Finding the Joy in Exercise


Have you ever noticed the way your son’s eyes light up when he hears the siren of a fire engine from down the road, and before you know it, he’s off and running, racing to the source of the sound?

Or witnessed the pure joy on your niece’s face as the springs of the trampoline propel her back up into the air again and again and again?

Or watched your grandson from your seat on the bleachers, his face scrunched in concentration as he kicks the ball hard, and in a split second, his expression changes to one of euphoria as the soccer ball finds its goal?

Have you ever closed your eyes and thought to yourself, “Wow, I feel so bad for him. Exercise is the worst”?

I know—that seems kind of ridiculous. Stay with me and I’ll explain myself.

Back in the day, our lives were far more active.

We hunted animals and chopped our firewood. We plowed fields and crushed our grains. We milked cows and churned our butter.

We walked miles to school, to the grocery store, to shul. We scrubbed dirty laundry down by the lake and wrung out the wet garments, then hung them to dry. We washed the floor by hand and hemmed skirts and darned socks.

We moved. We were active. We were constantly building our strength and energy.

I’m not saying I wish I lived back then. I like the convenience of a ready-to-drink bottle of milk, and a steam mop. I appreciate both a washing machine and dryer, and can’t imagine living without a car. (If you live in Brooklyn, ignore that last example.)

But as a result, we’ve taken on exercise as a substitute. Granted, it’s not intentional—we’re not thinking, “Oh, hey, I didn’t go wash my laundry at the nearby river, so let me go run on the treadmill instead,” but we know a sedentary lifestyle isn’t healthy, so we seek out alternative forms of physical activity.

Here’s the problem with that.

For some reason, we’ve managed to take the joy out of it. We’ve learned to view exercise as a boring or must-do experience, rather than seeking out the activities that not only leave us feeling energized, but that we’re excited about and look forward to doing.

Have you ever felt like a hamster on a hamster wheel when running on the treadmill or spinning on a stationary bike? I know I have.

To be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with those options—if you like them.

But if you don’t, find a different form of movement.

Chasing a fire engine, jumping on a trampoline, and playing soccer are all forms of fitness. But that’s not why children perform them. They do so because they’re are either a means to an(other) end or fun in and of themselves.

No kid chooses ballet or swimming or gymnastics lessons because they’re exercise and “exercise is good for you”. They choose them because they genuinely enjoy the activity, or they like the competitive nature of it, or they appreciate the challenge that results in an outcome of some sort, be it a recital, certificate, or level advancement.

Using the young‘uns of today as examples, let’s give ourselves permission to reframe the way we work out:

What if we chose to view exercise as an opportunity to move in a way that we enjoy?

This may look like a women’s-only dance class, rock climbing at an indoor studio, or playing frisbee with the kids in the park.

What if we chose to view exercise as a chance to connect with and challenge ourselves?

This may look like participating in a powerlifting meet, running a 10k with a friend, or simply walking around the block once a day.

What if we chose to view exercise as a way to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally?

This may look different to you than it does to your neighbor or sister, but that’s a good thing. Different preferences, different choices.

There are a myriad of ways to get moving, from hiking to yoga to aerial silks to CrossFit to Pound to tap dancing to HIIT to roller skating, that are all forms of exercise.

My favorite approach to exploring these options, and what I highly recommend, is that you take advantage of the local studios in your city and try them out! Most places offer anywhere from one free class to a free week, in order to see if you like their classes and want to join their studio.

The only way you’ll really know what sparks joy for you is by giving it a shot.

Because working out should be something we want to do. Not something we have to do.

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Sara Kupfer is the founder of Fit Jewess, and a fitness coach with the mission of empowering Jewish women worldwide through joyful movement and fostering a community united, through body positive and weight-neutral fitness. She is a CrossFit L1 trainer and HAES advocate, and coaches women and girls in person and online.