accessibility · aging · disability · injury · motivation

An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

My life has changed a lot since we started the blog and the fitness challenge. There are things I say when we’re promoting the book that now strike me as wrong or at least not as simple as that, or maybe even naive.

Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement.

It’s hard to get a more nuanced message across when you’ve just got four minutes on television so I’ve been sticking with the simple story but the truth is I know it’s not so simple. I’m not staking out a position here or defending a claim other than than claim that things are messier than I thought. I do know the blog can handle more complexities than the media buzz around the book can take. So you blog readers get the messier story.

Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.

Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.

See When exercise isn’t fun.

Why am I doing it? Not love of the thing itself that’s for sure. Partly to be sure it’s instrumentally justified in terms of continuing to do things I love. Canoe camping, hiking, biking. I want to keep these things in my life.

But it’s also instrumentally justified in terms of basic movements, like walking to campus, between meetings, getting in and out of chairs.

To suggest that we approach all exercise from this “loving it” perspective comes from an incredible place of privilege. I had that privilege. I don’t anymore and I’m sorry if I sounded insufferable, naive, and smug.

I saw it again today, by the way, in an online body positive fitness community of which I’m part. Someone offered the advice to another community member to do whatever brings joy to your heart. And the thing is I too reject the imperative that we all have to do joyless exercise to tame or unruly, overweight bodies to keep them in line. I also know though that life is complicated.

Just as Tracy rejects body positivity as just one more demand, I’m coming to feel that way about “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” No one loves knee physio. It’s okay not to like it and to do it anyway.

It’s okay to be angry and sad and roll your eyes at people who say they just don’t feel like running this morning. You don’t get to yell at them that at least they can run and tell them to just go do it because you can never run again. Just say it in your head. That’s what I do.

It’s okay to think, “I’m tough and I’ve got this” instead of I’m doing this because I love it . Because that’s what’s true: I’m tough and I’ve got this.

Maybe that’s true for you too. I’m sorry for saying you have to love exercise. You don’t. Right now, a lot of the time, I don’t. And that’s okay too.

14 thoughts on “An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

  1. We can only learn and grow from experience.
    That’s why your blog is so great. There is an array of perspectives.

    I do agree. I love reading and sleeping. And while I often am happy I worked out and feel good, I can’t say that brings me joy. For me, joy is found in quiet moments.

    I think our western society focuses way too much on the idea of doing what you love. It creates a lot of discontent. Much of life is doing what we need to to eventually have the results we want. There is hard work to be done in fitness, employment and relationships.

  2. Don’t be sorry. Doing what you love is still true. You may be forgetting the other part of exercise advice – break it down into its component parts. You do physio so you can keep waking, biking, hiking and kayaking. My daughter does Pilates so she can be a better dancer – she hates Pilates. I do endless kick sets in the pool so I’ll be strong enough to swim long distances in the lake. My mom has osteo-arthritis and has had three artificial hips and broke both ankles falling off a tiny step – I started exercising to avoid her fate and finding things I enjoyed were key to success. Not one of my chosen activities are fun all the time, but having fun most of the time has been key to keeping it up. At the same time, I know I need to add weights (ugh!) to my cardio so I do it sometimes, even though I would rather do almost anything else.

  3. You’re so right– this is really complicated. Part of it for me is the necessary realization that exercise/physical activity is really required in order for me to be functional and comfortable and stable and happy during my days and nights. If I am too sedentary, my knees and hips hurt, and I am more creaky getting in and out of chairs. This feels appalling and scary. But the antidote is movement. I agree with you that harnessing the love of motion is such a lovely way to motivate exercise, and I do that. But doing it for instrumental reasons is also another way to take care of ourselves. Thanks for saying all this. I may follow up this Sunday, as your blog is so thought-provoking.

  4. I get that we need to not over-simplify “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” I agree it’s more complicated than that. But I also don’t think it’s necessary to apologize for encouraging people to find something they love to do. Sure, we all find joy in different things. And some people find it in things besides physical activity. But that’s not to say that some physical activities aren’t more enjoyable than others. Yes, physio exercises are more akin to “take your medicine.” But it’s when ALL physical activity is treated like “take your medicine” that we do ourselves a disservice. And that rhetoric comes up all too often. Perhaps there will be some people for whom no physical activity is enjoyable and all of it will feel obligatory rather than desire-motivated. But surely our message is that it doesn’t have to be that way? We can say that without saying that you might never have to do your physio exercises or intersperse a few things that aren’t as fun (on my list: hill-repeats or deadlifts or foam rolling over tight muscles) among the things that are more fun (like leisure runs with friends or bench presses or hot yoga). Of course it’s okay not to like something and do it anyway. I love my job but there are aspects of it (like this report I need to finish writing today) that I really do not like. That’s not enough for me to want to quit my job. Life’s like that. We take the good with the bad. Maybe that’s all you’re saying.

