In theory, most of us know that exercise is good for us. We’re aware that it can help us lose weight or maintain our current weight. But if you’ve ever struggled with the motivation to workout (*raises hand*) then you might need a reminder that although weight-loss is great – it’s not the only reason to exercise.
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Plus, in today’s crazy world, (read: pandemic) we could all use a little inspiration to make our health a priority.
Sports medicine physician and sports psychiatrist Thomas Mick, MD, shares seven benefits of exercise that go beyond losing weight. Keep a few of these in your back pocket, so that the next time you’re thinking about ditching your workout, you have all the more reason to do it.
- It can make you feel happier. Who doesn’t love the rush of endorphins after a brisk walk or spin class? Endorphins are hormones that reduce pain and boost pleasure, creating a general feeling of well-being and positivity. So before you roll your eyes at your enthusiastic fitness instructor, consider how a steady state of endorphins does the body good. Endorphins also act as a natural painkiller and can help ease long term aches. Regular exercise can strength muscles, lessening chronic pain and your risk of injury. In the words of Elle Woods, exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!
- Exercise can give you more energy. Physical activity increases your heart rate and gets your blood flowing. More oxygen and nutrients to your muscles means higher energy levels. And although it seems odd that expending energy can actually give you more energy, science backs this claim up. One study found that 90% of people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to those who did not exercise. Next time you’re considering an extra cup of coffee to perk you up, consider a walk instead.
- It promotes quality sleep. Exercise can reduces stress and anxiety levels, leaving you feeling more relaxed and stabilized, which is a perfect zone for sleep. Working out can also raise your body temperature and make you feel more alert throughout the day, but it can also help you drift off better when your internal temperature starts to dip back down. If you exercise outside, exposure to vitamin D can also regulate your wake-sleep cycle. Just tread carefully with when you work out and how close it is to bedtime.
- It can help fight depression. Research shows that for mild or moderate cases of depression, exercise can be an effective treatment, says Dr. Mick. But don’t think you need to start training for a marathon to gain the benefits. One study showed that just six weeks of yoga (in addition to standard treatment) was enough to reduce depression and even anxiety. Yoga and Pilates also focus on breathing exercises, which can reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- It can boost your brain health. Exercise is beneficial for maintaining brain health for everyone, but even more for those who are at risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Movement promotes cardiovascular health, improves blood flow to the brain and reduces inflammation.
- Exercise can help you feel more productive. Isaac Newton was on to something when he said “Objects in motion stay in motion.” With the pump of endorphins, rush of positivity and increased energy, it’s no wonder many people claim they feel more productive on days when they exercise. Dr. Mick says that even those who are going through depression seem to fair better when they exercise, even if it’s just a little bit. “It might be because of the movement or it might be because the person actually got up, left the house and did something,” he says. Still, the feeling of accomplishment after a workout is always exciting and motivating. Plus, exercise can make you feel less groggy and irritable, paving the way for a more productive day.
- It can help you live longer. Healthcare providers recommend regular exercise to improve or prevent conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer and obesity. But it also keeps your bones, muscles and joints healthy, lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure and protects your mental health. All of these amazing benefits can add up to one thing – living longer (plus feeling good).
How to increase your odds of exercising (and actually stick with it)
The current guideline for physical activity for adults is to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. But we all know that exercise and making it to the gym is easier said than done.
Dr. Mick offers these suggestions and tips for incorporating exercise into your life:
- Find an exercise buddy. You’re less likely to ditch your workout if you know you’re meeting your friend at the gym. Finding someone to exercise with will help hold you accountable and chances are you’ll feel more committed. Plus, choosing to work out with a friend serves as motivation to not only get moving, but it’s time spent together and a chance to bond.
- Make it part of your routine. According to Dr. Mick, it takes most people 2 to 6 weeks to get into a pattern of regular exercise. And although the first couple weeks may be the hardest, the longer you do it, the more it becomes a part of your daily or weekly routine. Eventually it will start to become normal to you, like brushing your teeth. The goal is to develop a mindset where exercise is part of your lifestyle and there’s no expiration date for it.
- Schedule it. Leaving your workout up to chance is never a good idea. Dr. Mick encourages patients to get a physical wall calendar and schedule a couple of days each week when you’re going to exercise. It could be as simple as picking two days a week to go walk at the park, or setting a goal that you’re going to swim laps every other morning during the week. If a physical calendar isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to block off time on your digital schedule. Treat your exercise time like an important meeting that you can’t cancel.
- Sign up for a fitness class ahead of time. Most fitness studios now require signing up in advance for a spot in the class. This usually means that you can only cancel the class during a specific window and most studios will charge you if you don’t show up or cancel outside of the designated timeframe. Each week, take a look at your schedule and determine what classes you’ll attend and register for them in advance. Knowing that you can’t back out at the last minute will help you get your butt to class.
- Find your reason why. For many people, an exercise program is all about losing weight. For others, it’s about becoming healthier to fight off disease. And for some, moving the body feels like therapy. Whether you’re exercising to lose weight so that you can keep up with your kids, trying to reduce your risk of heart disease or turning to running instead of addiction – find your reason for why you do it. Then on hard days, when the last thing you want to do is move, dig into your reason and use it as motivation.
Also don’t forget, always consult with your healthcare provider before embarking on any sort of new exercise program.
“If we could bottle up exercise, it’d be the best selling pill in the world,” says Dr. Mick.
So until then, it’s important that we put in effort to move our bodies. In the end, we’re the only ones who can make the decision for ourselves, but the benefits are long-lasting.