Confessions of a Naturopath: I hate working out.

June 15, 2015


By Dr. Shannon Vander Doelen, ND

In honour of MOVILITY month at IHI, I have a confession to make – I hate working out. Yes you read that right – I’m a naturopathic doctor that hates working out. In high school I played on a number of sports teams and worked part time as a lifeguard and swimming instructor – I was a pretty active teenager! Off to university I went, and the concept of “going to the gym” was introduced to me. Every semester I paid for the membership that allowed me access to the weight/cardio rooms and classes (Oh, the classes! They sounded so fun!) And every semester I would learn after a week or two that I had wasted my money (and in my 4 years at Guelph I think I went to just 4 Zumba classes). I spent 8 years in post-secondary education going through mostly the same drill – buying gym memberships, trying to get myself to go work out, and being disappointed in myself when I didn’t follow through on my expectations. By the end of Naturopathic College, I wasn’t in the best shape, and what was worst is that I was feeling pretty lousy about it. How was I supposed to go out into the world and tell people that they should be exercising when I couldn’t even commit to it myself? Fast-forward to today – and I believe I’m in the best shape of my life. What’s changed? I stopped worrying about working out and just started moving.

I have tried to be as open minded as I can to trying new things – I have learned to play squash and tennis, I started riding my bike again (something I hadn’t done much of since high school) and despite being a bit nervous, I use it as my main mode of transportation around the city. I regularly go for walks with my husband, friends or family. We explore new neighbourhoods and parts of the city that we’ve never been to. This summer I’m playing on a softball team, and I’m hoping to get out of the city a few times to hike, swim, canoe, and experience nature in cottage country. I also use the gym in my condo from time to time when the weather isn’t cooperating or I feel like I just want to move my body! To me, not one of these things ever feels like working out, but the benefits to my physical and mental health would tell you that they are. The pros of movement are no secret to any of us – we’ve talked lots about them on this blog in fact. But what I’ve come to realize is that movement, in any form, is what I want to preach to my patients. Yes, this might take you a bit out of your comfort zone, but that’s where all the change happens! I know it can be challenging, intimidating, and downright scary. To help you get started, here are my top 5 tips for incorporating movement into your life.

  1. Do something you enjoy. Maybe you love classes at the gym, awesome! But remember that it’s okay if you don’t. Did you use to play a sport or do an activity as a teen that you enjoyed? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? I can almost guarantee that there are other adults out there doing it too and would be happy to have you join them. (Also, don’t get me wrong, I love a good Zumba class. My sister is even a Zumba instructor, family dinners can get a little rowdy.)
  2. Add it in to your routine. There are things that you do every day right? Think about how you can incorporate a bit of movement into some of the tasks you are already doing on a regular basis. Get off the subway a stop sooner, park your car in the back of the parking lot, stand up and walk around each time you are on the phone, do wall or counter push ups when you are waiting for your coffee to brew, or do some squats during each commercial on TV. Every little bit counts.
  3. Move everyday. Sometimes this might take a bit of forethought, particularly during busy times. I often suggest to those who work a desk job to set an alarm on their phone to go off every hour to remind them to get up and move. Go to the washroom, grab a glass of water, do a loop around your office, or go up one or two flights of stairs and back down. There is a great video by Dr. Mike Evans from the University of Toronto who pleads of us all to limit our sitting to just 23 ½ hours per day – do you think you can do it?
  4. Think about function instead of the number on the scale. I view movement as more than just losing weight or achieving a certain figure. Movement, and in particular functional movement, is going to allow our bodies to remain active for longer. Whole body movement rather than isolated muscle strengthening is best for increasing our lean muscle mass and decreasing our fat mass, thus improving body composition, allowing us to move pain-free, and gives us the ability to move independently despite aging (think about things like getting in and out of a chair, or climbing up stairs).
  5. Get yourself a coach or cheerleader. If you are looking to move more but don’t know where to start, consider taking a lesson, joining a class, or finding a friend to help support you! There are lots of cool apps you can download that also guide you through how to move and coach you to keep going when you feel like giving up. Sometimes there is something else going on that is preventing us from moving – pain, injury, fatigue and even our mood can stop us in our tracks despite our best intentions. Your Naturopathic Doctor can also be a great help, and can give you individualized support to achieve your goals.

In honour of Movility, what steps are you going to take to move more? I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you!


IMG_2905_2Shannon will work with you to help you live your healthiest and happiest life. Since this means something different to everyone, she is excited about exploring your individual needs and working with you to create a treatment plan that is unique and sustainable for you and your busy lifestyle. Shannon is passionate about health and happiness and believes that the two go hand-in-hand.

Clinically, Shannon practices functional medicine. She maintains a general family practice, with a special interest in managing fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression; digestive health; skin health; irregular or painful menstruation; and endocrine/hormonal disorders.

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