I was having a serious debate with myself over what to write about today. I thought I should post about exercise since I haven’t yet, and it’s a very important component of wellness. I, like most wise people trying to lose weight, included exercise along with dietary changes when I started losing weight a few years ago. The two seemed to work together, so I have kept it up. I’ve never done calorie restriction without exercise, or exercise without calorie restriction, so I don’t know how much of a difference exercise has made in my weight per se. What I do know, though, is it takes a lot less physical effort to not eat a candy bar than it takes to run 2 miles, so most people reach that calorie deficit more with portion control than with exercise. People definitely overestimate the amount of calories they burn exercising, which is probably why some people are frustrated when they exercise a lot but can’t seem to get as lean as they want.
There is no question that exercising helps stunt the harms of overconsumption. The more active you are, the faster your metabolism, and the more you have to eat to maintain your weight. But it’s not as much more as people tend to think, and people consume way more extra calories than the calories they aren’t burning through exercise, if that makes any sense. The food thing is a much bigger problem with obesity than the exercise thing. Which makes it really aggravating when food companies blame the obesity epidemic entirely on sedentary lifestyles. It’s definitely a factor, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the only, or the most important factor.
The tragedy here is that exercise is lauded as the key to weight loss, when we really should be teaching people that it’s one of the keys to overall health, especially to a longer and more mobile life. Here are some of the benefits of exercise:
- it raises levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which removes plaque from your arteries, reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke
- it lowers your blood pressure, reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke
- it’s an antidepressant (endorphins are a real thing, I swear)
- it boosts your energy for everyday life
- it helps you sleep (if you don’t exercise too close to bedtime)
- it actually stimulates better movement through your digestive tract afterward
- it improves symptoms of diabetes
- it strengthens your bones
- if you keep it up, you won’t be limited in the activities you can perform as you age
- and, as we know, it helps you control your weight, which reduces risk factors for lots of diseases, but if you ask me, there are enough reasons above this one to motivate me to exercise even if it didn’t burn calories
If you are overweight and/or really out of shape, then exercising will probably really suck at first. I used to HATE it. Especially running. I hated everything about it. But I promise, it gets better. Try to find something that you enjoy. A lot of people like organized sports. I’m not one of them, but if that’s your thing, then go for it. I’ve tried a lot of different fitness activities. The most fun thing for me is definitely Zumba, a latin dance aerobics class.
Ironically, I also run regularly now. If you can’t find any kind of exercise that you like, then I would just trying running. It’s one of the best things for you, and even if you hate it now, you probably won’t mind it and might even really like it if you do it enough. And incidentally it’s also the cheapest way to work out. I’m trying to work up to a half marathon distance this summer–that’s 13.1 miles. I don’t actually have a race to run yet, I just find it really rewarding to beat my longest distance. Last summer I doubled it from 3 to 6 miles. Now I’m going for 13, after having finished 8 for the first time a few weeks ago. I hope I don’t sound like a crazy fitness enthusiast who you could never relate to; I’m telling you, if 15 year old me met me now I wouldn’t know me. I found running 1 mile intimidating then. And look at me now! I’m still not fast, but my endurance has increased 10 times over and it really makes me feel good.
One other thing–I need to practice what I preach with this one, but don’t forget about strength training, especially women. It’s really important for weight loss–the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism–but it’s also really important for staying in shape and staying strong and able as you age.
What’s your favorite way to get moving? How can we motivate people to exercise for their health and not just for weight loss?