Side Benefits to Exercise

…and I’m not saying anyone has to exercise.   Goodness knows a lot of the “Exercise Shoulds” do nothing but spoil the party.  But as I’ve tried to let go of the Shoulds and exercise for my own reasons, I’m discovering some things I didn’t expect.

  • I’m generally sleeping better.
  • Less low back pain.
  • Walking or aerobics tends to get rid of my nervous energy; I find weight lifting and yoga both help me meditate.  Both cause stress to dissipate.
  • I often get semi-“alone time” with some favorite tunes.
  • I usually have a warm, relaxed feeling after a workout.

My muscles get warmed up and feel happier, though I wouldn’t call it a “runner’s high”.  Perhaps that’s because I’m not a runner.  Or, to quote someone who was a runner and eventually a racewalker:

I’d spent the previous two decades ingesting various mood-altering substances, and I damn well knew what it was to be high, and that you couldn’t manage it by running around in circles.

Lawrence Block wrote that in his engaging memoir Step by Step. I certainly don’t have grounds to disagree with the man.  :)

I also want to note that feeling good when exercising is only something I’ve found when I’m choosing to exercise, myself — not when I’ve been pushed to exercise (by teachers, by parents, by other relatives).   Let’s face it, it’s hard to feel GOOD when you’re feeling BAD about not losing weight.  If your emotions are on overload you may not necessarily notice how your body feels when moving around.

What about you?  If you choose to exercise, do you find yourself reaping benefits you didn’t expect?

18 thoughts on “Side Benefits to Exercise

  1. I like to exercise and doing it feels good. But, I have to be cautious about overdoing it, and be mindful of my breathing . I do not feel better after exercise if I have put myself into an asthma attack! But that being said, I do really like to exercise. I discovered, quite by accident, that in good shoes, I actually enjoy jogging on a treadmill. I don’t do it a lot, mainly because I love my knees, but it’s fun and exhilarating! It also tempts me to over exercise. So I only jog on treadmill once in a while. BUt I really enjoy knowing I do like to jog. I just didn’t like the forced 4 times round the track march of gym class, in bad shoes, with undiagnosed asthma making every breath a chore. That wasn’t running, that was hell.

  2. “I also want to note that feeling good when exercising is only something I’ve found when I’m choosing to exercise, myself — not when I’ve been pushed to exercise”

    This. This makes a world of difference in the world of exercising, in my opinion. I still struggle with it for similar reasons. In the past, during “The Diet Phase” of my life, exercise was a must-do that and I had to struggle to maintain a positive attitude about it. Inside, what drove me was weight loss…and when those numbers didn’t show up on the scale, despite my regimen and numerous hours logged, exercise became ugly.

    What I have started to hate is when friends or family find out you’re exercising, or see you doing it, or you tell them you’re running late because there was a crowd at the gym…and the response is “Good for you! I need to get to the gym more often” of “How much weight have you lost working out?” or “You do yoga? Wow!” Everyone ASSumes I am working out to lose weight, even though I have told most of them before that my goal is not weight loss, but better stamina, flexibility, strength and overall health. I am not seeking some kind of approval from them, nor do I attached any values or morals to my exercise. Yet they feel that saying what they do to me will somehow encourage me to keep up the good work!….when all I really hear is “Thank God you’re doing SOMETHING about your weight!” Because, let’s face it. that’s what most of them are thinking. That kind of talk has a way of DEmotivating me and the rebellious gal in me wants to say “Oh yeah? I don’t need your approval for anything….so I’m just gonna lay around the house all day not doing a damn thing!” Thankfully, I don’t let it stop me from doing what I FEEL like doing, like taking a walk, going to the gym, or some yoga.

    As for what I get from exercise….one of the main benefits for me is better breathing. That feeling I get when my lungs have filled to capacity during a workout (and after the first 10 minutes of tightness), makes a world of difference in my energy level during the day. I feel looser, my brain is clearer, and I even stand straighter. It’s a good feeling!

