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I like to move it move it! A path to self-care, wellness and life balance

Have you said or heard: "I need to do more exercise...but....ugh" ? We know about and feel the not-so-pleasant effects when we don't move enough, like feeling tired, in pain, not motivated or in a low mood. We know that exercise and movement are important to decrease health and mental health risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

3 frog statuettes one with soccer ball, one with golf club, one with racket

image by Alexas Fotos

Moving, any kind of movement, can be an effective, very doable, non-time-consuming, simple day-to-day strategy which can significantly help problems relating to physical health and also mental health, including anxiety, depression, chronic illness, trouble focusing, traumatic stress, and so on. We all know intuitively we need to move more and there are very real, multiple and complex factors at play which can stop us. So, what are some things that make it difficult to get going and what is doable? Let's look at and breakdown what happens in the mind, an often, if not the biggest barrier, to get motivated and moving.

What happens when you think: "exercise"?

thought bubble

When you think "I need to exercise," all kinds of beliefs and thoughts may pop up in your mind possibly representing: yuk. Thoughts such as these could prevent you from moving and engaging in physical activity or from simply moving at all. For example, some common beliefs may be that exercise is "so much work", "it‘s for athletic types", "I have to be able-bodied", "I need to go to the gym for 2 hours 3 days a week". You may have had negative experiences of phys-ed in school leaving you with negative experiences, which can then feed misconstrued beliefs of what physical activity is. If these kinds of negative experiences and beliefs are what physical activity or "exercise" mean in your mind, it can restrict you in developing and sustaining healthy habits. It may also leave you feeling discouraged, and, on top of all that, sometimes you may make the problem worse by being even harder on yourself--not helpful--by saying: "I'm just lazy."

It is argued in some circles that "laziness" is not a thing and can be an unhelpful criticism of ourselves and others. There may also be very valid or sub-conscious barriers stopping you from being active and moving. It's important to recognize which beliefs and thoughts stop you from getting going and moving your body. It's important to use working language which names mental barriers and incites uplifting and encouraging thoughts and feelings which can kick start motivation. Secondly,

One strategy to see "exercise" more positively is to reframe your non-working thoughts by telling yourself that "exercise" is simple and achievable movements. Exercise can be just shifting with gentle stretching of different parts of your body or from the inside of your body such as intentional breathing - which are in fact, exercises and practices. Shifting your perspective and way of looking at physical activity is the first best step in acknowledging and attending to your physical health and mental health needs. You will then be in a better position to develop routines and activities that best suit your needs, your unique body and your unique you

Change how you think about "exercise"

brain in chains

As you practice changing unhelpful beliefs and thoughts preventing you from exercising, get curious and redefine what exercise and movement mean for you which will help set and reach your physical activity and wellness goals. Non-working thoughts can perpetuate procrastination and negative distractions. A negative distraction is thinking a distraction is rest or relieves stress, but it's actually avoidance or passive stimulation like watching TV or checking your phone, which can keep you from moving in a nurturing and healthy way.


In your mind, reframe "exercise" as "movement." This simple perspective shift, called a cognitive reframe, can help you get unstuck from non-working thoughts and beliefs associated to negative messages and images preventing you to move.


One simple definition of movement is "an act of changing physical location or position." Oxford University Press (2020) also defines movement as a "change or development" which carries wider possibilities to help shed non-working thoughts help us get active. Cool! (says the psychologist). Do both at the same time: 2 for 1 - move and develop health-giving habits.

There are gross movements which are often externally visible such as in walking, jogging, stretching, doing Tai Chi, dancing or playing a sport. There are also mental movements which are internal, varying from changing our perspective to visualization and relaxation exercises. Both kinds of movement and activities also can flow into each other, like the visualization an athlete does before performing, and like how exercise helps regulate and balance our moods and emotions. Both gross movements and mental movements can be done with each other, or before and after, to boost confidence, and to feel more grounded, focused, centered, energetic or relaxed. They all have positive impacts of improving our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.

