7 Non-Weight-Related Reasons to Exercise
When I was in my teens, whenever my mom brought up my weight, it was inevitable that she also talked about exercise. The implication, of course, was that if I just exercised more, I’d lose weight.
That’s never been true, though, and some people are finally starting to realize it. Recent studies have shown that exercise does very little for weight loss, for a few reasons:
· You don’t burn that many calories while exercising – you burn a lot more just through your basal metabolism
· You may eat more when you start exercising more
· You could also slow down more in the rest of your life if you’re tired from a workout
Plus, keeping a weight focus can make some people very anti-exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight and you’re very diligent about walking, running, biking, etc., and the scale doesn’t budge, you’re likely to get discouraged and stop exercising, even if it helped you feel better in other ways.
It’s also important to remember that exercise doesn’t have to mean running a marathon, going to the gym for two hours, or doing anything extreme. Moderate activity – including things like gardening, cleaning, and playing with kids or pets – also counts.
With that in mind, here are seven benefits you can get from exercise (or activity, if you prefer that word) that have nothing to do with weight.
1: Improves your mood
One of the best things about exercise is that it can give your mood an immediate boost. If you can get outside to exercise, even better, but wherever you are, physical activity releases endorphins, which will make you happier.
Exercise is also a great stress relief and it can help lower anxiety, although with a caveat. If you go for a walk, for example, and spend the whole time stewing about something or having imaginary debates in your head with whoever has upset you, it won’t be very relaxing. (Not that I speak from experience or anything.)
The key is to focus on what you’re doing and get out of your head for a while. And it doesn’t have to be for long. Even ten minutes will help.
2: Reduces pain
Somewhat surprisingly, exercise can also reduce pain. To me, this seems counterintuitive since I think of exercise as something that can exacerbate an injury, and certainly, some exercises should be avoided depending on your situation.
But for those with chronic pain, exercise can reduce the amount of pain, which in turn improves quality of life. For other types of pain, such as fibromyalgia or low back pain, exercise also helps.
And even if you don’t have any particular injury or condition, you may find that exercise increases your tolerance for pain.
3: Increases energy levels
Another benefit is improved energy levels. Even though you’re expending energy by exercising, when you engage in regular activity, you’ll improve your cardiovascular system. This means your heart and lungs work better, and you’ll find that you won’t get winded as easily.
Plus, when all areas of your body get oxygen and nutrients more efficiently, you’ll feel better and more energetic overall. This can turn into a positive feedback loop because you might then want to be more active.
4: Lowers risk of chronic diseases
You may have heard a lot of alarm in recent years about how sedentary many of us are these days, and it’s true that inactivity can increase your risks of certain chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
What’s important to remember is that regular exercise can help with these things even if your weight doesn’t change. The activity alone can bring some improvements, and that’s the real goal.
5: Helps you sleep better
Lots of people have trouble sleeping these days, and if you’re one of them, exercise may be able to help with that as well.
Exercise has been found to help people fall asleep more quickly, as well as have better quality sleep. It also doesn’t seem to matter too much what kind of exercise it is, either. But you may want to avoid it too close to when you want to sleep since the initial energy boost could keep you awake.
6: Improves brain health and memory
Exercise helps you mentally in another way, by improving your ability to focus and sharpening your memory. The hormones released by exercise – serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – improve your attention. This is good for anyone, but it’s especially useful for those with conditions like ADHD.
Additionally, exercise can protect against age-related decline. It can also increase the growth of new brain cells, particularly the hippocampus, which is important for both learning and memory.
7: Strengthens bones and muscles
And finally, exercise can improve your bones and muscles. For younger people, weight-bearing exercises can build bone density, and for those later in life, they can help ward off osteoporosis.
As people age, they’re also more likely to lose muscle mass. Keeping up regular exercise reduces that and allows you to maintain greater strength, and if you get into the habit at a younger age, it’s easier to keep exercising when you get older.
Moving your body helps in many ways
Incorporating some movement and physical activity into your life won’t help too much if your main focus is losing weight.
But if you’re interested in having more energy, sleeping better, improving your concentration and mental health, strengthening your body, and reducing your risk of chronic illnesses, exercise will deliver. And those are all much better goals to focus on than numbers on a scale.