Why Do You Exercise?

Side view of an annoyed young woman with weight scale over white

Before you come up with the “easy” answer, think more about it. It’s important, because why you exercise may have more to do with your success than what you do for exercise. Be truthful with yourself when asking this question. Do you exercise only to lose weight and body fat? To transform your body? To look like the fitness models on the weight loss infomercials? Any other reasons?

For those of you who don’t exercise enough, still consider the question. Is the answer the same as the answers above? I’m curious.

I’m curious because, after training clients for over 15 years, and working in the health and fitness field for 29 years, I’ve seen a very consistent and common pattern. People who ONLY work out for weight loss or fat loss rarely find permanent success. And yet, this is one of the most common reasons fitness enthusiasts give for exercising, especially women. This means many, many women are never achieving their goals, never sticking with the program, getting frustrated over and over as they go on their 14th “cleanse” or “30 day fix” workout program. How many of your friends are talking again about their new diet, their new exercise program? Are these the same people who were talking about their great success 6 months ago, last year, the year before, or before that? I bet they are. There’s a reason that Weight Watchers has a life time program.

Now, I’m sure that those of you who answered “YES, I work out mainly for weight loss/maintenance” also realize that exercise has much bigger perks to it. But the ability to stick with any exercise program is dependent on what truly motivates you, and if you are only motivated when you lose weight, you are going to be very disappointed.

This is because exercise sessions play only a small role in weight loss. Recently, there have even been several national news articles claiming exercise does not help with weight loss at all! Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration, a catchy headline. Of course, exercise can help with weight loss, but not nearly as much as you think. (Ironically, at the same time that national news stories tell us exercise does not help with weight loss, you’ve got the pull of the infamous infomercials claiming just ½ hour a day will transform your body into a lean, mean fighting machine. This is baloney.) The truth is that your overall daily activity level ( # of steps for example) and your nutrition has a much bigger impact on weight loss than exercise. This is why people who pay no attention to nutrition (won’t or don’t keep food logs!) and don’t make a concerted effort to move more on a day to day basis, won’t lose weight.

There are solutions to this problem.

First and foremost, rethink your primary reason for exercising. Could it be more health oriented or performance based, rather than body image oriented. Could your reasoning be more holistic? Maybe you can reframe your motivational reasoning a bit?

Instead of “I need to go to the gym to look good in my bathing suit, look at my fat thighs”, or, “I feel so fat, I need to exercise more”, maybe you could reframe it like this:
“I exercise because it makes me feel good about myself and makes me feel healthy. And, people who feel healthy and good about themselves, always look better.”

This reasoning is not weight loss dependent…..a much better way to think about exercise. And, it’s the truth. Regardless of anyone’s ability to lose weight or not, people who exercise always look better and feel healthier. And, without the goal of weight loss hanging precipitously over your head, you are much more likely to stick with the program, which is the ultimate goal, right?

Next, if fat loss or weight loss is an important secondary reason for exercising, along with improving your health, you’d better be watching your nutrition and keeping track of daily activity. Many of my desk bound clients sit for 8-12 hours per day, and one hour of exercise a day can never offset this sitting. Look at the bigger picture. Explore your nutrition deeply and consciously. This means keeping food logs, which are not a statement on your worthiness, but just a collection of data. For weight/fat loss, occasional food logs are essential. In addition, wear a pedometer or other activity tracker and keep steps over 6k/day, out of the “sedentary” zone. Heck, shoot for 10K! Research has shown that those who take more than 10K steps /day are much leaner and healthier than those who take less than 4K steps/day. And have patience. Seeing weight loss as a symptom of good health and an active life is a much more patient way to address weight loss than seeing weight loss as the goal.

Lastly, one more thing to think about….. we are all getting older. Exercising consistently to combat our aging bodies becomes more and more essential. How do you want to age? Recently, I had 2 friends who became seriously ill. Both were told by their doctors, unequivocally, that they would not have bounced back as quickly from their life threatening illnesses if they hadn’t already been exercising so consistently. So, how do you want to age?