Updated: Jan 14
I have a confession to make. Even though I know that physical exercise is the one lifestyle habit that has the strongest evidence supporting benefit for brain health, I have been feeling like I wasn’t doing enough exercise for a while. But I was lucky enough to get some coaching from Moving Meditation founder Kristin Moritz about that recently.
Kristin not only inspired me to get moving more this summer, but she also helped me see that my feelings of lack and guilt about not doing enough were just keeping me more stuck. I was judging myself for failing to do “enough” exercise, whatever “perfectly enough” might be.
Exercise has the strongest evidence supporting benefit for brain health
So how DO we determine what is the right amount of exercise? Turns out that this is where looking for external authority guidelines starts to get confusing. For example, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that adults aged 18-64 should get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking), and at least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles. That part sounds reasonable as broad general advice.
After the age of 65, this recommendation changes to include activities to improve balance (such as standing on one foot). It’s sort of a funny visual when you think about a group of older folks standing around on one foot, but why not recommend adding balance earlier? What about stretching and flexibility since stiffness and pain tend to be what impair mobility the most as we age?
The point is that external expert recommendations are often not as helpful as we would like beyond providing general guidance. I knew that I got to be the authority in deciding what was best for me, but I had let my inner judge Milly convince me that I was falling short in terms of intensity and consistency. In reality, I was definitely doing some daily Essentrics or pilates, and walking quite regularly.
Mind the Gap
Of course it’s always been Milly’s job to set the bar higher, and to call out that gap between what I expect of myself and what I actually achieve, and to judge and shame me for falling short. I’m constantly reminding my coaching clients that our primitive brains default to focus on lack and scarcity, because that’s how we survived childhood. But our adult human minds get to question everything. And to decide to get unstuck when we see how certain habit loops aren’t working in our favor.
I learned that Milly was not only telling me that I wasn’t doing enough, but she was also judging me for wanting novelty and connection to make exercise more fun for myself. This voice kept telling me that I wasn’t a child, and that I didn’t need exercise to be fun - that I should be doing it because it was good for me.
We can absolutely heal our bodies through gentle movement that feels amazing
Kristin helped me to clarify that it was Milly’s harsh drill sergeant voice that I was hearing, and not my own. And that I wasn’t showing up with integrity to mom my brain when I was letting Milly drive the bus. I’m so grateful to have Kristin coach me by holding up that mirror to reframe things. It’s like when your friend loves you enough to tell you that you have lipstick on your teeth.
I agree wholeheartedly with Kristin’s philosophy of teaching that our first priority is to learn how to monitor our bodies’ signals to assess what feels good and what doesn’t. We can absolutely heal our bodies through gentle movement that feels amazing, and in so doing, empower ourselves and our minds by learning to trust our senses. And as we begin to trust our bodies, we learn to trust ourselves too.
I’m finding that it’s helped me to create a Movement Manifesto for myself. Compared to those rigid schedules and expectations that I had for myself when I was training for half marathons, this feels simple and liberating.
I get to take credit for any kind of movement whether it’s stretching, walking, dancing, gym workout, gardening or whatever kind of exercise. (All the better if I break a sweat.)
Movement is fun and I love doing it. Because it feels good, I’m connecting with others, enjoying Nature, or all of the above.
More is better, but even a little is good enough.
Movement is fun and I love doing it
Like Kristin, I’m loving the idea of moving in order to improve performance - especially for recreational activities that I enjoy, like dancing. And I’m definitely committed to staying active well into my 100s, and that’s the kind of agency that feels sustainable for the next 50 years at least.
Moving Meditation founder Kristin Moritz is a fitness instructor and life coach offering live zoom classes as well as private instruction and coaching.