What do you think of when you hear the word “exercise”? Do you imagine a casual stroll through the park or a grueling, uphill both ways, in the beating sun sprint? Do you think “no pain no gain”? If you’re not sweating you’re not working hard enough? Do you think the whole point of exercise is to lose weight, burn calories or achieve a specific body shape? If so, its time for you to rethink the true purpose of exercise!
Society has us under the impression that the one and only point of exercise is to work you body to the max, burn calories and ultimately lose weight. Many feel like if they aren't sweating daily, constantly sore or planning their next gym session then they aren't trying hard enough to be “healthy” or “in shape”. Its no wonder why so many people hate exercise and dread the gym! I would too if my only reason for working out were to achieve a specific body size! There are a countless number of reasons why we should include physical activity in our daily lives. However, the many benefits of exercise are commonly overlooked by people who have weight loss as their one and only goal. When the weight isn't changing like one may have hoped, people tend to give up on their exercise routines and end up missing out on all the other benefits exercise provides!
Exercise is a method of which we can maintain our weight, however, it is not the BEST way for one to achieve significant weight loss. Weight loss is thought to be a simple, calories in versus calorie out equation. However, there are many other factors that impact weight (stress, sleep, lifestyle habits, etc.). Exercise may help burn some calories, although, what and how much you eat actually has a much greater impact on how much you weigh! It’s a lot easier to eat 500
calories than it is to burn them. Think about it- it only takes 5 minutes to consume two slices of pizza but it may take 60+ minutes to burn that amount on the treadmill! So if you are seeking healthy, long-term weight loss, getting your diet under control first is going to be your best bet. Exercise should be used as an added bonus to your already healthy meal plan! The powerful duo of healthy eating and moderate exercise is the key to finding your body’s ideal, healthy weight! I encourage you stop working your body past it’s limits in hopes that one more hour on the spin bike will get you to your ideal weight goals. I promise you, by doing this, all you will get is an extremely sore butt and a strong dislike for the gym. Let’s get our diets under control and add in exercise to compliment it!
It’s also time to drop the belief that exercise is all about weight loss because there is so much more that you gain from being active that goes beyond what is seen in the mirror! Let’s start from the top with the brain. There are so many positive effects that exercise has on brain growth, development and function! Specifically, this includes: memory storage and retrieval, improved ability to learn and perform critical and analytical thinking tasks, increased mood due to endorphins released through activity, decreased risk of depression, anxiety and stress, slowed brain aging processes and degeneration of neural cells and decreased risk of developing diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The heart benefits greatly from exercise, as any form of physical activity increases the circulation of blood in the body which in turn strengthens the heart, arteries and veins. Exercise also aids in lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol while raising “good” HDL cholesterol. This all helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease, heart failure, and strokes!
Bones are strengthened through exercise, as the movement stresses bones which in response are built stronger by the formation of new bone cells. All weight bearing movements, such as walking, running and body weight exercises increase bone density which can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. Weight bearing exercise is important for teens and young adults as they can increase their peak bone mass before bone density begins to decline in their mid-30’s. At age 30, weight bearing exercises should be used to help maintain that peak bone density!
Muscles are built when we stress them through weight bearing or resistance exercises. Stronger muscles make daily activities such as walking, squatting and lifting much easier! When we workout, muscle fibers are broken down. When we rest and allow our body’s to recover after exercise, those muscles are replenished and made stronger by new muscle cells. As you continue resistance exercise, you may notice you are able to lift more than before due to these new muscle fibers present. Muscle is also more metabolically active than fat which causes us to burn more calories per day just by having a greater amount of muscle mass!
Digestion is often improved by regular daily activity as well. Physical activity is proven to reduce constipation and promote healthy bowel movements throughout the day. Over time, exercise may actually strengthen the muscles of the digestive tract which can reduce gas, bloating and stomach cramps.
People report feeling happier, more energetic and self-confident when engaging in regular physical activity! This is because exercise has a strong positive effect on mood. When we workout, our bodies release endorphins which produce a sense of euphoria (often referred to as the “runners high”). The best way to get this mood boost is by daily workouts- which can last even a short 10 minutes! It is shown that people who exercise excessively or for long periods, every few days may not get this mood enhancing benefit. As mood increases, the risk of depression, anxiety and stress also decrease!
One last benefit regular exercisers gain is improved sleep quality! It is proven that those who exercise are able to fall asleep faster and sleep longer and deeper than those who are sedentary! Sleep is so beneficial as a good night’s rest helps improve energy levels throughout the day, decreases cravings and helps control hunger.
All of these benefits (plus more) can be gained from regular physical activity. Now how much movement does one need to achieve these benefits? Probably not as much as you would think! The national guidelines for physical activity recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Aerobic activity is anything that gets your heart pumping- you could walk, run, swim, bike, dance, play catch with your kids or climb stadium steps! Along with aerobic activity, you should also include strength training (anaerobic activity) at least 2 times per week. These sessions should engage all muscle groups and can done using body weight, free weights, resistance bands or weight machines.
An example of a week may look something like this:
- Monday- 30-minute walk/run
- Tuesday- Full body weight routine (squats, lunges, pushups, jumping jacks, etc.)
- Wednesday- 30-minute bike ride
- Thursday- 30-minute swim
- Friday- Free weight workout (bicep curls, chest press, deadlifts, etc.)
- Saturday- 60-minute Zumba class
- Sunday- Rest!
OR maybe it looks like this:
- Monday- 60-minute run
- Tuesday- Barbell weight lifting class
- Wednesday- Rest!
- Thursday- 60-minute run
- Friday- TCX body weight class
- Saturday- 30-minute walk
- Sunday- Rest!
There are so many variations of exercise that you can choose to achieve your 150 aerobic minutes and 2 anaerobic sessions per week! I encourage you to try many different things and see what works for you! What workout do you enjoy? What makes you feel strong, energized and happy? Forget the calories burned and focus on how the movement makes you feel, because even without a noticeable change in weight, exercise is benefitting you in a countless number of other ways! Let’s learn to love exercise again, not for its effect on our appearance but for its amazing effects on our whole lives!