Movement can also be internal

person with images sprouting from the mind

In Yoga, poses are called movements while our body may seem physically still while engaging in a pose or when meditating. These movements include visualizations or bringing attention to the parts inside of the body, which can have deep impact physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Even in savasana (also called "blankie time" by some seniors or nap time by others...), we are in a kind of movement where we are remaining active mentally and spiritually by resting, releasing, integrating energy and creating positive psychological and physical shifts as we release the stress of the day and the build-up of body tension. In activities with little or subtle physical movements such as in Tai Chi and Yoga, although we may not be physically "moving" movement is happening internally which can provide a great number of benefits, including lifting mood, allowing for rest to reset the mind, increasing energy levels, and healing aches and pains.

More and more research is supporting the benefits of Yoga and meditation including regulation of the nervous system, muscles releasing and activating, respiration leveling circulation and blood pressure, gentle stretching of aching and tight muscles including ones we forget about, and so many more benefits. Walking, Yoga and Tai Chi and simple stretching are gentle, highly effective and doable activities which can be adapted to our own body’s needs. Take the time to search for and try activities that safely and best suit your needs, that are doable, and which leave you feeling good.

Also, for more on motivation, James Clear talks about how motivation requires movement

and framing the mental part of motivation in a very understandable way.


Include positive mental activity as "exercise"


hand holding a head with brain visible in front of blue sky

In addition to moving physically, practicing positive self-talk and strength-building self-talk is an activity that can provide great impact on your physical body, mental state, and emotional state.

Create an inventory of your internal experience. Make 3 columns: Thoughts, Emotions, Body Sensations.

  1. Identify your Thought. Go through each thought. How does this thought prevent me from engaging in physical activity or movement?

  2. Identify the Emotion. How does this thought leave me feeling?

  3. Identify how it feels in the Body. What do I notice physically inside my body when thinking this thought?

Is this experience pleasant or unpleasant? How can I tell? Try acknowledging your experience just the way it is. Removing judgment helps dispel negative side effects and builds resilience.

Choose your activities and movements intentionally

Research shows that the stereotyped and popular notion of a "work-out" is not necessary in order to gain mental health and health benefits.

Experiment with how often you can engage in movement and with a combination of movements that engage different parts of the body, even just toes and fingers, gently stretching neck and shoulders, frequently through the day. It can be helpful to have a diversity in the kinds of movement you like to do, a menu of movements to pick from, and set times on when to do them, from 1 to 10 times daily, weekly or monthly and a combo thereof.

If you are able-bodied walking is something you most likely can do, and it is deemed by some as a "wonder drug." It has be proven that walking is among the top, if not the top, mood elevator. It is a cost-free intervention which can be done to get more energy and improve mood. A recent article talks more on this and why working your muscles may be your most powerful antidepressant. For those with mobility challenges, many different kinds of movement can be done safely and beneficially in seated or laying positions. Subtle movements such as in chair Yoga are viable examples gaining popularity, including among seniors and those with impairing medical conditions. Doing Yoga that emphasizes being gentle with the body can be a wonderful way to engage in benefiting from movement.


Find the physical activity and movements that best suit you and your body.



Get up, have a short walk and stretch. During your day, set an alarm for every 20 minutes to get up if you are sitting and/or stop and do gentle stretching of the arms, next and legs. According to health experts and studies, to counteract a sedentary lifestyle we need to frequently move by shifting the body such as just getting up every 30 minutes from sitting for a long period of time at a desk (Kandola, 2018). Shifting and moving the body regularly supports the gaining popularity and importance for sit-stand desks, and a serious consideration if you have a sedentary work lifestyle. Read more on how walking regulates our mood. Dance! Dancing can be an energizing movement. It can be done with lower and upper body, just the upper body, just the lower body, or even just the head or hands. You can dance when no one is watching. Don't worry or get stuck on getting moves right. Just let go, allow yourself to feel fun and notice the effects on your body, mind, heart and spirit. Put on a tune to listen to or a video to watch. Try this with kids having fun with zumba: Practice a mental activity on patience and compassion. Sit comfortably in supportive posture by a sunlit window and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. I am inhaling, noticing the chest and inside gently expanding. I am exhaling, noticing the tension release from my body. What is that like? What do you notice?

