The Emotion of Motion

By Cindy Present – July 1, 2020

Why movement is more important than exercising. 

For many decades, movement for me was an exercise of pursuit. I spent years chasing PRs (personal records), key race qualifications, best finishes and podium results through swim, bike, run, paddle, adventure, water ski and more. The reason I would set my alarm, cling to a very strict, disciplined schedule and constantly be calculating and strategizing was for the physical result. In return, I’d receive satisfaction through the rush and adrenaline from exciting finishes, top placements and world competition qualifications. 

At the end of each day, I’d crawl into bed drained and exhausted, download my Garmin data, compare and contrast numbers, replot the needs of the next day and remaining week and then get up and do it all over again.

Mentally and emotionally, the joy was more about the end result, with minimal gratification in the moment, as it was stressful to the mind and body, constantly pushing, digging deeper and going longer. There were not many days that I experienced those “feel-good hormones” while endurance training. It felt good to be done and have accomplished the plan at hand, but physically and mentally, I was spent. 

With such long distances, the body stays in quite a stressed state, releasing plenty of cortisol through body strain, pain and daily exhaustion. Frankly, on many days, just thinking about getting out of bed again at 4:30 a.m. to hit the pool before a 100-mile bike ride sent my cortisol rocketing before my feet even hit the ground.

When I moved on from that regime and structure of the swim, bike, run pursuit and the “have-tos” of my daily routine, it opened up an entirely new opportunity for me to consider moving myself mentally and emotionally in addition to physically. Activity no longer needed to be a premeditated architecture of periodization, peaks and tapers where every day’s exercise was a “have-to” planned months in advance. Now, instead, although still highly active and quasi-competitive, I find a new joy and excitement in waking up and letting my body, mind and soul move me to a more holistic approach. 

Instead of “What do I ‘have to’ do today to meet my physical goals?” I ask myself, “What do I ‘want to’ do today that my entire being will benefit from collectively?”

Just as the saying “have to” conjures more mental anguish to me than “get to,” so does the difference in the words “exercise” and “movement.” Even in their literal definitions, these two words portray their oppositions of intent — “exercise,” more of a regime of practice, discipline and exertion versus “movement,” a journey and evolution that can stir and evoke feelings and emotions. 

I work a great deal with individuals, athletes and even organizations who are not motivated by activity they do not enjoy. Not a news flash, but for some, the reward is big enough that the pain of the pursuit is worth it. But for others, approximately 90 percent of them, their desire to be active isn’t about a long-term goal or event, but simply a daily desire and value: to get out and move. For these individuals, it feels more like a “have-to,” and that’s when it becomes key to find the type of activity that is not “exercise” but a form of movement that engages the heart, the mind and the emotions that elicit a smile, feel good, create flow, bring back some fun childhood memories and give them a hit of those happy hormones: dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

When we put the emotion back into motion, then movement is a “get to” again, and the mental and emotional spark we receive scientifically keeps us coming back for more. 

The human body was designed to move; it does not have to be something unenjoyable. Don’t like to run? Don’t do it. There are a gazillion other forms of movement. Same with cycling — if sharing the road on two wheels feels way too stressful, figure out a different program (I get it, I’m one of those locals hit while cycling).

The point is that movement should not be an exercise of dread and stress when the goal is to get out and de-stress. Find an activity that creates total health and wellbeing by holistically connecting body, mind and soul to provide joy, happiness and fulfillment.

I’ve always been a type-A multi-tasker, doing as much as I can, wanting the biggest “bang for my buck” when it comes to time and productivity and always striving for the best results. And just saying, as a highly competitive athlete, with all the races being postponed or cancelled recently, removing the aggressive scheduling and “have to” away from my planned activity has opened up space for new intentions for the purpose of why I move. I have found myself seeking movement that intentionally and completely fulfills me in the moment as opposed to the diligence and vigor of just exercise.

I recently had a client tell me that during her quarantine at home, like many others, her gym closed. And at the same time, her lawn crew was sheltering at home and consequently her grass was getting very long. So, she broke out the lawnmower and began mowing weekly. And know what? She fell in love with the activity. She loved her time in nature. She was captivated by the mesmerizing flow of walking behind her mower; connecting with and taking care of the land fulfilled her “primal” instincts; and caring for her home empowered her. “Funny,” she told me. “I’m getting the same number of steps on my tracker as I did on the treadmill, but I’m enjoying it a heck of a lot more.” Thus, the return, the fulfillment and “emotion” created by the motion was much more holistic. She was not only physically benefitting, but she was claiming a higher level of mental and emotional return and gratification.

Clearly, mowing the lawn isn’t for everyone. But that’s just the message. What is for you? What moves your body to release dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and adrenaline while you are being active? If it feels good physically, mentally and emotionally, then there is no wrong choice. Your mind will respond to it just as your body will. Odds are when you find your match, scientifically, your “happy hormones” will leave you craving for more, and you will want to return to the activity over and over again. Better yet, if you skip it, you will miss it – and that’s when you know you’ve made the right choice of putting the emotion back into motion.


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