By Michael Scholtz, M.A., Exercise Physiologist
Let’s be honest: Weight loss is often the main motivation for many people on pretty much any diet or fitness plan. And, for the most part, that’s fine. After all, trying to hit a target weight can be extremely motivating. And it’s a help to your health too: Some studies show that losing just five to ten percent of your body weight is highly correlated with a significant reduction in risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.1 On the other hand, being overly concerned with the number on the scale has also led many exercisers to get frustrated and quit.
Not only will this prevent you from reaching your goal, but you’ll also miss out on so many other important benefits from exercise. In my experience, most people who stick with exercise have found more than just the scale to get excited about. The first step to focusing on these “non-scale victories” is simply knowing where to look. Need a little help? Check out these perks:
It may seem paradoxical that you can expend energy and get more in return, but one of the great kickbacks of exercise is that you’ll have more energy to do the other things you enjoy in life as well as the things you have to check off your to-do list every day. The energizing effect of exercise has been studied extensively and is very consistent. In fact, one major review of 70 studies showed that, on average, exercise worked better than stimulant medications.2
The sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a session of exercise is just part of the buzz. A sweat session can also help you feel better about the way you look and your ability to do everyday tasks. And there is a reciprocal effect with exercise. Research shows that those with high self-esteem are more likely to exercise, and those who exercise are more likely to have high self–esteem.3
A Sounder Sleep
A startling number of Americans are sleep-deprived. One poll showed that 56 percent of Americans feel drowsy during the day. For optimal health, experts recommend between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep per night. What’s the connection between exercise and sleep? Some research suggests it has an effect to similar to sleeping pills.4 A trip to the gym during the day could help you relax and prepare for a full night’s sleep.
Improved Work Productivity
If you want to feel sharp and alert at work, you may want to skip the coffee and hit the gym instead. A University of Chicago study found attending a worksite fitness program improved worker productivity and resulted in fewer short-term disability workdays lost.5
A Spicier Sex Life
Take the increased energy and improved self-esteem mentioned above, add a little stress reduction and you may discover that you’re in the mood to fill your evening with more than just TV and sleep! But there is more to a better sex life than just being revved up. Physical changes like improved endurance, flexibility and circulation can improve performance and enjoyment. It’s not difficult to see why exercisers report more active and satisfying sex lives.
A More Fulfilling Life
Energy, self-esteem and work and relationship satisfaction may all converge to give active people a higher overall quality of life. A Duke University study of people who dropped 10 percent of their weight over one year due to lifestyle changes, physical activity and healthful eating found that 80 percent experienced significant improvements in quality of life.6 Another study of nearly 200 seniors found that those who exercised were more likely to continue to enjoy hobbies, leisure time and travel independence.7 And they remained meaningful contributors to their families and communities, and kept their independence much longer than their sedentary counterparts, say experts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But for those who didn't stay active, these important factors of life satisfaction disappeared at increasingly younger ages.
So, while it’s fine to use the scale as a guide to determine how your exercise program is going, don’t forget about all the non-scale victories too. One of these fantastic fringe benefits could help you stick to your program whenever the scale stalls.
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