    Thanks for reminding me to focus on how exercise makes me feel physically, as opposed to “Damn it! Why can’t I lose a single pound?!?!?!?”

  3. I started taking short walks most evenings this past month, just getting out of the house and moving a little with my younger daughter in the stroller.

    I do feel better and more able to cope with the little things, but the oddest result of moving around more is the complete lack of PMS this month! The usual sign that my period is coming is my sudden urge to bite the head off anyone who gets too close, but my mood was completely level—in fact, my period caught me by surprise.

    I don’t have a particular goal with my weight lifting—I like the mindfulness of it— but I realized the other day when I was loading weights onto the old leg press (the one with the ready-loaded weights was out of order) that when I started, I probably couldn’t have picked up a forty-five pound plate high enough to get it on the post, much less several of them. That feels pretty good.

  4. I always feel better when I exercise, though I frequently have a difficult time not associating it with potential weight loss. When that does not happen, I find myself getting frustrated and pissed off. (It’s the whole difficulty I’m having with HAES. When you have a history of dieting/excessive exercising, it’s difficult to look at any “healthful choices” as anything but a means to weight loss, instead of a good thing in and of itself.)

    One of the best benefits I get when I am exercising regularly is a better mood with less anxiety. (Anything that helps those antidepressants work better….) I have to consciously focus on that as a great reason to get moving.

  5. I think intrinsic motivation is a HUGE issue when it comes to making changes in eating and/or exercise habits.

    It’s hard for people, especially anyone who tends to be even slightly rebellious, to deal with perceived coercion to do something. This is basic psychology, not anything unique to food and exercise. But somehow people seem to believe it doesn’t matter when it comes to these things.

    I find that, for me, the best way to exercise is to do something that I think of as just PURE FUN that also, coincidentally, happens to get me moving and/or sweaty and/or out of breath.

    I actually cannot stand exercise for exercise’s sake. I am not a natural athlete, but I’m very strong and I love to do fun, risky things.

    Doing fun shit just makes life better in general. And I also like how I sleep better at night when I’m all tuckered out from physical exertion.

  6. Taking my daily walk clears my head and makes me feel more connected with the world outside my own home. Since I’m a freelance writer, I tend to spend a lot of hours sitting in front of my computer screen. Getting out and getting moving makes me feel like I’m part of the world again.

    As a welcome side effect, it means that I have not yet killed my brother who moved in with us ‘for a month or two while he got back on his feet’ four years ago.

  7. as a 33 year old with 22 years of dieting AND bulimia under my belt (and still 300 give or take 20) this article is wonderful…i have in the past week or so stumbled (literally ty stumbleupon) onto the fat acceptance moventment…it has really opened my eyes…..

    anyway back to the point at hand…..i find myself enjoying the feeling of movement …i started swimming about a month ago with the goal of swimming the miles to san fransisco then going there when i finally do….i figured it was better than focusing on weight loss. When i focus on weight loss i tend to get that panick-y little voice i call my bulimia voice…and so any “healthy” has tended to flip to unhealthy behavoirs even when i don’t lose, throwing me into remission with the bulimia. (and finally i find out with hard statistics and non biased studies that its not my fault…. yay fat acceptance for giving me insight freedom and real numbers to fight back with! but i digress)

    i find i do sleep better, i am hyperactive and this helps to calm it. I have 2 little girls home for the summer and this is 3-5 guarenteed hours in the week when im not mommy…i’m just erin :D i have less joint pain….and i am realizing i am better at swimming stamina than most of my tiny friends (eat a mile u skinny things :D) i like knowing im using my muscles, getting stronger and more flexible.

  8. The unexpected reward for me is, oddly enough, an enhanced (imagined?) sense of capability. I’m usually such an uncoordinated goof, that if I can get around downtown on my bike without a) getting runned over, or b) falling for no reason, then I’m feeling pretty accomplished. Even if I do fall down, I still give myself props for, you know, not dying.

