“You’re almost there!” my CrossFit trainer yells at the class. “One more minute!
I pedal furiously on the Assault AirBike (a fan-powered exercise bike found in most CrossFit gyms), trying to hit 15 calories before time runs out. This is the last part of the workout – sets of thrusters and burpees came before.
The clock on the gym wall is counting down: 3…2…1. Workout is over. Everyone in the class, including myself, slowly gets off their bikes and lies down on the ground, sweating and panting, seeking some much-needed rest before putting all of our gear back on.
It’s the type of exercise I’m used to: go as hard as you can, wake up incredibly sore the next day, and do it again. It’s because I’ve always thought that for a workout to “count” it had to be that intense.
But I recently got an Apple Watch (yes, I’m late for the game), and it changed my perspective on what “counts” as exercise. And surprise: heeverythingaccount.
Growing up, I did a ton of competitive sports: gymnastics, swimming, diving, horseback riding, etc. All of these sports required tremendous strength, and the workouts I went to and the workouts I did were filled with rope climbs, core workouts, HIIT sessions and more – and stopping to rest was frowned upon. In my mind, exercise was meant to behard.
After college, I took up running, and the track workouts and long runs I logged weren’t easy on my body. My mentality was always the same: if training seemed too easy, I didn’t think it mattered. If I stopped to walk during my run, I no longer considered it a “run”. Somewhere deep inside I knew I was being too hard on myself, but it was hard to undo years of thinking this way.
Then, in 2017, a runner friend of mine started doing CrossFit and invited me to go with him. I immediately fell in love with the feeling I got after a class. If you’ve ever watched a CrossFit workout, your first thought is probably, “I can’t do this.” But when youdo Complete the workout, feeling untouchable, like you can achieve anything in the world.
And while I still love CrossFit, I realized that I always seek out activities in my adult life that are incredibly taxing.
It’s easy enough to see how my history with sports led me to think the way I do when it comes to exercise, but chatting with athlete psychotherapist Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCSW-R, CEDS-S, told me helped to understand better.
“CrossFit and track workouts, for example, are usually high intensity and kick up the endorphins that can be released, so you’ve conditioned yourself to associate those intense workouts with exercise while dismissing everything else. Many influencers fitness professionals can also repeat these messages,” says Roth-Goldberg.
“It’s important to recognize that moving our bodies can be good without having to sweat or even structure the movement. This can relieve some people of their rigid ideas about exercise.”
How my Apple Watch helped me be kinder to myself
Almost everyone I know has an Apple Watch, and I was curious what I was missing. So about six months ago I bit the bullet and bought one. The first thing I noticed was how easy it was to close my exercise ring.
If you’re unfamiliar with Apple Watch rings, there are three: a red “move” ring, a green “exercise” ring, and a blue “stand” ring. The ‘move’ ring shows how many active calories you’ve burned, the ‘exercise’ ring shows how many minutes of activity you’ve logged, and the ‘stand’ ring shows how many times you stood and moved for at least one minute per hour.
The default setting on the watch to close your exercise ring is 30 minutes of activity. And almost immediately I started noticing how easy it was for me to close that ring. I had a day off scheduled, during which I would usually do yoga or take a walk, as these activities are “easy” for me.
I picked out a 30-minute yoga video on YouTube focusing on stretching and muscle recovery, and when I was done, my Apple Watch turned on to celebrate that I had closed my exercise ring. I was really surprised that something that requires little effort on my part would be considered exercise.
I also started noticing how my “move” and “exercise” circles began to close while I was doing chores like cleaning my bathroom, mopping my floor, or doing the dishes. My mind was blown. The things I had to do around my apartment counted as exercise?
I started putting it all together in my brain. If I did a quick, relaxing yoga class and tidied up my apartment a bit, that was enough exercise for the day. If I took a relaxing 3 mile walk after work with my boyfriend to chat about our days, that counted too.
I didn’t need to lift more than my body weight or do more burpees in an hour than some people do in their lifetime for it to “count” as exercise. Sure, I still find it fun and rewarding to do these types of workouts, but I don’t struggle anymore when “all I’m doing” is an after-work walk or a yoga flow that day.
A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has shown that the best way to fight while sedentary is to move more, and that movement doesn’t have to include a trip to the gym. Researchers have found a link between 30 minutes of easy, low-intensity daily activity — such as walking — and a reduced risk of premature death.
So, improving your health doesn’t always mean maximizing your heart rate or muscle load.
“Data can be useful in showing people a bigger picture. Exercise doesn’t have to be painful – sometimes the only exercise we do will be cleaning the house because it has to be done and we can’t. not take the time to go to the gym, but then we realize that cleaning the house is also a movement, which was previously ignored,” says Roth-Goldberg. “It’s important to recognize that moving our bodies can be good without having to sweat or even structure the movement. This can relieve some people of their rigid ideas about exercise.”
Although I’ve come a long way, I’m still working on being easier on myself. And Roth-Goldberg has some advice on how to do this.
“Tune into your intrinsic self — if you find you like less intense movements, honor that,” she says.
She also recommends writing down any beliefs you have about exercise, as having them written down in front of you can help you reassess whether they are true.
“Another great activity is to write down how you feel before a low-intensity movement and then do the same afterwards,” she says. “You can often see that you benefit from these low intensity movements and that you feel positive things – thoughts, energy, stress relief – from these low intensity movements. It’s hard to ignore the movements that benefit you personally .”