Confession: I really hate the whole ‘exercising to lose weight’ thing. It’s, well, kind of boring. And it’s also not long-term inspiring.
I get it, though—in the beginning the vast majority of us (who weren’t athletes in our youth) probably started exercising, aka: ‘working out,’ to lose weight. I know I did!
When I first started working out and lifting weights with a structured plan in a for-real gym, it was between the my junior and senior years in college. I wanted to look more like the other girls I knew, to be more slim and ‘toned.’ That was it. That was my big motivation to exercise—just to be, well, skinnier.
To my surprise, a magic thing happened in the first 3 months of following this structured plan—I fell in love with the process. Or, more accurately, I fell in love with lifting weights and more in love with running. The time spent on cardio machines trying to ‘burn off the fat’ I could have done without (literally, it turns out—but that’s another story).
Since then, I’ve been up and down the scale a few times, been on dedicated plans and gone through phases where I’ve been completely off-plan, but for the past 10 years, I’ve been dead consistent.
Yes, weight loss was often initially a motivating factor, but it’s not what’s brought me back to the gym, or gotten me out on the road, or busting out my loop bands at home week after week.
What’s kept me moving consistently through lifestyle changes, pregnancies, illnesses, surgeries and other adversities are the following 4 reasons. These reasons are also why I’m wholeheartedly dedicated to getting other people just like you to start exercising, exercise more regularly, and keep exercising for life.
1. Exercising just plain makes us feel better.
I’m sure you’ve seen a tank, t-shirt or meme somewhere at one point that said, “You’re just one workout away from a good mood.” Well, it’s not just some gym addict’s cute little slogan—it’s actually, physically true.
Exercise—physical movement in general—does put us in a better mood. Our bodies are hard-wired to move, from the most primitive parts of our brains. It started out as a survival mechanism, because we needed to find or hunt food to survive, so our brains were wired to create biochemical systems by which we could get food more easily. Meaning, our brains were wired to give our bodies what they need to move, chemically and hormonally, so that the body could get the fuel the brain needed to survive.
What this means for us now: our brains have created system by which we feel better and have ‘happy’ chemicals and hormones released when we move and exercise.
Just this one benefit alone has kept me working out consistently—even, and especially, on the days I DIDN’T feel like working out AT ALL. I know I will feel better afterwards, so it’s always worth putting in the 10 to 60 minutes of effort that day.
Like today. I didn’t really want to workout. Having a glass of wine and kicking up my feet sounded way better! BUT I knew I would feel better afterwards…so I worked out. Then I felt better—not like ‘over-the-moon’ estatic, but in a calmer, happier state of mind.
Those workout efforts don’t need to be intense to work for us: it can be as simple as taking a walk outdoors for 5-10 minutes, or getting down on the floor and doing some planking, or glute bridging for 5-10 minutes. Even the shorter workouts give us those ‘feel better’ benefits.
We just have to move a bit to get that ‘feel better’ side effect.
2. Exercise increases brain activity and improves academic performance.
Thank you, evolution! Because of the way our brains are wired, after we’ve exercised, our thinking abilities become enhanced. Due to the chemicals released in the brain and the effects on the learning and memory centers of the brain, we are primed to be able to think more clearly, creatively and quickly after exercising.
I know after I’ve worked out—especially after workouts that combined something that elevated my heart rate and required some skill to do (movements where I had to concentrate on balance or direction)—I feel my ‘smartest,’ and solving problems, writing programs, and communicating with others just ‘flows.’
Other times, when I haven’t moved for much of the day, thinking through a complex idea, or understanding what I’m reading, or even giving my kids good reasons why they should or shouldn’t be doing something just feels HARD. It’s like having cotton in my brain.
But if I move a little—take the dog for a walk, or crank out a few squats or push ups or lunges, the mental fog lifts and I’m able to get things done way more easily.
Who doesn’t love being able to do more in less time with less mental struggle?
3. Exercise helps us manage our stress (and minimize distress).
To build muscle, we have to stress it—in a reasonable amount. This then promotes a repairing response by the body, where the muscle tissue is rebuilt to be stronger when allowed adequate time to recover without more stress. Too much stress, and we create sprains and strains. Too little stress, no muscle growth.
Same with our brains and our neural plasticity! With regular, but appropriate stress—the kind we apply to our bodies through exercise, we condition our brain and nervous system to handle stress better and to recover better from episodes of stress. Over time, we also improve our threshold for stress, too—it takes more stress to provoke a stress reaction, and our bodies learn how to recover more quickly instead of staying in that stressed condition.
“The great thing about exercise is that it fires up the recovery process in our muscles and neurons. It leaves our bodies and minds stronger and more resilient, better able to handle future challenges, to think on our feet and adapt more easily.”
John H. Ratey, Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the mind
Bottom line: regular exercise improves our ability to deal with stress and raises our stress threshold (it takes more to stress us out than it used to!).
4. Exercising adds to our ‘I can do this’-ness
Let’s face it, life is full of things we can’t change, that we wish were different, and we can often feel blown about by life’s circumstances. And while we may not have control over what happens at work, or in our family, or amongst our friends, or where the army moves us, we can control one thing: our choices.
When we choose to exercise, especially consistently, we choose to help ourselves feel better, think better and manage stress better. We prove to ourselves, one choice at a time, one workout at a time, that we can do this.
Through consistently choosing to move our bodies, to do our PT/rehabilitative exercises, or go for runs, or show up to class, or go lift some weights, or take a walk, or get down on the floor and do some ab and glute work, we choose to take a little control over our own destiny—to influence the outcome a bit in our own favor.
When we keep ‘showing up and doing the work’ day after day, week after week, we prove something to ourselves; we prove that we can do this. We prove that we have the ability to withstand, to overcome, to get better ‘in spite of’ our circumstances. The more we choose to get up and move (even when we really don’t feel like it!), the more we prove that we are strong, resilient, capable people who choose to do good things for ourselves and grow in our strengths and abilities instead of shrink in the face of challenge.
“The more we do, the more we CAN do.”
We just have to get started DOING!
If you’re in need of a little extra ‘nudge’ to get moving consistently, want more real-life-doable and effective workout ideas, and are looking for a supportive community to help get you on track and keep you there, check out the Elevate with Kate FB community!
“Get Strong, Be Strong, Stay Strong.”
Our Mission: To create a supportive community of women who raise each other up as we actively pursue becoming our best selves, both in and out of the gym.
We are a community of women who strive to better our health, as well as our physical and mental fitness, with the goal of living fulfilling and satisfying lives.
Come check it out! https://www.facebook.com/groups/elevatewithkate/