Why Making Exercise Less Structured Might Be Good for Your Health

Write in on your calendar. Wake up before the sun comes up. Schedule fitness classes weeks in advance to hold yourself accountable.
 
These are all classic tips for how to make exercise fit into your day no matter what, and I'll be the first to admit that I used to recommend them all. And while they are helpful for some, for others the exercise relationship is a little bit more complicated. 

When I was in college, I went through a phase where I felt guilty if I didn’t get a heart-pounding, sweaty and exhausting workout on most days of the week. I took all of the above tips seriously and told myself that it was the only way to maintain a healthy lifestyle (and trust me, my college years were not my healthiest but that's another post). Exercise was mechanical and usually boring and just majorly lacking in variety. The good news: I always worked at a gym so my membership was free. The bad news: I was surrounded by a totally diet and appearance focused culture that I unfortunately participated in for a little bit too long.

Fast forward about ten years and my approach to physical activity is completely different, but I am just as consistent with getting active now as I was then. How is it possible? I got a whole lot more relaxed about it. I found that I really actually enjoyed running and training for races. I also discovered that walking does wonders for my mental health and is accessible no matter what (all you need is shoes). Weight lifting classes are fun and make me feel strong, confident and energized (especially when followed by an epic brunch with friends). Most importantly, if structured exercise isn’t going to happen on certain days, it doesn’t make for a stressful situation, it usually just means I'm more excited to get moving the next day, whatever that might look like.

Exercise should not be a punishment for your body because of what you ate or what you weigh; it's an important step towards good health and ultimately makes you feel just plain awesome.  Exercise is highly effective for stress relief and relaxation, helps build and maintain strong muscles and bones, and keeps your heart pumping strong. It also helps you sleep better which is a pretty nice perk. I love this quote by dietitian and counselor Molly Kellogg that I recently came across:

People tend to believe it is hating their body that will motivate them to change their behaviors. This tends to be a short-term motivator, if at all. Accepting our bodies and wanting them to be as healthy and functional as possible focuses the mind on the behaviors that will serve us best.

This is not to say that structure or goals are always a bad thing, hence the key word “might” in the title. Exercise can be a great opportunity for physical and mental challenge, goal setting and athleticism which are all awesome things too. You might just keep this idea in mind the next time you feel down on yourself about choosing a rest day over a run.