For so many, the motivation to exercise comes from a desire to lose weight. And there’s nothing wrong with this, especially since maintaining a healthy waistline is associated with a decreased risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and heart disease.
However, weight loss is just one of the many benefits associated with exercise, and some would argue that it’s really just more of a side effect, because while you’re goal might be to lose some fat, the things you’ll gain are much more rewarding than an “improved” appearance.
What’s more, some research has shown that taking your focus away from weight loss may be a much more effective approach to exercise.
“A study showed that people who were told that they were walking one mile for pleasure ate less and made healthier food choices afterward compared to those who were told that they were walking for exercise,” explains Jena la Flamme, a health and weight loss coach and author of Pleasurable Weight Loss.
This is part of the reason why using weight loss as exercise motivation isn’t always entirely effective.
“[It’s] considered ‘extrinsic motivation,’” says Lisa Hisscock, an ACE certified personal trainer and Interval Training Rx coach. “Other examples include a beach vacation, turning heads at a reunion, or fitting into a certain sized jean. It’s okay to use this type motivation to get you started, but for exercise to become part of your life, you need to find your ‘intrinsic motivation,’” she said.
This can include things like improved mood, stress reduction, or setting an example for others; the list is essentially endless because you can choose any internal reason—just make sure it’s meaningful and important to you.
If you’re not sure where to find your intrinsic motivation, Hisscock says you should ask yourself: Why would I get out of bed on a cold, dark, winter morning to knock out a workout even when I’m at my ideal weight?
“Find the authentic answer to that, commit it to memory, and that is your ‘magic pill’ for exercise adherence,” she said.
And if you need some help getting your brainstorm started, first consider these eleven exercise benefits that are way better than weight loss.
Chris Cooper, a Precision Nutrition coach and NSCA certified fitness professional says that compared to weight loss, tracking and detecting gains in your level of strength is much easier. “You can look back after a month and see that you are doing more than you were before,” he said. “Because that is what strength is, it's the ability to do today what you previously couldn't do a week, a month, or a year ago.”
A large body of research points to a link between exercise and happiness. “People who exercise consistently are happier than those who don’t,” says Saul Juan Antonio Cuautle, a certified personal trainer and the CEO and Founder of MOS Training Systems. “Biologically, exercise releases endorphins and brain chemicals that bring the same happy feeling as a smiling baby or a bar of chocolate.”