This morning as I prepared to head out for my run I started thinking about how every few months friends of mine discover exercise and put on a large show of posting every day about how hard they’re exercising and how far they have to go to their goal – be it weight loss, a certain distance run or biked or rowed, or something else. They charge hard for a few weeks or months and then I never hear about it again, until the next time they rediscover exercise.
Meanwhile I’ve been back here quietly exercising every day all along. There’s not much excitement or glory in it so I almost never post on social media about my workouts. How boring would that be? “Did my workout again today, just like yesterday and the day before and the day before.” And yet what I’m doing is what I hear people say they’d like to emulate – getting regular exercise. Why is it so hard to maintain year after year?
One of my theories is that people focus too hard on the weight-loss benefits of exercise, and that is not sustainable. There are basically two ways it can go when your only reason for exercising is weight loss:
- You reach your goal, and stop exercising. Not right away, of course, but over time skipping workouts seems fine because, hey, I reached my goal I should get to relax now! And that’s a slippery slope that leads to getting out of the habit and one day realizing you don’t exercise anymore and haven’t in months or years.
- Exercising doesn’t result in weight loss, so you give it up. If you started exercising, but didn’t change your diet, this is a very likely scenario. Losing weight is about 80% intake and maybe 20% exercise. If all you did was start running on the elliptical 20 minutes a day, but only lost 5 pounds before it stopped coming off, you’d probably stop bothering because it wasn’t giving you the results you were looking for.
In order to keep at it over time, one needs to come to an appreciation of the benefits of exercise apart from weight loss. That’s how I get my body out of bed on a Sunday and run 4 miles even when I don’t particularly want to. I’m long past exercising to lose weight – at my age I’m exercising to keep my weight stable and for the other benefits, such as:
- Preventing heart disease and stroke by strengthening the heart muscle, lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and increasing the heart’s working capacity.
- Pain management.
- Mental health.
- Improved brain function – better memory and quicker learning. Exercise is also, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
My own personal top reason is pain management – my body hurts less when I exercise regularly. I consider exercise to be my regular talisman against the aches and pains of aging. Like brushing my teeth morning and night, it’s just something I need to get done so I can get on with my day. The other benefits are a nice bonus. What are your reasons for exercising?