I was recently asked a great question, “is exercise truly worth the effort?”
I will admit to being 100% biased regarding the benefits of exercise. I have always enjoyed moving and found it beneficial in so many ways throughout many different stages of my life.
However, I know that not everyone feels the same about working out, and I can completely understand why exercise may not be something everyone wants to do regularly.
When it comes to whether or not exercise is worth your time, there are a few things to consider.
First, I think exercise is NOT worth it if it:
hurts (and not in a muscular awareness kind of way – if your workout hurts, it’s may be time to change your routine or workouts, check your form/alignment, add in more recovery in between sessions, etc.)
exhausts you (to the point you have to lie on the couch the rest of the day – exercise should energize you and help you get more done, not less!)
makes you feel like you have to do it to ‘burn off’ what you are eating
makes you feel like a slave to a strict routine or schedule that can’t be adjusted (gotta close those rings no matter what!)
makes you feel like you aren’t doing ‘enough’ because you don’t have a six-pack (or ripped arms, legs, etc., insert whatever body part here….)
Exercise should enhance our quality of life, not detract from it. And I know many of us are exercising for aesthetic reasons, but it’s easy to forget just how valuable exercise is for our body as a whole healthy being.
Here are just a few of the reasons why I do think exercise is worthwhile:
Exercise improves the size and number of mitochondria in our body, improving our body’s ability to burn fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce fatigue, helping enhance our overall quality of life.
Exercise positively influences our hormones.
After strength training, growth hormone spikes post-workout, promoting greater fat oxidation (‘burn’) long after the session ends. We also know that regular cardio exercise leads to much more efficient fat burning. And aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve the level of circulating thyroid hormones in our body, helping to improve our fat metabolism.
Exercise improves our capabilities and reverses the aging process.
Regular exercise helps us stay healthier overall by reducing our risk of stroke, diabetes, and cancer, helping to improve mood and self-esteem, and reducing depression, anxiety, and stress.
(For more details on all of these, one of my favorite fitness experts and researchers has outlined 25 of the most significant benefits of exercise here that are well worth reading!)
“When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.” – Tich Nhat Hanh
What if you’ve been exercising for a while and can’t see any difference?
Usually, when I am asked if it’s worth the effort, it’s because we’re trying to change our body composition or weight. If this is your goal (and there is nothing wrong with that if it is-), remember that exercise coupled with proper nutrition/calorie intake will best ‘show’ those results externally.
While there are many benefits beyond just the body shaping aspect (as outlined above), if you are working out regularly to reach a composition goal, remember two essential factors: muscle and nutrition. Instead of doing countless hours of cardio to rack up your calorie burn (which can often backfire since it can make you more hungry and more lethargic the rest of the day), focus most of your efforts on fueling well and lifting.
Aerobic exercise offers plenty of health benefits and can play an essential role in a balanced training program. But building muscle with strength training will be the most effective way to help shift your body composition when combined with changes to your diet to help reduce your overall body fat to better ‘show’ those changes.
If you have been exercising for a while (and please remember, ‘results’ can take years to build/show) and want to see more external changes, it may be time to work on more nutritional adjustments while you continue building your training.
And while you may not be able to ‘see’ the results yet, you should feel plenty of changes if your workouts are building you up. Hopefully, you’ll feel more energized with more strength, stamina, and capacity in your everyday activities.
Can you be healthy, fit, and strong without having ‘abs’?
That said, you can still be healthy, fit, strong, and absolutely reap all of the benefits of exercise without looking like a fitness model. We know that there are specific measurement ranges (such as waist circumference, body fat percentages, etc.) that are ideal for preventing diseases and maintaining optimum health. But we’re getting so many messages from ‘fitness’ infomercials and influencers that can make us feel that if we don’t have ripped abs or shredded arms, we are somehow not healthy or ‘in shape,’ which is just not true. (You can also have a very low body fat percentage and be unhealthy too).
So is exercise worth the effort?
Exercise is worth the effort (in my opinion), but only if it is done in a way that enhances your quality of life. My best advice is to strive to create lifelong healthy habits that allow you to maintain your healthy weight/body composition while still enjoying your life at the same time.
Life is too short to obsess over how many steps we’ve taken or how many calories we’ve burned each day, but our health is too important to ignore. I hope you find the best way to honor and care for your body in the way that feels good and works for you, whether you decide to include exercise in your lifestyle (or not).
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
Tell me, what do you think? Has your life changed/improved since you started exercising? Why or why not?