May 29 2019 – Exercise as Punishment

Today I’d like to get really honest about something that drives me crazy.

I make my living in the exercise world.  And I spend a lot of my free time in the sports world.  I played sports for much of my life and now I watch my kids do the same.  Plus I spend a bunch of time coaching sports.  And I see this phenomenon exist in both the exercise and youth sports world; exercise as punishment.

Why do we punish kids in sport with exercise.  I’m fully on board with using exercise within practices for conditioning, team building, and even as a fun consequence of losing in friendly competitions.  But it’s just that – fun competition.  When I hear of coaches running kids into the ground or forcing ridiculous push up numbers (anyone seen the movie Coach Carter?) it really bothers me.  First, running kids into submission does not improve next game performance.  And second, it creates an underlying, sometimes subconscious, distaste for exercise.

Same thing in the ‘real’ world.  We do it to ourselves all the time.  We use exercise as punishment for our choices in life.  I ate too much or drank too much last night so now I have to workout longer or harder.  Or, I skipped a workout this week and therefore I need to compensate with calorie restrictions.  Punishment for food choices through exercise, or punishment for exercise with food choices; either way we’re beating ourselves up for being human, and we’re planting that same subconscious seed to continually remind us that exercise isn’t fun – it’s a consequence of our choices, or that food isn’t enjoyable but rather a reality to be measured against our exercise volume or intensity.  And I’ll say this too; all of this is a consequence of the number one exercise and nutrition motivator – weight loss and aesthetics.  When can we take a step back and look at body weight management as a symptom of better health rather than a means to it.

So, I’d like to point out some really obvious things.  There are tremendous volumes of research and literature pointing to the benefits of exercise and good nutrition.  I’ll bore you for a second to prove my point.

Some benefits of exercise (not including anything related to aesthetics):
-increased aerobic power
-decreased blood pressure
-decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes
-increased immune function
-keeps bones strong
-improves breathing
-increases energy
-improves sleep
-decreases risk of arthritis
-improves sexual performance
-improves emotional resilience
-improves mood
-decreases anxiety
-increases social engagement
-boosts memory
-builds intelligence
-decreases risk of dementia

And these are just the ones I can think of off the top fo my head.  A quick on-line search would surely reveal many more

Some benefits of good nutrition – again, not including anything related to better body composition:
-Decreased risk of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Stroke, many types of Cancer, and osteoporosis
-reduced blood pressure
-managed cholesterol 
-improved well being
-improved immunity
-faster injury and illness recovery
-increased energy

So, if the lists of benefits from exercise and nutrition are this long, why is the only one we tend to focus on the one we see in the mirror or on the scale.  Can we not attach our motivation to something a little more intrinsic and less vain?  Either way, lets please start to enjoy the journey a little more.  Give yourself permission to enjoy your food and treats from time to time without attaching it to any thought of your future exercise bouts.  And let’s get into a headspace where exercise is for better function, longer life, better social relationships and better mental health rather than a punishment for our food choices.  The two don’t have to be so entirely interconnected.  And the two can be realities in a very healthy headspace, rather than a constant internal back and forth, love/hate headspace.

I’ll encourage you to give yourself permission to give yourself a break from yourself.  Stop punishing yourself for living an enjoyable life which includes the occasional indulgence.

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