Benefits of Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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?

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4 Responses to “Benefits of Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss”

  1. yolsgaard Says:

    I need muscle mass to keep pain down in my back by holding my spine in the right position. I can’t lose or maintain weight without exercise. I have been exercising about 4 days a week and it really has helped. But you are right, it’s all about intake and I have eaten way too much on vacation. It will come off when I get home because I never eat like this. I also love the high I get from exercising. Finally, I like doing the things I can do, biking and swimming since I can’t walk. I also like weights. I like being greeted by the regulars at the gym too. I love Pilates and yoga too. So during winter I have been doing everything except swimming. Interestingly, weight loss did not occur until I started weight training.

  2. beanolc Says:

    I am one of those posters! Except for me I get to a point where I either forget to post, figure people are bored of it, or start only posting when I’m particularly excited about something. Rest assured, I’m still running. 🙂

    • Laina Says:

      I don’t consider you one of the people who discovers fitness every January 1st and then has forgotten all about it by March. You’ve been steadily making exercise a part of your lifestyle for as long as I can remember!

  3. Kareina Says:

    For me the single biggest reason to exercise is because it is fun. My preferred forms of exercise are dance, hiking, and acrobatics/acroyoga/yoga. Dance is a wonderful excuse to enjoy time with friends, listening to good music, and moving. I have done yoga for years because I love it, but have recently started working with a partner for acroyoga and acrobatics, and it is SO MUCH FUN! I never outgrew the “pick me up and carry me” stage of childhood, so having friends pick me up (often with their feet) and turn me upside down is one of the most fun things ever.


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