Gentle Exercise for Restless Legs Syndrome

Because I want to be free of diet culture, I’ve been working with my therapist on learning intuitive eating.

Besides all the new thinking regarding food, bodies, and accepting oneself, something that has influenced my thinking and lifestyle is the emphasis on gentle movement. People who subscribe to intuitive eating are very clear that militant, “no pain no gain” exercise is not respectful of your body and is not the path to living a nourished life.

No runner's high for me

I’ve done the boot camps. I’ve tried to be a runner. I’ve done the “exercise class with your baby in a stroller” thing. I’ve punched and kicked and burpeed and pushed.

I’ve hated every minute of it and I haven’t seen significant changes in my body except that my body hurts when I do that kind of exercise. I get lightheaded, sweaty, mean, angry, exhausted, and injured. Who is that helping? Not me.

Gentle exercise for my mental and physical health

With the acceptance of my restless legs syndrome (RLS) and mental illness diagnoses, I’ve had to make a lot of lifestyle changes. I take medication, see a therapist, and try to be gentle with myself emotionally and physically.

Gentle exercise is the way to go for both my mental and physical health. When I used to do those high-intensity workouts, my RLS symptoms were through the roof. I’d be up at night aching and twisting in bed, much to the annoyance of my bed partner. I’d be exhausted the next day.

Sometimes the exercise would get easier, as my friends and the trainers promised it would. Usually, though, it wouldn’t. When I got a stress fracture, I quit and felt like I didn’t know how to exercise. I felt ashamed.

My worth is not defined by how hard I push myself

Now, I’ve been very active and gentle with myself in a way that helps me all over. No, I’m not trying to get shredded. I’m not trying to get my body “back.” It didn’t go anywhere. I’m walking. I’m doing pilates. I’m stretching. I’m lifting weights. I sometimes go on the elliptical or the stationary bike.

Most importantly, though, I’m not pushing myself to injury. I’m not trying to keep up with anyone or push myself further each time. One day I’ll feel like a long morning walk. Another day, once around the block is plenty. I’m not a failure or a bad person on the days I don’t walk up a mountain. I’m not worthless because my body has changed as I’ve gotten older and have been through trauma.

Treating my body with respect

When I treat my body with respect, it treats me better in return. Exercise helps me sleep better and it helps my mental health. My restless legs symptoms are lessened when I find a balance between being physically active and respectful of my body’s daily needs.

Doing exercise that focuses on feeling “good” instead of being in pain means that I’m in less pain more often. While this shouldn’t be a surprise, it was to me, as someone who was tied to diet and exercise culture for most of my life. I am not free or cured of disordered thinking, but I’m on a slow, gentle path to a life that makes me happier and more fulfilled.

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