So everyone knows we are supposed to exercise. But, at the same time, if you're just looking at calories burned during a workout its not very motivational to bust your butt and only burn 200 calories. I'm here to tell you, forget everything you've heard about exercise!
I lost a good chunk of the front end of my weight just by making little changes. However, that didn't last long. So I started exercising to create more of a calorie deficit but a couple discouraging things happened. First, I got reeeally hungry after working out and instantly ate, in calories, anything I had just burned, and then some. Also, I worked out every day AND WAS STILL FAT a week later!!! That's the problem with exercise, if we are looking for the immediate external results only, it will never last.
So, here's the TRUTH about exercise.
1. It elevates your mood. This is a HUGE part of staying on track because if you are depressed, you are way more likely to binge and/or sit around depressed and not want to move. The reason I ended up sticking with exercise, after not getting the physical results I wanted, was because of how it started making me feel!
Around this time in my life, I was suffering from post-partum depression in a BIG way. It was hard to get up and get dressed some days. When I would put my son to bed at night, I would just sit alone and that's when the sadness was the worst. I didn't make the concious connection at first but I started being drawn toward working out late at night around this time. After a while I became aware on a concious level that working out would make me feel better and less depressed so it became my "go to drug" every night.
Fast forward a couple years later, I hate having rest days because I feel that exercise (combined with healthy food) is my medicine and, without it, I just don't feel right, mentally or physically for that matter (but more on that in a minute). Keep in mind, I used to think I was the laziest person in the world. I NEVER thought that I would get up at 4:30-5am to work out but now I do pretty much every day without fail because my brain doesn't like it when I don't.
Aside from the boost in your mood, there's something more subtle that's kind of hard to put a finger on but every time you successfully complete a workout, it builds your self-efficacy (the way you perceive yourself). It makes you feel more confident and strong. I truly believe that working out every day can make you successful (for this reason alone) in every other area of your life!
2. It makes your body feel sooooo good! At 34, I notice more and more little aches and kinks here and there that I never used to. Actually, I used to get these in my 20s too but I'm guessing that was more a result of being obese and sedentary. After a really intense workout, my body feels so loose and energized. I tend to have a little neck and back pain (from a car accident I had years ago) but its basically non-existant as long as I'm exercising every day. However, let me go more than one day without working out and things start hurting. When I lay down in bed at night is when I notice it the most. If I've worked out I feel relaxed and comfy, if I haven't I feel stiff and restless. Which is actually part of my next point.
3. It will help you sleep better! I used to suffer from insomnia. I mean, full on, lay in bed awake allll night long insomnia, ever since I was a kid! When I started doing intense (intense is the key here) workouts, my sleep problems completely disappeared!!! A few weeks ago I broke my toe and didn't really a good workout for about a week, I suddenly was having a lot of trouble falling asleep again! One night, after not falling asleep until about 3am, I realized the reason. I got creative and found a way to get an intense workout in the next day and...BAM! In bed snoozin by 9pm that night!
4. Exercise builds muscle. Strength training specifically. In addition to making your bones more dense (due to the pressure strength training puts on them which causes them to thicken as a result), muscle drastically increases your metabolism which means you can eat more and/or lose fat quicker. A lot of people think that strength training is for atheletes (or even just for men). However, no one could probably benefit more from strength training than an overweight person.
The main reason that a person losing weight MUST strength train is because, it is basic science, when you are losing fat, you are also losing muscle!! That's why yo-yo dieting is so horrible. If a woman starts out at 160 then loses 10 pounds, 3 pounds of that could've been muscle. If she gains back up to 160, she now is actually fatter because she has replaced 3 pounds of muscle with 3 pounds of fat. So, you MUST offset the natural muscle loss that occurs during weight loss by constantly working to replace it.
Also, in addition to the metabolism boost, it also makes you look better sooner because muscle gives you a nice shape and fills out all the flab you're still working on. And, ladies, stop thinking you're going to turn into a monster if you work out. Our bodies aren't designed that way. It takes testosterone to build muscle and we don't have much of it. I do pretty intense strength training 4-6 days a week and, as you can tell by my pictures, I am far from a beast so DON'T BE AFRAID TO PUMP SOME IRON! Weights are your friend!
6. "The afterburn effect". I'm just going to link to an awesome site that talks about it because there's no way I can explain it any better than they have. But, I'll just say that the afterburn effect is why you need to dismiss the notion of "I only burned 200 calories during my workout" because your body continues to burn extra calories long after you are finished working out.
The most effective form of cardio that I have found so far is High Intensity Interval Training, specifically the Peak 8 method. And, BONUS, its only a 20 minute workout! This form of working out also drastically raises your HGH levels (which helps keep you young, healthy & happy) as well as reduces your appetite.
7. USE IT OR LOSE IT! Just as bones strengthen as a result of stress (good stress, from exercise), they weaken from lack of stress. Same goes for the rest of our body. As early as in our 20s, we start to naturally lose muscle. Around 30-35, this speeds up and we can lose an average of 1/2 pound of muscle a year, that's 5 pounds of muscle a decade (which is the main reason our metabolism slows and people start to gain weight in their 30s & 40s). Just to fight the natural progression, we have to build muscle to offset this loss. Our bodies also produce something called HGH when we work out which, among other things, can keep us looking and feeling young. So, as you can see, if we stop moving, we start dying. If you want to stay strong, young and vibrant, exercise is essential. We are made to move!!!
8. In addition to helping relieve depression, exercise can correct a lot of other hormone imbalances as well including, but far from limited to, imbalances caused by menstruation and menopause. A wonderful, WONDERFUL book I recommend is The Spark to learn more about all the chemical effects of exercise. Its simply amazing!
....Oh, I might add, when I do cardio every day, my skin looks soooo much better too....
I'm working on an Exercise Recommendation page but I'd like to go ahead and throw a recommendation out because I think its great for all fitness levels, its inexpensive and highly effective (not to mention under 30 minutes long). It's called 30 Day Shred by Jillian Michaels. She has other DVD's that I like okay but I think this is one of the best (that I've tried so far anyway). She uses cutting edge science to give you a great workout that really heats you up and, if you ARE a beginner, it is a great start for building muscle. Its tough if you do it right but any exercise that's going to create real change is going to be tough by nature. Amazon has this DVD for under $10 I believe. Definitely worth checking out!
If you hate to exercise and the feeling of getting out of breath read my post about Learning to Love Exercise.