Self-care series: As we enter the season of giving and a time of year when many people struggle not only with getting enough exercise, but also with keeping up with self-care, let’s take a deeper dive into how to make exercise a form of self-care.  To do that, we need to look at self-care from all aspects of your ‘self’—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual and how to design exercise as a way to recharge your whole person, so you can be well now.  

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In the most recent article of this series, we made the connection between exercise and self-care for spiritual well-being. When your reasons for exercise are brought to their most elemental level of what is important to you (your Why), exercise is more energizing and motivation is more natural. Exercising for self-care starts with your Why as a guide to choose what to do for exercise so it supports your mental well-being. 

Your brain is hardwired to keep you well and it is constantly learning about what restores well-being for you. Each time you do something, your brain decides if it is worth doing again because it made you feel better, or if it is better to avoid because it made you feel worse.  

If you are going to choose exercise as a form of self-care, you need to choose exercise  in a way that restores your mental well-being. Rick Hanson, PhD gives a simplified way of understanding what your brain is looking for to keep you well. Your mind continuously seeks ways for you to be safe, contented, and connected. Use this checklist to apply that wisdom to exercise, to determine if what you are doing, or are planning on doing, for exercise will lead to whole-person well-being.   


Physically: what I do for exercise reduces my chances of injury and illness, and makes me feel more confident I can protect myself and others in an emergency.

Spiritually: what I do for exercise makes me feel free to be myself. 


Physically: what I do for exercise leaves me feeling better and more comfortable in my body now.

Spiritually: what I do for exercise allows me to do the things that make my life meaningful and to enjoy my passions. 


Physically: what I do for exercise allows me to connect with people I care about.  

Spiritually: what I do for exercise keeps me connected or grounded in my sense of who I am and what is most important to me in life. 

If there is something you are doing, or think you should be doing, for exercise that takes you away from this, it is lowering the health benefits of exercise because it is taking you away from self-care and your brain is more likely to make excuses like ‘you don’t have time’ or ‘you can’t do that exercise right now’. When what you do for exercise satisfies each one of these criteria, every time you exercise, your brain senses you are well. This puts your body in healing and repair mode and your brain wants you to keep doing it again and again.  

If you go down this checklist and say ‘sure, exercise would do all of that for me, but why am I still not motivated to do it?’, it means your brain isn’t making the connection between what you are doing and feeling feeling safe, contented, and connected. That’s why an essential part to making this work is staying aware of what you are getting from exercise. Rick Hanson calls it “taking in the good”. Your brain is hardwired to notice what is missing and skip over what is going well. This tendency toward the negative is there to keep us safe, so it takes a bit of extra effort to help your brain see when exercise is putting you in a state of whole-person well-being. 

What to do for exercise so it leads to mental well-being varies from person to person and situation to situation. Because life is full of changes, you need a way to stay up-to-date about how to exercise in the way that leads to mental well-being. How you feel and what you sense in your body is what we call feelings or emotions. They are your built-in feedback loop to the brain about your state of mental well-being. The next part of this series on exercise as self-care will explore how to use this by exercising for emotional well-being. 

Bottom line: Exercise becomes self-care when we let our Why guide what we do to be well now. Understanding mental well-being allows us to make this connection between our Why (spiritual well-being) and what we choose what to do for exercise. When it satisfies your brain’s need to keep you safe, contented, and connected, exercise becomes a form of whole-person self-care.  

Bonus! Click here for a Recharge Pause™ called Moving Gratitude. It takes Rick Hanson’s practice of ‘taking in the good’ and brings it from your mind into your body.   Experience how exercise (AKA Movement for self-care), in under two minutes, can restore your sense of being safe, contented and connected in your mind and your body. Enjoy!

Be Well Now,


Exercising WELL gives you a whole toolbox of user-friendly ways to exercise to restore well-being in your own personalized way.  Start by clarifying your Why for exercise in a FREE coaching call with me. No strings. No commitment. Just a conversation that lets you unleash your natural motivation to be well now.  Click here to schedule your call.