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.
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.
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.
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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