You may have heard the term ‘Intuitive Eating,’ which is defined by eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, and eating for both nutrition and pleasure. Intuitive Exercise utilizes the same philosophy except with movement — exercising in a way that is healthy for your body and mind, without being rigid or punitive. Intuitive exercise embraces all types of movement, particularly ones that you find fun and enjoyable!
Intuitive exercise embodies several key principles:
- Individualized: exercise of choice is based on how one feels physically and emotionally, rather than a rigid schedule that dictates what one has to do or should do regardless of how they feel; intuitive exercisers are able to listen to their bodies and respond appropriately
- Mindful: all five senses are incorporated into movement, allowing for a heightened awareness of one’s experience while exercising; practices like yoga and meditative walks provide opportunities for mindful exercise
- Joyful: intuitive exercise is enjoyable, fun, and uplifting; you give yourself permission to not engage in activities that are boring, overly challenging, or just not fun
- Diverse: all types of exercise and movement are embraced and encouraged; from archery to Zumba, intuitive exercise avoids labeling physical activities as “good” or “bad” based on intensity, duration, or frequency
- Flexible: intuitive exercise does not follow a rigid schedule or plan that must be followed, it simply relies on your self-awareness to determine what kind of movement would be best suited for you that day; when you’re injured, sick, or in pain, exercise is stopped until you’re feeling strong enough to resume exercise
Types of Physical Activity
There are many types of exercise that are beneficial to the body:
- Aerobic movement gets your heart rate up, often causing you to breathe harder. Examples of aerobic activity include walking, running, bicycling, and swimming. These activities are often classified as moderate or vigorous; if you can talk while doing an activity then it is considered moderate, and if you have to catch your breath in between a few words then it is considered vigorous. Many people refer to this exercise as “cardio.”
- Muscle-strengthening exercise includes activities like lifting weights, push-ups, and rock climbing.
- Bone-strengthening exercise includes any movement that puts a force on your bones. Examples of this movement include jumping, running, and basketball.
- Balance and stretching movement helps to improve your stability and flexibility. Examples include yoga, dancing, martial arts, and t’ai chi.
For optimal health, it is important to incorporate all four types of physical activity into your intuitive exercise routine. To ensure an exercise routine that is beneficial and enjoyable, be sure to choose activities that you really like.
Mental Health Benefits
Research has consistently shown that intuitive exercise provides a plethora of mental health benefits.
- Reduced stress: exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine in our brain, which is a chemical that helps to moderate our brain and body’s responses to stress
- Decreased depression and anxiety: exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria
- Improved self-confidence: exercise helps us feel more attractive in our own bodies
- Improved cognitive functioning: during cardiovascular exercise, new brain cells are created the process of degeneration in our hippocampus (where memory and learning are housed) is significantly slowed down
- Improved sleep and relaxation: decreased body temperature several hour after working out signals to the body that it’s time to sleep
Physical Health Benefits
The physical health benefits of consistent, intuitive exercise are far-reaching.
- Healthy cholesterol levels: regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often referred to as “good” cholesterol, and fights off unhealthy triglycerides
- Lowered blood pressure: healthy cholesterol levels help your blood flow smoothly, decreasing your risk of heart disease
- More energy: exercise strengthens your body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues, helping them work more efficiently; as a result, your body is able to use this saved energy on things you want to do, like play with your kids or hang out with friends
- Improved sex life: regular physical activity helps both men and women in the bedroom — men are less likely to be affected by erectile dysfunction, and women are more likely to experience healthy sexual arousal
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke: exercise strengthens the heart muscle while also improving cholesterol and blood flow — all of these factors combined lead to overall improved heart health
- Reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: exercise improves your body’s use of insulin and increases your muscles’ healthy consumption of glucose, both helping to lower blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of diabetes or metabolic syndrome
- Reduced risk of cancer: physical activity is correlated with lowered risk of colon, breast, endometrial, and lung cancers
- Decreased back pain: improved muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, and posture ease pressure on your back
- Improved bone strength and density: bone is a living tissue that gets stronger through exercise, thus decreasing your chances of osteoporosis and fractured or broken bones