Many of my clients aren’t sure how they feel about “exercise.” The topic truly is confusing. Is there a difference between sports or dance and exercise? Does any activity constitute exercise, including vacuuming and gardening? Is exercise simply moving our bodies or is it only about improving them?

One of my clients said that growing up no one in her rather sedentary family mentioned or engaged in exercise except her mother when she wanted to lose weight. Then, she spoke incessantly about “needing to get more exercise.” This client, quite naturally, associated exercise with weight loss—and hardship. Oddly, she didn’t associate the long walks she loved to take by herself in the woods as a child as exercise. They were peaceful, interesting, and invigorating, a comforting getaway from her troubled family. Another client, who identifies herself as heavy, adores riding horses. Very little makes her happier. She’s never said to me that it’s good exercise to ride though it’s a highly strenuous activity. Yet another client is hooked on pickle ball because it’s highly social and competitive, two aspects of the sport she loves.

I grew up with a father who played golf weekly rain or shine and parents who took dancing lessons. I started taking tap when I was a child and have continued on and off (mostly off) throughout my 69 years. Exercise? Heck no. I love to dance and do it any and every chance I get. I remember riding my bike as a child and not wanting to go home. It was pure delight. In my 20s, I took my life into my hands and occasionally biked to work in Boston traffic as a way to save money on gas. Swimming has been meditative for me since I’ve moved to Florida. My point is that, even as a chubby kid, I loved to move my body. So moving it now remains a joyful pastime. I’m well aware of how fortunate I am to have such a positive view of physical activity.

My point here is that it’s crucial to understand what exercise means to you. If you associate it only with acquiring a “better body” or shedding pounds, it’s as if you’re saying that there’s something wrong with your body as is that needs to be fixed by movement—as opposed to feeling as if your body itself longs for and enjoys it. If you were a higher-weight child, you may have wanted to be more active but felt ashamed, found it too hard to participate in activities, or were excluded from neighborhood or school physical games or sports. If you lack positive associations with moving your body from earlier in your life, you may not have them now and will need to create positive associations and learn to find pleasure in movement, by whatever name you call it.