What does the word “exercise” mean you?

Enjoyment? Pain? A necessity?

Founder of TRIBE.MCR, Dr Jessicarr Moorhouse asks those in and around the health and well being space in Manchester about what the word “exercise” means to them.

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If we are being scientific, The World Health Organisation defines exercise is “planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful activity, which aims to improve or maintain fitness”. Exercise, alongside our everyday movement, is referred to as physical activity and in the UK, we are advised to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week. This means being able to exercise to the point where you can still speak but can’t sing the words to a song. This doesn’t need to be super intense, it could mean taking a brisk walk, gardening or even dancing (like no one’s watching).

For many of us, though, the word “exercise” can act as a barrier to being active. Some might remember being picked last for the school PE team (that was me!), others might remember walking into a gym thinking ‘what on earth am I supposed to do?’ and others may have been put off by imagery that we see on social media.

It’s not surprising then, that a third of people in Manchester are inactive. These Mancunians do less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week. There are a whole host of social, economic and political factors implicated here, but I would argue that our perception of what “exercise” means plays a significant role.

So let’s open up the conversation. I have reached out to friends and colleagues in and around the Manchester health and well being scene to hear what they have to say about exercise….

Remember I said that I was picked last for teams in PE? Despite being an active child, taking part in dancing and swimming, I didn’t excel in traditional games such as rounders, or netball and was therefore deemed an ‘underachiever’. Luckily for me, I wasn’t put off but for many of us, these experiences lead to negative belief systems around exercise and worse, a lifetime of inactivity. Laura Booth, a one of kind yoga teacher at The Life Centre and now at Yoga Soul, echoes this view, citing memories of exercise that focused on “a specific goal”. Laura now enjoys exercise as part of a wider movement practice, which develops “techniques or skills”. This really comes across when Laura is teaching. If you need someone to help you more feel confident about moving your body, get yourself down to Laura’s classes.

From one expert practitioner to another, let’s hear what Skoti Pepper has to say. Skoti is a Movement Coach and founder of Fera. Skoti brings up a really interesting point, that “exercise” should be viewed as more than an isolated activity, “It’s a process, with highs and lows, progressions and regressions. That’s how you exercise something”. In this view, exercise is a form of long term and sustainable lifestyle behaviour, which like any other part of life, isn’t sunshine and roses, all of the time – despite what social media would have you believe.

This viewpoint is resounded by Charlie Hooson-Sykes, an ex-distance runner turned power lifter and blogger. Charlie loves the fact that exercise is a challenge, that is completely personal to her, “the satisfaction I get from moving weights that are heavier and heavier, is totally worth it… it’s not competing against anyone else, it’s competing against myself. Against what I did yesterday, last week, last year ”. This intrinsic motivation can be extremely powerful and I know from personal experience that when you find it, you don’t need to rely on the fads you see on social media, or what everyone else is doing. You are doing you.

Charlie also associates exercise with improved energy levels and higher productivity throughout the day. This is fantastic because it counters the commonly held view that exercise takes away from our daily time and energy quotas. When you experience that buzz, that release of endorphins, you start to truly appreciate the added value that exercise brings to your life. This goes beyond our waking hours in fact, and can help us to wind down before bed, and to sleep better, too. Joe Flinders of Social Chain, who is currently exploring movement and flexibility training as Flinders Fitness, also shares this view, “Exercise is as much about my mind as it is my body.. it makes all the difference with my sleeping pattern…I wish I’d learned about the benefits of looking after myself earlier”. 

Source:  @the_lady_sybil
Source: @joeflinders

Source: @joeflinders

Next up is Sacha Lord. You will know Sacha as the founder of Parklife and The Warehouse Project. We are teaming up with Sacha on a series of Feel Good Fitness sessions for those working in the Night Time Economy. His thoughts on exercise are very fitting for someone so prominent in this industry, “Clear mind. Healthy. Motivation. Necessary”. Can you identify with this? I certainly can, exercise is my chance to find a quiet head space, to shut out negative thoughts and sometimes change my perspective on initially overwhelming situations.

Another advocate for the enjoyment of exercise and a huge inspiration to me as a personal trainer is Mark Ross. Mark is a Barry’s Trainer and founder of Lifestyle Lean. He feels exercise should be based on enjoyment, whatever that means to the individual and “something that everyone should do regardless of the intensity”. Mark also has lots to say about perception of exercise, “Each and every week we get nervous clients who end up absolutely loving it. They can do exactly the same workout as everyone else, just a more tailored version”. As a Barry’s fan, I can certainly vouch for this. Don’t be put off by the myth that Barry’s is about crop tops and six-packs, we are all on our own journey.

Source:  @tribe.mcr

Source: @tribe.mcr

Talking of aesthetics, I’m going to leave you with a really important question…is it ok to exercise to look good, too? This topic came up in a recent discussion I had with Ruth Naylor. We both agreed that yes, it is absolutely ok to give yourself a high five for any physical benefits you might see from exercise. From my own experience, though, this needs to come from a place of self-love rather than self-deprecation. At medical school I suffered from disordered thoughts about my body and how much I needed to exercise. This led to an unhealthy relationship with exercise and constantly shifting goals around my weight. Thankfully I am not in that place anymore and can enjoy exercise for myself and for my clients.

So on that bombshell, there we have it. I hope you found it interesting to hear about the diverse associations we have with exercise. For some, it’s the process and working towards a goal, for others it’s the positive effect it has on our mental and social health.

Do something you enjoy. Do something that makes you feel fantastic. Do something that you’ll do long into the future.

Jessicarr Moorhouse