Joyful movement makes physical activity possible for all

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011

With graceful, circular movements, the room full of participants flowed through the form of an ancient Chinese martial art called tai chi. Though the movements are slow and steady, this practice is a form of exercise that Juneau participants of all ages and sizes have been benefiting from for the past several years.

Regardless of body type, age, size or ability, everyone benefits from physical activity. The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend adults need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days each week, beyond activities of normal living. Unfortunately, many Americans still find it challenging to meet these recommended levels.

Participants at this level three tai chi class shared their motivations for sticking with their chosen physical activity.

Suzanne Greely said, “I just feel so good when I practice tai chi, and I also feel good afterwards. It feels good to move.”

“This form of movement is a great way for me to de-stress,” added Sandra Stanway. “Also, we love the instructors.”

Becky Boone supplied another reason for choosing this particular activity.

“I started doing tai chi to improve my balance,” she said, “and it has worked.”

Though the participants differed in their individual motivations, they all shared enthusiasm for an activity they had been practicing for several years. Finding joy in movement was the key to their continued commitment.

Get in the mood to move

When we look forward to being active, physical activity ceases to be a chore that has to be done purely for health reasons or out of guilt. Instead, we associate moving our bodies as something positive and something that feels good. Joyful movement (physical activity) then becomes a part of our lives.

Self analysis is helpful in exploring what activities are most compatible with the individual. A coordinated effort between the University of Wyoming, Montana State University and the University of Idaho called “WIN the Rockies” led to the development of a self-assessment tool called “Matching your Motive to Move,” available on the group’s website.

The tool matches recommendations for joyful movement activities according to a person’s personal motivations. For instance, people looking for self-improvement and stress relief may be interested in trying yoga, karate or tai chi. Others looking for social interactions may wish to try a dance class or join a sports team. The tool also lists activities that may not align well with a person’s motivations so that a person can “think twice” before pursuing those kinds of activities.

Overcome obstacles

My own life experience reflects the importance of finding joy in movement for starting and staying physically active. In grade school, I was the woefully uncoordinated kid with Coke-bottle glasses, despised by all gym teachers. When we were supposed to run, I walked; when we had to play ball, I hid in the bathrooms. The only time I exerted myself was in a losing battle of tug-of-war with the coaches as they wrenched a smuggled library book from my stubborn hands.

Coming from a family where everyone is of short height and small stature, my sister and I often felt discouraged trying to keep up with the rest of the kids at team sports. Although we were tempted to give up and stay sedentary, our parents encouraged us to look for activities in which size did not matter. Outside the school setting, we joined a low-cost gymnastics program offered at the city’s parks and recreation center. Dedication, practice and genuine interest were the main requirements for joyful movement, rather than size.

Although activities can cost money and time, my parents understood the importance of physical activity. They considered involvement in a joyful movement activity to be a long-term investment in the development of new skills, physical strength, discipline and good health.

Even to this day, I am more willing to spend time and money now on an enjoyable physical activity than to spend money and time later on medications and expensive hospital visits. After all, studies have consistently found that regular physical activity plays an important role in reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis.

Nevertheless, joyful movement activities need not be expensive ventures. The library offers a wide variety of exercise videos. The internet is also great source of blogs and instructional videos for activities such as dance, aerobics, yoga and more. Many outdoor activities, such as walking or hiking, are free after the initial investment in basic equipment, such as shoes or hiking boots.

In Juneau, we are very fortunate to have a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities available. Many instructional classes around town are offered at a sliding scale according to one’s income, and increasingly, employers are offering wellness incentives to make physical activity opportunities more affordable. In essence, there is something for everyone.

As the tai chi students moved their arms and legs to the pattern of the form, instructor Barbara Greening noticed the faces in the room.

“Smiles,” she observed. “This is good, because smiling gives us energy.”

• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau. She can be contacted at

• Consider trying different activities.

• Choose an activity that fits your personality and interests.

• Avoid comparing yourself with others.

• Start slow and allow time after physical activity for the body to rest and recover.

• Pay attention to how the body feels when doing a specific movement to monitor for injury and to gauge the effects of the movement.

• Be positive. Remember that making mistakes is part of any learning process.

• Anyone with a medical condition should consult a medical professional before engaging in physical activity.

• Matching your Motive to Move activity online: (Click on A New You: Health for Every Body in the menu, and select Lesson 7:1 and 7:2)

• Tai chi in Juneau:

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