Be active with your whole self: body, mind, heart and spirit

Redefine and reframe "exercise" into movement and to include mental and internal activities. Play and experiment coming at it with your whole self.

  • Is my body moving in a way that feels good for me?

  • Am I paying attention when my body is sending messages such as pain or feeling strength building?

  • Am I thinking positively, in a way that I encourage myself?

  • Am I showing myself patience and compassion as I move and experiment?

  • Am I noticing my moods and feelings before and after I exercise and engage in physical and mental movements?

  • Am I kindly reminding myself that with physical and mental movements I am contributing to my health and well-being?

  • Am I able to see the effects throughout my day and my week?

Moving forward: what's my plan?

small cobblestone path

We are not designed to sit and be immobile for long periods of time. The human body is designed to move and be mobile. Sedentary passive lifestyles not only literally cramp our style, it is considered an epidemic that is significantly affecting our health. Create a simple plan:

  • doable, achievable, small, varied, low-time consuming, frequent activities throughout the day and week

  • toss out what you don't like, are not interested in, and what doesn't work

  • build on what you like and what works for you

Don’t overthink it and make a conscious, encouraging effort. Give yourself love and compassion when things don't go as planned. See your barrier, acknowledge it, let it go and start again where you are. Rinse and repeat.

Why I Move Project

Logo of Why I Move Project, Lisa Workman

To help with ideas on doing more movement in your life, check out Why I Move, a wonderful passion project by my colleague Lisa Workman. I am inspired to see not just athletes contributing, but everyone, including seniors in the Why I Move Forums. The website also includes helpful, practical and brief worksheets, guides and videos, and links on play for parents. Doable and fun! The Why I Move Forum contains many archives which you can scroll through for ideas, try them, and share your own experience or inspiration.

Tips for safe exercise and movement

swan with chicks on back

Safe movement is essential, so chat with your doctor and health professionals about activities and movements that interest you and are most suitable for you. By implementing small yet powerful daily strategies for yourself, you are well on your way to balanced self-care and wellness, to having preventive health practices and habits. These will build your mental and emotional resilience supporting you through life’s most trying times with a bit more stability and ease.

  • Stay flexible with the amount of time spent on an activity and vary the types of activities

  • Do something, anything, during the day, that intentionally moves you away from work for a short time and keep activities super simple ie. wiggle your toes and fingers, move your head gently side to side, lift your legs one at a time, open and close your eyes, refocus your gaze from your computer or phone to focus on the wall, plant, outside the window.

  • Explore your personal barriers which prevent you from moving. If they are thoughts and beliefs, what new ones can you replace them with? For example, ”If I get up from my email, I’ll fall behind.” To “I’ll get up and take a stroll down the hall for 10 minutes. This will actually help me be more productive.”

  • Adopt the philosophy and practice to do no harm. Don't push yourself and experiment safely in finding which activities are most suitable for you personally, without comparing to what others are doing.

  • Find your own language, imagery, beliefs which expand your definition of "exercise" that really resonate with you. Say them to yourself aloud or in your mind.

Take things one day at a time

Allow yourself opportunities while being patient sorting out what your body likes and doesn't like. Any movement can be acknowledged, embraced, and commended. As in a quote: "Because it's not perfect, let's not bother." Stephen Fry responded: "That's crazy! Even if we take three steps forward and two and a half back it's still going half a foot forward.” What will fit for you may also shift day to day, as well as with aging and life circumstances. Have support along the way and harness self-compassion as you learn and try, just as you would support a dear one-. You deserve good health.

See life as a necessary adventure, like imagining riding a leaf blowing in the wind that lands on a river. Perhaps it’s a bit scary, it's also exciting, and you can feel both as you learn and discover.


“We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action.”

– Dr. Henry Link


References & Resources

Kandola, A. (2018, August 29). "What are the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle [Blog post]? Medical News Today. Retrieved November 25, 2020 from

Movement. (2020). In Oxford University Press. Retrieved via Google Chrome browser search from

Owen, N., Sparling, P. B., Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., & Matthews, C. E. (2010). Sedentary behavior: emerging evidence for a new health risk. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 85(12), 1138–1141. Retrieved from

cover image by birgl


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