Healthy vs. Unhealthy Exercise

By Kelley Doss, LPC-S, CEDS

Why do you exercise? How do you know if you are engaging in healthy exercise, or unhealthy exercise?  Did you know that unhealthy exercise was even a thing???


There are lots of myths in our society about exercise-that you can never exercise too much, that you should only do a certain kind of workout or it doesn’t “count”, that exercise should be a priority above all else.  In an effort to encourage ourselves and others to engage in activity as part of a healthy lifestyle, we have WAY overcorrected and created a shame-based culture around exercise.  We feel ashamed that we’re not moving enough, and/or we create a rigid work-out routine and feel like a failure the moment we deviate from it. 


As a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, I talk about exercise A LOT.  Over time, some themes have emerged in these discussions.  


Unhealthy exercise tends to involve rules and rigidity, be joyless, shame-based, and shame inducing. Unhealthy relationships with exercise tend to not be sustainable over long periods of time.  We burn out.  We all know what happens then.  We end up feeling badly about ourselves, and the cycle begins again. 


On the other hand, healthy exercise tends to be flexible and fulfilling.  It varies in the type of movement we are doing and the amount of time we are devoting to that activity.  This allows us to have a long-term relationship with movement, although our activity may look very different over time depending on our season of life.  

Here’s a “cheat sheet” of characteristics of healthy and unhealthy exercise:

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That’s right, y’all. At its core, unhealthy exercise is about hate.   And in the wise words of Lori Deschene, “you can’t hate your way into loving yourself.” Here’s to moving like we love ourselves.