Exercise is important, but don’t think of it just to lose weight. There are other factors at play.
There’s more at stake than the scale
As a personal trainer, I meet with a lot of individuals who want to lose weight. The first thing they ask is, “What is the best exercise to lose weight?” While weight loss can be a result of exercise, there are many reasons to not let it become the sole motivating factor behind it. Your health is affected by exercise in ways you can’t always see, so connecting the workout with only visible results can be misleading.
Exercise alone will not be effective for weight loss. You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. You can easily eat 1000 calories in 10 minutes—just look at the back of a Hungry Man nutrition label, or the calories in a Sonic shake. You would have to run for 90 minutes, jump rope for 75 minutes, or swim laps for 150 minutes to burn off those calories (Campbell, 2015). Making healthy food choices will work to enhance your fitness plan and you’ll see much better results than you would if you were eating junk food and then exercising.
Benefits of exercise
I don’t want to deter you from exercising. Exercise has many benefits for your mental and physical health—it may help reduce depression symptoms, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, decrease risk of certain types of cancers, and help control type 2 diabetes.
Overall, people who do the recommended levels of physical activity can reduce their risk of premature death by 20-30 percent (Dick, et al., 1999). A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found evidence that activity level was more of a risk factor for cardiovascular disease than fatness. “Unfit, lean men also had a higher risk of all-cause and CVD mortality than did men who were fit and obese” (Lee, Blair, & Jackson, 1999).
Strengthened bones is another non-weight loss benefit from exercise. Muscles pulling and tugging on your bones during exercise stimulates bone-making cells, which strengthens your bones. If your bones are stronger, you have a reduced risk of breaking your bones when you are older.
How does exercise help mental health?
Exercise can release feel-good hormones that may ease depression (ever heard of neurotransmitters, endorphins or endocannabinoids?) It also reduces immune system chemicals that can heighten depression.
Another side effect of exercise that may increase psychological well-being is a boost in confidence. Exercise can help you take your mind off your worries. Using exercise as a distraction can give your mind a break from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression (Craft & Perna, 2004).
If I’m not focusing on weight loss, what do I focus on?
Instead of looking at exercise to lose weight and look better, try finding a motivating factor that will keep you exercising during and after you’ve lost the weight. Maybe you sleep better, eat healthier, or just feel happier when you exercise. The long-term benefits of exercise go well beyond weight loss, and I hope that we can exercise for more than just the number on the scale.
Blair, S. N, Lee, C. D., & Jackson, A. S. (1999). Cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 69(373-380).
Campbell, M. (2015). Exercises That Will Burn 500 Calories. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/370410-exercises-burn-500-calories/
Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
Dick, A., Suskin, N., Cd, L., Sn, B., & As, J. (1999). Fitness, Fatness, and Mortality in Men. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 9(3), 187. doi:10.1097/00042752-199907000-00017
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