Taking A Look At Exercise
By Abigail Natenshon
Author of When Your Child Has An Eating Disorder

Before technology and industrialization, life was a lot simpler, though living was a lot harder. People needed to do physical labor as part of their daily lives, whether they lived on farms, worked in factories, or kept house. People rode horses instead of driving cars, or had no access to any transportation other than their own two legs. Kids delivered newspapers, cut wood, milked cows, fetched water.

It’s a new world today; we have become a sedentary society. The majority of us spend our lives in front of television screens or computer monitors. The more advanced our society becomes, the more we sit and have machines do our work for us. Unless a youngster walks to school regularly or rides a bike, scooter or in-line skates, unless he or she participates in an active sport like ballet, soccer or swimming, physical activity or exercise for the sake of keeping our bodies moving through space has become a necessity if we are to remain fit and healthy.

Many people believe that exercise, in order to be good, has to be unpleasant and painful hard work, that it requires expensive trainers, equipment and clothing as well as boring routines. People believe that they must run miles or do hours of aerobics to achieve good health. In actual fact, being active does not have to cost a lot, nor should it wear you out.

Almost any activity that gets you moving is good for your health. You can build activity right into your daily routine and find fun ways to be active in your leisure time.

Exercise does not have to hurt to be good. What do you do?

  • Do you have stairs in your house that take you up to your bedroom, or down to your playroom? Recognize how helpful they are for you.
  • Does your doctor’s office have an elevator? Why not take the stairs?
  • Do you live close enough to your school to walk there or home sometimes? Do it.
  • Do you own a bike? Might you ride your bike into town after school instead of having a parent or friend drive you?
  • Do you have after-school sports that you could partake in? You may find that you enjoy competing, as well as the comradery of team sports, the sheer and unadulterated pleasure of moving your body, and of mastery. It’s great fun. Experience it.
  • Do you have a dog? Your dog would only love to accompany you on walks as many times a day as you can make time for. This is his or her primary source of entertainment. Do this and you’ll have a friend for life!
  • Do you like to dance? Turn on the radio and dance in your room, dance with your friends, join the school dance troupe
  • Have you ever pulled weeds in the garden, planted flowers, pruned bushes or washed the car, raked leaves, shoveled snow, or cleaned out the attic?
  • Tired of seeing movies? Why not go bowling or to a skating rink instead?
  • Winter is not always a time for staying indoors by the fire. Get out there and build a snowman, have a snowball fight, cross-country ski, snowshoe, learn to ice skate. It’s rarely too cold to be outside, as long as you are dressed appropriately and warmly in layers of clothing.
  • Throw a Frisbee, learn to skateboard, play hopscotch, jump rope.

Whatever you choose to do, make it fun. That way you know you will continue to do it. You may also find that the more you move, the more you want to move, and the more ways of moving you enjoy. If you have to force yourself to do something, the odds are not good that you will keep it up for long.

Moving your body through space is not only healthful and pleasurable, but an option for as long as we live. Our bodies are meant to move; they are designed to function at their best, to attain a perfect, dynamic balance through bodily movement. People live longer, healthier, less stressful lifestyles when they are supple and agile. They sleep better, feel more alert, alive, happy and self-confident. Think of exercise as moving for fun.

If you find your exercise routine becoming compulsive, that is, if you exercise for extended periods of time or if you become highly anxious or frustrated when you cannot exercise, you may be at risk for developing an activity disorder, something that shares many of the same issues as eating disorders. Remember that any good thing becomes less than good when done to extremes or with compulsivity.

Psychotherapist Abigail H. Natenshon has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders with individuals, families, and groups for the past 28 years. She is the author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, Jossey Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA. October 1999. Based on hundreds of successful outcomes, this book shepherds concerned parents step-by-step through the processes of eating disorder recognition, confronting the child, finding the most effective treatment for patient and family, and evaluating and insuring a timely recovery. A guide to eating disorder prevention, this book is useful to parents, health professionals and school personnel alike in countering the pervasive epidemic of unhealthy eating and body image concerns, and destructive media and peer influences. Her work can be reviewed further at her web site at www.empoweredparents.com. To order visit amazon.com.

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