How to Find Joy in Exercise: A Guide to Joyful Movement

Do you think of exercise as a chore or feel guilty when you don’t do it? How great would it be to turn what feels like a chore into Joyful Movement. Finding pleasure in movement is an internal, joy-driven approach to exercise. It’s about redefining exercise and discovering the joy in moving your body. It can be lots of fun.

If you do think of exercise as a chore or feel guilty when you don’t do it, you aren’t alone in feeling that way! For many people, talking and thinking about exercise makes them frustrated, discouraged, ashamed, or self-conscious. The pervasive messaging about exercise is that you have to do it, you have to do these things, and you must be effective towards a specific outcome like losing weight.

The Joyful Movement Mindset Shift: A Positive Approach

For movement to be joyful, it takes a shift in our mindset from the exercise messaging we’ve heard for… pretty much our entire lives. Not gonna lie, this positive approach takes time plus intentional focus and isn’t always the easiest when diet culture is staring you in the face.

Friends in colorful jackets embody a positive approach to joyful movement, turning exercise into a choice, not a chore.

A Science-Backed Approach

Did you know that science is on the side of joyful movement? For instance, a study in SCIENCEDIRECT found that walking can alleviate symptoms of depression. Another study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that dancing can improve memory and even reduce the risk of dementia. So, when we talk about "Movement for Wellbeing," it's not just a feel-good phrase; it's backed by research.

Society and the messaging we get about moving our bodies (from tv ads, magazines, social media, friends, family, and even our own brains) is everywhere and usually makes us think exercise is a necessary chore:

“It’s hard, but you have to push through and just do it,”

“Exercise is necessary to be successful and look like this,”

“I feel guilty for not exercising after I ate those cookies last night.”

This narrative has ended up with a lot of people disliking exercise and avoiding movement at all costs, but also feeling bad about avoiding it. However Joyful Movement offers a different perspective, encouraging you to walk away from "should do" and walk towards "Movement for Wellbeing."

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A Different Perspective

In reality, there are so many physical and mental wellness benefits to moving your body that have nothing to do with physical appearance or the food you eat. Body movement can

  • improve sleep
  • strengthen joints, bones, and muscles
  • reduce stress
  • increase overall health
Youngsters jumping for joy, defining joyful movement through body movement that they genuinely enjoy.

You can enjoy movement for what it is instead of only seeing it as a punishment for taking a day off from the gym or eating something “bad.” Walk away from “should do” and walk towards “want to do.” The fact that your body can move is amazing!

While it takes effort and practice, tuning out those internal and external messages of diet culture is a pathway to the joyful movement that is possible for you. It's all about emotional wellness and exercise, and finding those fun ways to move your body.

Finding Your Own Joyful Movement: Movement Ideas For Adults

Think about times you have moved in your life. Make a list, including whether you liked it and why. This is the start of your joyful movement ideas list!

For example, I could write down the time I tried running with friends in college for a couple weeks (didn’t really like it- bad shin splints), the time I went to Zumba classes for a summer (loved it- had a ton of fun with friends), and the time I did a challenging hike (loved it- being outside made me really happy).

The Reframe

Now on a new page, write down only the types of movement you really liked, along with ways of moving or exercising you think you might enjoy and want to try. If you don’t have many positive experiences with movement or exercise, check out the ideas below for some inspiration. This is the start of your joyful movement list!

The beautiful part of joyful movement is that you have the power. You get to choose what type of movement you want to do, when that movement happens, and where it happens.

One thing to clear up before we move on: no matter what type of movement you find enjoyable, it doesn’t mean it will always be joyful. So, what is joyful? Joyful movement isn’t meant to bypass negativity or convince you that moving will always feel amazing.

To define joyful in this context, it's about shifting your mindset towards exercise, making it a choice rather than an obligation. There will be times you will be unmotivated or just find movement unenjoyable for whatever reason, which is totally normal!

What is joyfulness in movement? It’s the flexibility to choose what to do depending on how you feel that day. Have backup plans including a “this is good enough for today” plan, a “do something else instead” plan, and a “skip today’s movement entirely” plan. The goal of joyful movement is to shift your mindset about why you’re moving and be flexible about how you move your body instead of sticking to a plan at all costs.

Involve Others In Your Joyful Motion Workouts

There’s always something to say for needing alone time, but movement is an area of life where it’s great to involve others on your journey!

None of us are in this alone. Whether you find a community in person or online, there are many people out there also searching for a way to move joyfully.

Science Agrees

And guess what? Science agrees! A study in Biomechanics, found that group activities like dancing can be effective in managing chronic pain conditions.

So, whether you're into martial arts, pole dancing, or walking, doing it in a group can amplify the health benefits.

If you feel compelled to, you can be the leader who gets others involved and build your own community of joyful movers locally or virtually. Interacting with others while moving can make it even more enjoyable. Try the following ideas on your own or with others as you explore joyful movement and pull away from "shoulds."

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Joyful Movement Ideas

  • Play like you’re a kid! Climb on a playground, roll around, jump on a trampoline, and do silly things that make you laugh so hard your stomach hurts.
  • Find a group or class for an activity you’ve always wanted to try. Suggestions to get your started: martial arts, pole dancing, axe throwing, aerial silks, horseback riding, acro yoga, parkour
  • Try a fitness virtual reality or video game.
  • Do an outdoor activity. This varies depending on location, but you can try hiking, backpacking, swimming, surfing, kayaking, geocaching, rock climbing, paintball, ice skating, roller skating, biking, outdoor sports, walking a dog, gardening, walking, or running.
  • Try a form of dance. Even if you think you don’t have rhythm, it doesn’t matter! There are partner dances such as swing, ballroom, and latin, and dances you can do by yourself such as ballet, hip hop, tap, and simply grooving to a favorite playlist.
  • Just because something is already a popular fitness modality doesn’t mean it can’t bring you joy. Try group fitness classes, yoga, Pilates, strength training, cardio, and more. You might be surprised! Especially with more conventional choices, a coach or class instructor can make all the difference. If one doesn’t feel like a good fit, there are many, many more out there in person and online to connect with.
  • Explore stretching and mobility activities.
A joyful dance scene outdoors, defining wellbeing through joyful movement.
Photo by Amandine L. on Unsplash

Or finally, do none of these!

You’re the expert of your body and only you can decide what form of body movement makes you feel good.

Talking about exercise and joyful movement can bring up a lot of thoughts and feelings. My article is only meant to bring awareness to the existence of joyful movement, not be a comprehensive resource. There are many incredible resources dedicated to the ideas I only briefly mentioned.

I encourage you to keep reading and learn more about joyful/intuitive movement as you go through this body movement journey!

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Sarah Siertle, a strength and movement coach, specializes in introducing people to strength training and works to make the fitness world a more inclusive place. She has been a movement instructor since 2012 and also teaches swing dance around the US. Find other articles written by Sarah on her coach profile. Let Sarah help you get STRONG so you can take advantage of life’s adventures!