We all know that exercise is good for us – studies, friends, family all probably tell this to you. And I can’t speak for any of you but I know that I don’t seem to get enough exercise – it seems to be much easier to sit in front of the TV and to waste away hours of our lives being entertained. In our home, we even have a treadmill in front of the TV but time on the treadmill is not even close to time in front of the TV. Why?
Part of it is a matter of time – though that’s certainly not an excuse for me (if I have time to watch TV, I have time to at least walk on the treadmill while watching TV). But for others – they have a long day of work where all they want to do when they get back home is to veg out. I think though that it’s a deeper issue – and one for me that I am constantly trying to address. It’s the story that I tell myself . Am I a person that takes fitness seriously? Am I someone that tries to eat healthy (at least 80% of the time)? Am I someone that has strength goals (lifting X amount of weight)? Am I someone that has cardio goals (running X km in Y minutes)? If the story that you tell yourself is that you are someone who needs some rest after a long work day that’s fine, but believe me that it won’t help you move forward in the other goals in your life (you have other things you want to accomplish right?). If the story you tell yourself is that you are a health nut, you are going to take the stairs every chance you get, you are going to squeeze in a workout, even if it’s only for 5 minutes, and you are going to put good food and fuel into your body rather than food that you know is bad for you.
If you’re not motivated enough, here are ten side benefits of exercise – ones that are not purely linked to physical health:
Acting like the person you want to become
I learned this from James Clear in his amazing book Atomic Habits: he says that to become a healthy fitness nut, you have to take action and small steps towards doing what a healthy fitness nut does. By way of analogy, let’s say that you are not a flosser. You know that flossing is good for you but for some reason, you just can’t take a piece of string and insert it inbetween your teeth. Instead of trying to floss all of your teeth – for your first session, floss only one tooth. That’s it. As you floss that one tooth (and hopefully doing it consistently), two things will happen: one, you may start to floss more than one tooth (because it seems a little weird to only be flossing one tooth) and two, you are going to tell yourself that you are a flosser. And when you tell yourself that you are a flosser, you are more likely to floss. That’s what exercise will do for you – it will help you to become that healthy fitness nut where exercise is a priority, and not something that you leave or drop off at the end of the day.
Reducing stress and burnout
Neil Pasricha has a great youtube video where he shares his strategy for preventing or even eliminating burnout. His secret? Getting in a really hard sweaty workout. When you are working hard, sweating, focusing on either lifting that weight or maintaining that pace or doing whatever sport you are doing, you aren’t thinking about other things. You’re not thinking about how much work you have or how you are going to repair that relationship with your partner. Your mind is clear of thoughts – which is a great way to mentally release when you have a lot of things going on in your head.
In a similar manner, you really have to focus sometimes. Exercise, or at least hard sweaty workouts, is not something that you can just ‘coast’. There is certainly a time and place for light exercise where you don’t have to think or focus too hard (say a standing treadmill while working) but I’m talking about the hard workouts where you feel like you are dying and that burger and fries is going to taste so good after.
If you’re not focused, you may also hurt yourself which is really bad. I’ve done it a few times too – letting my thoughts wander or thinking about something other than lifting a weight safely and then ‘BONK’, I embarrassingly hit myself with a dumbbell or medicine ball and try to shake it off.
Greater intake of water
If you’re getting in a good workout, you’re likely taking in lots of liquids too. And for those of you that don’t get enough water every day (I’m looking at myself in the mirror), this can be a really good way of getting in liquids when you know you need to but you aren’t doing it enough.
Keeping you humble
Ego is the enemy. Whenever I feel like my ego is getting too big or that I’m getting too confident, I hit the gym and try a new workout or lift a heavier weight than what I normally lift (I try to stay in the same range of weights but from time to time, I’ll try a heavier weight to understand where I need to get to). Inevitably, I realize that I’m not able to lift that heavier weight or maintain that running pace that elite athletes have. My ego is shattered. And that’s a good thing. Doing a really hard workout and feeling like you are almost dying makes me incredibly humble – I have a long ways to go and that I’m not the best at everything.
Helping you get into and out of uncomfortable moments
This has happened to me a few times: I get to the gym, and I decide that I’m going to try a heavier weight or an exercise I’ve never done before. As I do the exercise, I realize that I’m completely out of my comfort zone. It’s much heavier than I think or the exercise is way tougher than I realize. In that moment, I have a decision to make: do I take the heavy weight back and take a lighter one, at the cost of embarrassing myself in the gym or do I keep on going and do a shorter version of the exercise? Remember, your greatest success and achievements lies just outside of your comfort zone. If you are continually letting yourself off easy at the gym, that seeps into other areas of your life.
Getting a feeling of accomplishment
There are fewer things in life than enjoying that nice workout soreness after a really good workout. Good workouts give you more energy, but they certainly have a way of making you feel like you don’t have enough to give. I especially like working out first thing in the morning – just like making your bed – it gives you a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that no matter what other things happen that day, you have worked out and that’s a big win. Many times, that big win helps motivate you for other big wins further in the day but that’s never my goal.
Giving you a sense of community
For me, I tend to stay at home or work out by myself. But when I hit the gym, it can give me a sense of community, even if I don’t know anybody or we even speak, to see others at the gym. I see all kinds of people at the gym and it makes me feel good that we’re all working towards some goal, even if that goal is not the same for everyone.
Keeping you from doing something else
If I’m exercising in the morning, I’m not gaming or watching endless streams of Youtube clips. I’m doing something productive. Better yet, if you really want to get in a workout but are not interested in a hard sweaty workout, you can pair your exercise with something that you enjoy. Love watching Netflix TV shows? Allow yourself to watch your favourite TV show but only when you are on the treadmill or elliptical. Like gaming on your mobile phone? Again, do it only when you are pedaling on your exercise bike.
Looking good after
Maybe it’s just me but after every workout, I take a look at myself in the mirror. I never see any changes and changes don’t happen right away but if you are consistent with your workouts, eating healthy and doing the right things, your body will transform itself under your eyes (literally). For the better part of a year, I’ve been working out and trying to eat until I feel like I’m about 80% full. I haven’t lost a significant amount of weight but I do feel like my body has changed its shape (that is, more of my fat is becoming muscle). I may have lost a few pounds here and there. Don’t expect rapid changes and results from working out. Do expect your body to transform in ways that you can’t see over time.