Like many Americans, you probably set a resolution to get fit in 2016. You bought a membership to Austin’s newest cycling studio and made thrice-weekly plans to run Lady Bird Lake with your best friend.
Unfortunately, if you’re like 45 percent of resolution makers, you abandoned those plans in February.
What’s preventing you from sticking with an exercise routine and getting into shape? You probably believe that a weak will is to blame. Or maybe you’re just no good at exercising.
The problem, however, is not your will power or exercise ability. It’s your expectations.
Weight Loss Woes
Any behavior, including exercise, is motivated by positive and negative feedback. If the negative feedback of a behavior outweighs the positive, you’ll understandably give it up. A new exercise regimen comes with a slew of negative feedback—soreness, time constraints, potential embarrassment (I have tripped over enough gym equipment to know this is true even for regular exercisers). Most resolution-makers look forward to one potential for positive feedback in particular: weight loss.
Unfortunately, losing weight from exercise is neither quick nor easy. Despite your best intentions, three months of tap-backing in a dimly lit room to Tiesto’s latest hit has left you feeling sweaty and sore—but it probably hasn’t transformed your figure.
This doesn’t mean you need to drop your get-fit resolution. It means you need to change your expectations.
While exercise does not induce immediate weight loss, it does deliver many benefits that are available quickly. Instead of letting weight loss be your only potential positive outcome, consider the other inherent benefits of exercise. This shift in focus will help you keep at it long enough to see results.
Improvements in Body Image and Self-Esteem
A client of mine, who was new to exercise, bench pressed 85 pounds for the first time. As she jumped off the bench, I asked how she felt. She beamed at me, exclaiming, “I feel happy in my soul!” That happiness had nothing to do with the way exercise made her look, but everything to do with how it made her feel.
One of exercise’s most incredible benefits is its ability to improve self-esteem. You might think, “I know that exercise will improve my self-esteem—once it helps me lose weight!” However, research shows that exercise can improve body image and self-esteem before weight loss occurs. Just getting out of bed early to get your workout in is an act of self-care that can increase feelings of self-worth. Proving to yourself that you can reach your exercise goal—whether it’s running a marathon or running a mile—will make you feel strong and capable.
Improvements in Health and Activities of Daily Living
Exercise improves aerobic capacity and muscular strength and endurance. While that may not sound important, consider how it can impact your life. That flight of stairs that always leaves you huffing and puffing? How about picking your kids up off the floor?
Consistent exercise improves your ability to perform activities of daily living. Exercise also reduces your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, ensuring that you’ll be around to watch those kids grow up.
Improvements in Mood and Mental Health
A friend of mine works for a busy startup company, often pulling 70 hour weeks. Despite her hectic schedule, she maintains a regular running and yoga routine. She does this, not to lose weight, but because it actually reduces the stress that she feels.
It is well established that exercise can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. Even one bout of exercise can improve your mood. The stress reducing effects of a sweat sesh can serve as a potent motivator to hit the gym instead of the couch when leaving the office after a long day at work.
By focusing on the benefits beyond weight loss, you can find deeper meaning in exercise. This will allow you to get past the initial frustration of a new routine and maintain the habit long enough to see physical results.
So run, lift, dance, cycle, sweat. Your body and your mind will thank you. And the weight? It’ll take care of itself.