How thinking like a kid might help you love exercising again

I was a very active child. I started ballet at three, and between running around the playground pretending to ride a pony, tap classes, trampolining, gymnastics, an uncharacteristic stint with Brazilian football sessions and the crowning glory of being Goal Keeper of the B team that would eventually beat the A team at the local borough council's inter-primary netball competition, I was pretty much always moving about somehow.

And it wasn't just because I was obliged to. I was, indeed, incredibly privileged to have been enrolled in dance classes and taken to local swimming baths with school, but I also chose to move around. My brother and I were always outside. We were on our bikes or making dens or playing on the swing set or bouncing on the trampoline or dodging water balloons. And when we were inside we were making up complicated gymnastics routines to early Spice Girls albums or copying the moves from all our favourite music videos on The Box or doing handstands against the wall, dirtying the cream walls of the living room with our grubby feet.


When I got to secondary school I was obliged to take part in even more sports, not because of my own ability (because both my skill and enthusiasm for certain sports were certainly lacking), but because I went to a school so small that it pretty much required the involvement of the entire class to make up the team for an eleven aside hockey match. I kept dancing until I was sixteen, along with all the obligatory exercise at school but somewhere along the way I just stopped enjoying it. I didn't want to do PE. I hated sports day. I gave up ballet. I scratched my arms so my eczema would bleed and I was excused from swimming. I figured I just wasn't a 'sporty person' (which is legit, of course!) but how did I go from an active kid to an exercise-hating young adult? Maybe it's just what happens with teenagers, maybe it's because I was obliged to do types of physical activity that I didn't particularly enjoy, maybe other stuff got more important (see: boys & Barcadi Breezers), but I have another inkling of what the cause for this about turn might be.

I didn't like it because there was no association with fun anymore.

It wasn't for pleasure. It wasn't  a neutral activity that I voluntarily engaged in. Movement moved away from being joyful and became linked to punishment. It's probably because of being more susceptible to messages from media as I got older, my body changing and the weight loss chat beginning (cue I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman backing track) that physical activity became a tool to use to control my body, not to celebrate it. And once the joy was taken out of it, of course, I was less likely to voluntarily engage in it.

Even though in the past couple of years I've really learnt to love exercise, I think there's a lot to be said for thinking like a kid to bring you back to liking exercise. Recently I had planned a run on a Monday evening but when the time came, I just didn't feel like it. It was too hot, the muscles in my legs felt tight but I didn't fancy going to the gym either. My boyfriend suggested going on a little walk instead and he brought along his much loved frisbee. I'd said we'd just stroll for thirty minutes but we ended up jumping around and playing catch and practising handstands on the local green for an hour. It all brought me straight back to being a kid. I wasn't thinking about my heart rate or calorie burn or flexibility, it was just about being fun. I flung myself around trying and failing to catch the frisbee. My head went dizzy after a cartwheel. I promised about 17 times that I would try the handstand, just once more.   

That sense of play and a child's mind is something that I really want to keep incorporating into my exercise routine. Whether that's taking a break when I need to, just like a child would or stopping for a go on the slide when a run gets tough, or trying something new and not judging myself for not being the best at it, or just by continuing to ask myself, is this exercise still fun?

So if you're having a tough time with either motivation to exercise or guilt surrounding it, maybe thinking back to what you loved to do as a kid would help. What did you love to do as a child? What type of movement made you happy? Odds are that when you were a kid, at least for a little  while, you probably didn't  think of exercise as being an instrumental activity, a weapon of choice in the battle against your body, a punishment for the crime of eating Party Rings, so try to harness that and think, what type of movement would you choose to do if it had nothing to do with changing your body?

I know it sounds stupid, but maybe bringing exercise back to being the neutral, joyful activity that it (hopefully) was in childhood, could help in changing your mindset today. So whethe it's a few forward rolls on the field or skipping or hula hooping, bringing a child's mind to exercise might just bring back a bit of the old you.