One of the first things that comes to many people’s minds when thinking about weight loss is exercise. You’ve probably heard thousands of times that exercise is good for you. Nevertheless, if you don’t already work out regularly, chances are you don’t associate a lot of positive feelings with exercise. You might not like it. It might feel tedious and the sweat might make you feel gross. Sometimes it can even feel like another chore, something you have to cram into your busy day if you want to lose weight. Or, in the worst case, you might even view it as a punishment for something you have eaten.
As you drag yourself to the gym to do a half-hearted workout on the treadmill or the exercise bike, you wonder why on earth you have to exercise at all. Is it really the only way to lose weight?
You’ll lose weight more easily
Strictly speaking, you don’t have to exercise to lose weight. Weight loss in the end boils down to taking less energy, i.e. calories, in than you expend. You burn calories all the time. Even if you just lie in bed and do nothing, you will still consume a certain amount of calories per day just to stay alive. How many calories that are depends on several factors, for example your sex and your height. If you get up and do normal every-day activities around the house or work in front of a computer, you burn slightly more calories. But in our current environment, where tasty and calorie-rich foods seem to be everywhere, it’s easy to eat more calories than you expend.
With that being said, regular exercise makes things a lot easier. While you exercise, you burn additional calories, so you can also eat slightly more while still losing weight.
If you include some resistance training into your routine, for example by working out with free weights or machines at the gym, you’ll also increase your muscle mass. Your muscles burn calories even when you’re resting, so having more muscle mass means you’ll burn more calories even when you don’t work out. This is how you can “speed up your metabolism”. And don’t be afraid of getting too muscular – obtaining the looks of a bodybuilder is actually quite difficult and requires dedicated work over a long period of time. It doesn’t happen accidentally.
But exercise doesn’t only help with weight loss. It has a long list of other benefits that are certainly nice to experience. Here are some of them:
You’ll have more energy for everyday life
If you exercise regularly over a longer period of time, your body starts adapting to it. You’ll notice that over time, the same workout will get easier and you’ll be able to do more. For example, if you work out with weights at the gym, you’ll get stronger. If you run or swim, you’ll build endurance.
You’ll notice the benefit of this not only during your workout, but also in everyday life. You’ll find it easier to climb stairs or carry groceries. Performing chores like cleaning up the house or shoveling snow won’t leave you as tired any more. If you have kids, you’ll also find it easier to lift them up, carry them around or play with them.
You’ll be in less pain
Chronic pain, for example in the shoulder area or the lower back, is very common, especially among people who work at an office. Sitting still all day often leads to muscle imbalances, as we often don’t pay as much attention to our posture when we’re busy working with the computer. Furthermore, when we sit for long periods of time, our legs are always in the same angle. Over time this makes the muscles in front of our hip tighten up, while the muscles on the backside get weak. The result: Stiffness and pain.
With regular resistance training you can correct and counteract these effects of prolonged sitting and, as a consequence, get rid of the pain. But in addition to that, exercise also raises your overall pain tolerance, so even when you experience pain, you’ll perceive it less.
Your stress levels will be lower
If you have a stressful job or often find yourself worrying about work-related and other things, exercise can be a great way to give yourself a break and switch off. Many forms of exercise, like resistance training at the gym, yoga or group workouts like zumba, require you to pay attention to the movement, so you don’t hurt yourself or can keep up with the rest of the group. This way, you don’t have time to get caught up in worry anymore.
This might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, as you need to make time for exercise – which can be tough if you already have a full schedule and a busy life. But in the end, exercise is a time investment that pays off.
Furthermore, exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your body that can help you get into a better mood, cope with stress, and alleviate depression and anxiety.
You become more confident
Starting to see progress when you exercise can be really empowering. Every time you can lift a little heavier, every time you can run or swim a little further, you’ve achieved something new. You’ve acquired a skill you didn’t have before and you can be proud of yourself.
After some time, you look back to when you started and realize that you’ve come a long way. You’re now able to do things you never even dreamed of. For me, running my first half-marathon was such a moment. When I first started running, I could not even keep going for half a minute, but I slowly built up my endurance over time. When I ran my first half-marathon, I looked back and broke out into tears of joy over how far I had come.
When you see progress like this, you also start to look differently at challenges lying ahead. If you have a goal you currently lack the skills for, you still know that you can build them up. With that in mind, challenges no longer appear like insurmountable obstacles. You start approaching new goals with confidence.
You lower your risk of getting sick, chronic disease and disabilities
Inactivity is a cause for many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis, just to name a few. Regular exercise can help to prevent them. You can significantly lower your risk of getting them, simply by regularly carving out some time out of your week to work out.
Exercise also helps you to strengthen your bones. In consequence, it can lower your risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. It also helps you to maintain your body’s ability to move and perform everyday life tasks as you age. Loss of function, which is very common with age, is due to loss of muscle mass. When you exercise, you send signals to your body that you still need your muscle, hence it will maintain it.
But also in the short term you can reap health benefits from exercise. People who exercise regularly are less likely to get the common cold. This is something I experienced first-hand. Before I started to work out, I got sick quite regularly. Every year I caught the cold 3-4 times and sometimes it lasted for weeks at a time. Nowadays I am rarely sick and the few times I still catch the cold, I get rid of it much sooner. When I started my fitness journey, I was not aware of this benefit at all, but for sure it’s nice to have.
As you can see, there are many good reasons to exercise that go beyond weight loss and are arguably even more impactful on your overall quality of life. Are you ready to start?
 Frank W. Booth, Ph.D., Christian K. Roberts, Ph.D., and Matthew J. Laye, Ph.D.: Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241367/, accessed 30.01.2019)
 David C Nieman, Dru A Henson, Melanie D Austin, Wei Sha: Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults, British Journal of Sports Medicine (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/12/987.abstract?sid=e6594508-3aaa-4c61-99ba-4ea138580947, accessed 30.01.2019)
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