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Intuitive Exercise and Joyful Movement: A New Perspective on Fitness

Updated: Jun 22

What motivates you to exercise? We often talk ourselves into exercising like it’s a chore that needs to be checked off.


My jeans feel tighter; I better start jogging again.


I’m going to have to “burn off” this dessert at the gym.


Sound familiar? We dread a workout, but we know it’s what we should” do.


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What happened to physically moving in ways that feel good and bring joy?


Intuitive exercise and joyful movement are pivotal for shifting your perspective on fitness!


To truly develop a healthier mindset around exercise, first, let’s identify whether or not exercise is a toxic area in your life.


What Does an Unhealthy Relationship with Exercise Look Like?

Recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating can also be connected with an unhealthy relationship with exercise.


Reflect momentarily to see if any of these signs regarding exercise resonate with you.


  • No longer a choice, but an obligation


  • Interferes with your life; you miss events or time with family/friends


  • Continue to exercise despite illness, injury, or bad weather


  • X minutes or X days per week are a MUST


  • Motivation is to manipulate your body, burn calories, punish yourself, or justify food choices


  • Fear weight gain if you don’t exercise; guilt and anxiety heighten


  • Exercise equals “breaking a sweat”


  • Overused to numb out painful or uncomfortable feelings


Diet culture has taken control of physical activity and warped it into formal exercise solely for weight loss or body manipulation.


If you feel rigid with exercise and your value and worth are highly contingent on your workouts to maintain or achieve a desired body size or shape, it may be necessary to reevaluate.


Of course, physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle; however, it can creep into unhealthy territory, just like healthy eating can become unhealthy.


What Is Intuitive Exercise?

Intuitive exercise, or intuitive movement, is similar to eating intuitively. It’s the application of listening to your body’s cues and being aware of what it’s telling you, to decipher what movement it needs.


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Taking an inventory of your body’s desires helps you consider the type, length, and intensity of movement your body is asking for.


Intuitive eating principle nine focuses on how movement contributes to enhancing physical and mental health.


An important aspect is understanding that days or seasons of life may exist where exercise isn’t the priority, and that’s OK! Your time may need to be spent in other ways, such as prioritizing rest if work is busy, or days off because you’re a new mom taking care of a baby.


When you can separate exercise from food and weight, you build trust with your body, learning that your body can manage itself regardless of exercise.


How Do You Practice Intuitive Exercise?

  • Check-in with your body to identify what it’s craving. Is it tense, tired, relaxed, energized? What feels right for your body at that moment?


  • Steer away from rigid thinking and embrace flexibility and self-compassion. Miss a day or even weeks of exercise without being hard on yourself.


  • Explore your options, trying new forms of activity. Find what you enjoy!


  • Stay mindful. Are you counting down the minutes on the treadmill or are you present and in tune? How does your body feel? Do you feel rejuvenated after exercising or drained?


  • Reframe your thinking to prioritize self-care. Release any shame, guilt, or punishment.


  • If a workout feels difficult or you’re not enjoying it, you can modify or stop altogether. Follow your intuition - if you’re not “feeling it” or negative thoughts surface, give yourself permission to leave and find another way to care for yourself.


Examples of Intuitive Exercise

  • I’m tired today; rushing to spin class would feel exhausting. I’ll listen to a relaxing playlist and stretch with yoga instead.


  • I’ve been sitting at my desk for hours. Lifting weights to release all my energy sounds awesome!


  • My dinner hasn't been digested. I wanted to get a jog in, but I’ll opt for a nice walk to avoid stomach cramps.


What Is Joyful Movement?

Joyful movement is an alternative way to look at exercise, since exercise can have a negative connotation for people.


Joyful movement is moving your body in a way that adds pleasure to your life! It’s something you look forward to, that makes you feel good and aligns with your values!


With joyful movement, ALL forms of movement are valuable.


  • A Saturday bike ride to brunch


  • Learning to water ski at the lake


  • Hiking in new places on vacation


  • Taking your dogs around the neighborhood


  • Walking with a friend and chatting about your week


  • A dance workout to an upbeat soundtrack


  • Your community league softball game


  • Gardening in your backyard


  • Chasing your little kids around


Ask yourself, “If calories didn’t exist, what type of movement would I do?” Do that!


Why Is Intuitive Exercise and Joyful Movement Important?


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Broadening your definition of exercise and redefining what it means to move gives room for you to engage in pleasant movement throughout the day. In turn, you’ll probably move more regularly!


Our bodies were made to move. We have always been able to innately rely on our body’s own ability to keep our blood flowing and our muscles mobile.


There’s nothing wrong with formal exercise. If you genuinely enjoy it, great! But it’s not a requirement for “health.” Gyms, weights, resistance bands, and pilates classes haven’t always been around, and people survived just fine without them!


Formal exercise is one way to move; however, your body doesn’t know the difference between picking up weights or unloading groceries. All movement is movement.


Intuitive exercise and joyful movement are centered around freedom, not fear. With freedom comes the desire to move purely for the benefits!


  • Better sleep quality


  • Overall health and wellness


  • Increased energy levels


  • Fresh air and sunlight outdoors


  • Mental clarity


  • Stronger body awareness


  • Improved mood


  • Greater strength and flexibility


  • Lowered stress


  • Consistent habits


There’s no cookie-cutter approach to exercise. You’re the expert on your body and you know what movement should look like for YOU.


The beauty of shifting your perspective on fitness to include intuitive exercise and joyful movement is that you turn to movement only for the benefits and pleasure that it brings!


Share with me your favorite forms of movement in the comments below!


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