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Why do you exercise?

Over the past couple of years I’ve written a lot about the benefits of exercise, and really, that’s because there are so many of them. From health benefits such as reducing your chances of getting diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases, to improving your memory and productivity, to just giving you an immediate burst of energy.

This has also led me to think more of why I exercise. Is it because I may live a few extra years and have a lower chance of getting sick? It’s certainly one of the reasons I tell others to exercise. But for me, and perhaps you, this isn’t the reason I do it.

While science tells us people who exercise live longer than those who don’t, it’s hard for us to know if living to 75 as opposed to 72 was due to us exercising. We only have one life. We can’t go back and change it to see what happens.

instant gratification by exercise.jpg

I’ve come to realize I’m in it for the instant gratification. I like how I feel while exercising and afterwards. The energy rush that comes from it and the freedom of a clear mind when it’s done. Any problems I had, no longer seem as bad. It also gives me sense of accomplishment, which is such a great way to start my day.

This might seem surprising, that although better health is why we promote regular exercise, health may not be the reason we do it at all. On an individual level, health really is a poor motivator. It’s too far downstream. And unless it’s an immediate sensation, you usually can’t feel whether your health is getting better or getting worse. It happens so slowly that it’s not something you notice until a while later. Sometimes never at all.

Take high blood pressure. A risk factor for stroke and heart disease. Exercise, along with diet, are two proven ways to reduce high blood pressure, yet you can’t feel it working. You can’t even feel it if you have high blood pressure. Of course you can measure it yourself and over a few weeks to months, you’ll probably see your blood pressure improve, but to me, that’s a long time to wait until you see or feel the fruits of your labour.

I like exercise to be one of the first things I do in a day. It wipes away the cobwebs from the morning and gets me energized for what’s ahead. Sure there are days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed. During the winter when it’s dark out, rain pounding against the bedroom window, I have no desire to get out of my warm bed. But I know after I’m done, the rain and cold won’t feel so bad.

Scott Lear exercise training for swim race

While I love exercising, I wouldn’t say that exercising for the sake of exercising is my biggest motivator. A lot of times I mix in exercise with doing something else, such as cycling to get to work, going for a walk to do some errands or socializing with family and friends. For me, the best exercise is one when you don’t know you’re exercising, but instead have another goal.

Each year I sign up for a number of swimming events. Doing these events provides me with direction and a goal to focus on, along with accountability (mainly to myself). In order to accomplish the swims, I need to set a plan for my exercise in the upcoming months or year. Without doing these events, I’d probably still get out and exercise, but I don’t think I would do it with the same enthusiasm.

However, if I feel I haven’t been active enough, perhaps it’s a rest day for my training or I’m working from home so I miss my bicycle commute, I’ll go for a walk. I’ll try to go for a walk with a purpose, such as shopping or mailing a letter. However, it doesn’t always work that way so sometimes I’ll go walking just for the sake of getting more activity.

Exercise makes you feel good

Regardless of how I’m exercising, one thing that always happens; life always looks better after I’ve exercised than before. I can be having an awful day or wake up from a night of tossing and turning, then I get in a walk or ride my bike to work, and things come into focus much better. Any anxiety I have is gone, or at least much less.

I also feel stronger and more physically capable, and that has a way of making you feel more confident. Of course this may not come from just one exercise session. It can take weeks or months, but it does come. I’m not trying to look like Tom Cruise with his shirt off by any means (or for that matter, look like him with his shirt on), but I do think I look better than if I didn’t exercise. And younger too.

With so many reasons to exercise and be active, there are probably many others I haven’t mentioned.

What are the reasons you exercise? I’d like to hear from you so free to put them in the comments below.

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5 responses to “Why do you exercise?”

  1. There’s the old adage: “Use it or lose it.” Exercise is vital for our bodies to function at their best. My reason to excercise is to slow down my muscle loss. I am a paraplegic from T6. I’ve lost all the muscles on the outside of my legs. My quads are very weak, my hamstrings tight, and the muscles inside my legs would make a body builder envious. My paraspinals looks like a big, fat, webbed duck has stepped and flatted them. They’re gone. I have no bum muscles either. But, I’m up and around. My walk steps might be limited, but I can buy groceries. I can plant and maintain my 30′ x 60′ garden and preserve most of my food. That’s a big deal and only possible because every single day I exercise. For me, losing it truly means it’s gone.

    How do I do this? I had to find something that required me to exercise every single day, rain or shine, regardless how I felt. It had to be something I couldn’t put off for a day, something that made me get up and out of bed.

    It turned out to be goats. I have to milk them twice a day, something that can’t be put off or delayed. As a paraplegic I cannot catch or lead these naturally lively creatures, so to accomplish my exercise program I “cookie-trained” them. They’ll do anything for a golden Oreo or an arrowroot cookie. They all come when I call, walk immediately to their stations and wait to be milked — all for two cookies. What do I get out of it? One example is I practice sitting and rising from the 5 gallon bucket I use as a stool and leaning forward and stretching to milk. This year my paraspinals are strong enough I do not have to support myself milking. This added strength has improved my quality of life on a multitude of levels.

    There are other advantages. As my strength increased, I now trim their hooves. The emotional rewards of excelling at a physical achievement instill confidence and a feeling of good will. I feel great when I finish. Challenge met and accomplished!

    I milk twice a day, year round. Like any exercise program, there are times I don’t look forward to another long winter milking in the cold and dark, but the benefits are priceless to my quality of life. There’s also the added bonus of eggs. My chickens drink the goat milk and lay eggs year round. I’ve got a good deal going.

    Find something that inspires you to move, either in the house with videos or outside the home walking, biking, or the gym. It’s really worth it. I know.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Jolaine. Yours is truly an inspirational story and I am sure your goats love having you care for them.

  2. Thank you Dr. Scott .

    This idea of looking for instant gratifications in exercising actually change my thinking about exercise and has also increased my motivation .

    Now ,I see why I give up exercise often and find it difficult to restart.

    I thought instant gratifications are bad in totality but now I know that’s it can be inverted and use for something great line exercise .


    1. That’s great to hear. I had the same thoughts as you as I was writing the article it might sound selfish but it’s true. When I get up to exercise, I don’t think about my risk for diabetes going down, I think about how much I’ll enjoy it and feel better right after.

  3. […] long-term goals for your exercise can definitely help. It may be to improve your health, run a 10 km faster or even beat your friend in tennis. However, long-term goals aren’t always […]

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