on Sleep, and I for one will be interested to see what happens, I’m hoping you’ll join me and share your stories along the way!


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