The Joy of Movement

Written by Gina Cipolla, LICSW


Joyful movement is a way of participating in physical activity that emphasizes pleasure and satisfaction. We know that physical activity offers both physical and mental health benefits, and by increasing pleasure during physical activity, you’re more likely to regularly move your body. 

Joyful movement also highlights choice. Due to our fitness culture and today’s society, exercise often acts as a compensatory behavior. It’s done to “earn” food, burn calories, or to punish the body for not fitting into unrealistic societal ideals. Joyful movement acknowledges the ability to take breaks, and empowers your choice in whether to engage in exercise or not.

Tips for Finding Joy in Moving our Bodies using Health At Every Size

According to the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), Health At Every Size (HAES) is a weight neutral approach built on body diversity, eating in response to your internal body cues and engaging in movement as a way to feel good in your body.

HAES is a grassroots political and social justice movement, advocating for the adoption of weight-neutral health care in all health and wellness spaces.

  • Explore what exercise means to you: assess and evaluate what your intention is behind exercise.
  • Create new and fun ways to move your body that are not related to weight loss.
  • Practice mindfulness: pick a type of movement (walking, running, cycling) and pay attention to each of your five senses. Example: what do you see around you while you are running? This can ground people in their bodies rather than watching the clock or counting calories burned.
  • Listen to your body’s needs: it is OK if running is not for you. We all have different likes and dislikes. It is also important to practice body kindness by listening to your body when you need to take breaks or drink more water to stay hydrated. By listening to your body’s needs and allowing a full variety of movement options, you can pick activities that nourish you and make you feel good and healthy in your body, which will likely be more sustainable long-term.
  • Reflect on activities you enjoyed as a child: think about what types of physical movement you liked as a child. Maybe it was dancing, riding bikes with friends or roller skating. These more child friendly activities can be a fun way to incorporate joy and pleasure in our movement.

As a psychotherapist, specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating, I see many people (male, female and non-binary) struggling with unrealistic expectations around appearance, weight and exercise. I try to help my clients find joy in movement again (if that is something they want to work on!) and help them increase their insight around how amazing their bodies are scientifically. Movement gives us the ability to be ourselves, feel good in our bodies and to take care of ourselves physically and mentally. The more we treat movement as something we “need” to do, the more likely we are to create a negative relationship with it. Our bodies do not need to be fixed, body culture and society does!

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