How to: Move joyfully

April 15, 2023

How to: Move joyfully

How do you feel about movement? There’s a subtle but important distinction between moving because feel you have to and moving because you want to. It’s the difference between movement being a chore and an utter joy.

There are a couple of multi-billion-pound industries that have been busy loading movement with bad connotations. The diet industry and the newer health and wellness industry sell the thin, able body ideal as the picture of health. Because we’ve been sold this ideal, we believe that losing weight will make us healthier and movement starts being about losing weight and reaching health goals. This used to be exercise, but it now includes all movement – think about how your health watch beeps at you to get up and move every hour.

All this sucks the joy out of movement. If you’ve ever gone to the gym or crammed a swim into an already too busy day because you thought you had to, you’ll know exactly what we mean. It also detracts from the fact that movement makes us feel better. So, how do we keep it joyful?

The key is to take away expectation and listen to your body. Ban those phrases like ‘should’ and ‘have to’, ditch the health watch, embrace rest. When you have the time and space to move, do what you enjoy in the way that you enjoy it.

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Move for your body

We all know that movement is good for us physically. Your muscle fibres contract and relax when you move, which keeps their elasticity and power. It also loads the cartilage, ligaments, bones and tendons, which are called your connective tissues. Regularly loading these tissues through movement helps reinforce the collagen within them helps keep them strong.

Movement also improves circulation and therefore the oxygen and nutrients your blood takes to the cells and waste it removes form the tissues. It also helps reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol while increasing your metabolism and immunity. And, if you move regularly and with more intensity, your endurance also increases and that gives you more energy.

In her Body Story, Tracie told us how a lack of movement after she had surgery for cancer affected her physically, and how swimming in the sea helped her.

“In December 2019 I wasn’t moving much at all and I got very sick. My body basically started shutting down and I developed pneumonia,” she says. “I started to look for alternative ways to feel better and came across outdoor swimming as being a good method for boosting the immune system.

“The first time I wanted to go into the sea was January 2020. It was the middle of winter and freezing cold, and I’d just recovered from pneumonia but I knew I wanted my body to be enveloped by the icy waters and I desperately needed to boost my weak immune system," says Tracie. "After trying to convince me not to do it, my husband carried me into the sea. I lasted about a minute and a half that first time but the high was absolutely unbelievable and that was the start of cold water swimming for me. With each and every swim I felt my body become stronger and within two months of dipping every day I could get myself down to the water with just one crutch and I began to reduce my medication.”

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Move for your mind

As Tracie’s story shows, the physical benefits of moving more contribute to better mental health and wellbeing. This is partly because your body releases feel good hormones when you move and partly because it helps you feel proud of your body for being able to move, from challenging yourself and pushing out of your comfort zone.

For example, Mickey found playing rugby and then dipping in the sea – just for a minute or two – made the world of difference to her self-confidence. She talks a lot about being playful and how that brings joy to her physical activity.

“A lot of it is proving to myself that I am capable, which goes back to when I felt tiny and invisible,” she says. “I think rugby was about challenging myself and making a new friendship group that I hoped would pull me out of my shell and help me see how much value I have.

“I don't think I've ever got fully comfortable with cold water; I go in and I have the initial shock and then I can hold myself in there for like, one or two minutes,” says Mickey. “That discomfort and challenging myself is huge. It’s about deliberately seeking out stuff by yourself to be like, you can do this, you can do hard things. It’s also thinking that the sea doesn’t care what your problems are right now. The sea is just going to exist, whether it's stormy or calm, and you just need to get in there and let go of whatever's going on inside your head. So that discomfort brings a weird level of comfort and soothing.”

For Rachel, moving more through walking and sea swimming went a step further. Having been diagnosed with a mental illness, she told us that she had lots of therapy. But gentle activity and cold water also helped support her to improve her self-confidence.

“I’d just had my formal diagnosis and so I was on medication and not feeling well,” says Rachel. “But I did [cold water swimming] because I'd seen this thing called The Confidence Corner, which had this challenge called Wellness Our Way where you do something for yourself everyday through January. It was also Red January, which is where you do something active every day, and so I gave it a go.

“I remember getting into the water. It was so cold! I didn't enjoy it, by the way. But afterwards… I mean, part of me wonders if I was literally shocked into feeling again having been unwell and feeling really dissociated. But, I felt a glimmer of hope. And that was nice after a really long time of feeling like complete shit. So, I promised myself that I’d dip every month that year. And I did, but it became more than once a month. I got very into it.”

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Body confidence

One of the bonus benefits of moving more is feeling better about your body, and this is where removing expectation really is key – having fun with movement is a great way to help you appreciate your body for what it can do.

That doesn’t always mean setting yourself a huge challenge. Some of the women we’ve spoken to for our Body Stories have done amazing things like Mary, who lost a leg to bone Cancer at the age of 17 and then, in 2022, was a member of the first team of disabled swimmers to cross the North Sea from Ireland to Scotland.

Others, like Tracie, Mickey and Rachel are dippers. Their challenge was to get into cold water. The key is the change in mindset from being active because you want to lose weight or feel you have to, to moving because you enjoy it as Adya explains in her Body Story.

“I've always thought about the losing weight part, but it never really equated with exercise for me just because I've never done it for that reason,” she says. “My body has changed quite a lot because of all the different activities I now do, but I still wouldn't call myself skinny. I'm very active and very strong and I can do a lot of different things that I would never have even dreamed that I could do. So, for me, that's quite powerful and I have to constantly remind myself when they parade that skinny ideal body around that they can’t rescue people while kayaking in windy weather, and I can.

“I never realised how powerful it would be to do sport. I think that something people still don't really talk about is how life changing having that confidence from sport can be,” says Adya. “From a functional point of view, I feel really good about myself. I still have a lot of work to do about how I perceive my appearance, but I think that's ok; it’s a work in progress. Most of us have grown up thinking, I'm just not tall enough or thin enough, or whatever, but having that perception of yourself as a strong, confident woman is life changing.”

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How to move joyfully

So how do you make movement a joy not a chore? Our answer might not surprise you – pack your favourite D&B and go swimming. But we thought we’d ask Sarah, a health and wellness coach, for her thoughts.

“It’s about finding what lights you up, what motivates you,” she says. “That might be intrinsic, so the feeling of fun, satisfaction or accomplishment. Or it might be extrinsic, like getting a prize or praise. So, I do a swim fitness session in a pool every week with a friend. She’s extrinsically motivated and wants to achieve the accolade of completing an iron man. That does nothing for me – I go because it’s fun, it makes me feel good and me and my friend have a giggle.

“Your mindset is so important,” says Sarah. “Even if you are extrinsically motivated by a goal, it’s about remembering that you are doing an activity for you – and that you deserve it. That’s so important. And working on those intrinsic motivators like adding in play, fun, socialising, music, nature – whatever makes you happy – will help you enjoy being active and that makes you do it more.”

We make our swimwear to help you feel more confident when you move. It’s all about playing, having fun and finding joy.