    I still think our overall message has merit. No need to apologize for encouraging people to try different things to the extent that they are able because they might find that they enjoy this more than that thing they thought they HAD to do. And on the flip side, I stand by the idea that if you hate triathlon, don’t do it. Does that mean I would say “if you hate your physio routine, don’t do it”? No. Do it because it’s got important therapeutic value for you that will enable you to do other things that matter to you. (If those things don’t matter, then that’s also each person’s decision to make on their own).

    Is our message insufferable and naive? I don’t think so at all. Perhaps it doesn’t always come across as nuanced. And perhaps there are people who grumble and judge (because there are always naysayers). And for sure there is more to be said. But as an overall approach, I stand firmly behind the idea that a large segment of the population could benefit from viewing exercise in a different, more positive light.

    1. This about how I feel about things I’ve felt and said, not you. Now that lots of exercise hurts, but I have to do it anyway, I’m beginning to see how people whose bodies are a source of pain feel both left of mainstream fitness culture and left out of my very cheerleadery version of feminist fitness. It’s not simply a matter of doing physio so that I can do things I love. I need to do physio so I can do basic things like walk to meetings and get out chairs. Exercise hurts. And it’s not optional. Even if I have knee replacement most people still experience pain when walking etc. It’s my life from here on in. My goal is to work hard, minimize pain, maintain mobility. That’s pretty far removed from seeking joy and pleasure. I know that’s not true for lots of people. But it is for me right now and for others too. I’m trying to think about fitness in ways that includes this perspective. Absolutely of course don’t do things you don’t like if they don’t serve other goals and you have choices. Hate triathlon? Don’t do it. That’s easy. Scared of swimming? Find some other fitness activity you enjoy. But this feels different. I’m still thinking about it No big conclusions. Just that my simple message, my former message, no longer includes me and from this new perspective I can see why others with uncooperative bodies find me tiresome!

      1. Fair enough. “This feels different” may well be getting at why some folks who have a disability studies perspective have felt the message of our blog/book has been ableist and has been presented through a lens of (up to now) invisible ablest privilege. My response likely reiterates that privilege all over again. It sounds as if your current experience has given you that ever important standpoint that brings with it epistemological insights otherwise difficult to grasp.

  5. I think its a bit like that William Morris quote. “Don’t have anything in your house that you don’t either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”
    Maybe Don’t do any exercise that you don’t either know to be useful (physio, rehab, getting from a to b) or believe to be enjoyable (sport, personal achievement, dance, active commute)

    1. Yep Yep. Agreed. But it’s not likely to be motivational to the person whose body is a source of pain when moving to say, “find the thing you love.” Or it’s okay not to exercise if you value other things more. I value getting out of chairs and walking up and down stairs pretty highly but still, it’s hard to regularly do exercise that is at its best boring!

  6. I’ve been thinking about this post ever since it went up last week. I am glad you are discussing it. Not all the quotes I have shared from your book with my husband were appreciated by him as he has begun to move a whole lot less due to knee/pain issues. Never-the-less, I think talking about joy is a great place to start a conversation about exercise.

    Your message of finding the joy has been helpful to me in a world where the primary messaging around exercise is focused on weight loss. Hearing this alternative mantra regularly through your posts has pushed me to think more in-depth about what motivates me. It has helped me to move past some negative feelings, move past some ambivalent feelings, and move past some insecurities to find some internal motivation. What I’ve learned through this exploration is that what works for me one day, may not work the next. And sometimes, what’s best for me is to not think about my motivation at all but just do it. (A tip I picked up on one of your reposts suggested that some regular AM runners don’t give themselves a choice in the morning. Without thinking they just put on their running shoes and go, because if they stopped to consider they wouldn’t do it.) But most importantly in relation to this post, this exploration has also helped me to realize that “joy” is not always a simple concept. Like you mention in this post, it encompasses other things like feeling awesome for having the ‘grit’ to do something tough.

    Here’s another type of exercise-related “joy” your blog opened my eyes to appreciate. One of the things I appreciate most about your blog is its title. It suggests that women exercising is more than just self-improvement but participation in something bigger than oneself – empowerment of a class of people. I get such ‘joy’ when I see more middle-aged women than youth or men on trails of NH’s 4000-foot mountains. And it happens all the time. And I feel ‘joy’ that I am one of them.

    I admire that you want your work to be about empowering all people to find reasons to move more. I am sure you know from your own work that when it comes to expanding opportunities, thinking the same approach will work universally is crazy-talk. A corollary to this truth is that pleasing all people all the time is an impossible task. So glad you are seeking yet another alternative message for people in pain, but please don’t think yourself tiresome, or irrelevant when you speak about exercising for joy.

Comments are closed.