    As far as movement itself goes, I definitely have a lot of that aversion to coercion that the fat nutritionist is talking about. SO, I tend to only do things that feel good – both in the moment and after. I don’t have to feel the burn, I don’t have to get out of breath (though I tend to), I don’t have to exercise for any set amount of time, etc. I actually have a lot of fun with thumbing my nose at conventional exercise wisdom. Which, by the way, is another unexpected positive side effect.

  9. If you always see exercise as something you have to do for the sake of weight loss, instead of doing it just to move around, it will always be a negative experience.

    Also, too many people think exercise counts only when it involves going to a gym, walking a track, or running until sweat pours off of you in buckets. I think that’s a load of crap. The 45 minute dancing I did in my room last night which resulted in tons of sweat and a good night’s sleep is my form of exercise.

  10. Exercise for me conjures up memories of forced calisthenics in gym class, so I usually prefer to say that I am being active or participating in physical activities. I find being active to be an awesome stress reliever and it’s good for my depression and mood stabilization. I also have ADD, so it’s hard for me to concentrate or be still and I find that I do most of my best thinking and analyzing when I’m powerwalking or riding my bike. When one of my favorite writers, James Thurber, began going blind, he’d compose stories in his head and then have his wife transcribe them later. It’s kind of the same for me — I’ve done my best writing while walking. My husband and I both like to hike and it’s a great way to spend quality time with each other while discovering and communing with the great outdoors. I also like the feeling of strength I get from being active and think it helps me be more assertive and confident in myself.

  11. After dealing with leg problems for two years and losing a lot of strength in them I finally took the plunge (pun intended) and joined a gym with a pool. Doing a variety of exercises (walking, jogging, squats) and swimming various strokes makes me feel so much better. So much so that I missed it terribly when I lost a month due to an abdominal muscle pull. And I do think my legs are getting stronger.

  12. What Rachel said about the creativity. I find that when I’m on the treadmill or elliptical, with music pouring into my ears and maybe reading or watching something too …. there’s a kind of sensory overload that transmogrifies into a kind of intellectual flow state which is borderline spiritual and very rewarding.

    Also, since my former personal trainer made me let go of the rails on the treadmill, I’ve built up my balance muscles to a point where my bad ankle rarely turns over on me anymore and I feel a lot more graceful and physically competent in general.

    Also, I think sticking to a sweat routine saved my sanity during a particularly stressful time last year.

    Also, it’s been a net positive for me to get over myself in terms of comparing my body unfavorably to the cute little gym rats and wondering what people might be thinking about my big fat ass. I stuck with it long enough that the gym lost its terrors; I’m there to work and if my fat jiggles when I’m really kickin’ it to Flogging Molly or my shorts ride up to expose my thighs …. oh. well. No big deal anymore.

  13. I have always loved exercise, actually, and have mostly separated it from weight loss hopes. I like pushing, and I like the relaxation afterward, and it improves my sex drive (especially nice given that I’m on meds that suppress it), and makes me feel less anxious, and makes me feel less stupid, and I even like the feeling of mild muscle soreness for a couple of days afterward.

    The most unexpected benefit is that when I exercise regularly I have a better body image, no matter what my weight or my measurements do. (Studies confirm this also happens to other people.)

    But during the past decade my body changed to the point where almost all exercise hurt. I struggled to find some exercise that didn’t hurt. Swimming and elliptical trainer currently work for me. Sometimes following along to exercise videos works, but I don’t have a good place in my house for this at the moment.

    I also love weight lifting, and I got pretty strong doing weight-lifting in the past. But these days whenever I try to do any, I get injured. I need to hire a personal trainer to work on this, but I haven’t had time.

    I am very sad that walking hurts because it is easy, cheap, and I used to love it.

  14. My issue with exercise is that I have always been very active, have had a tendency to be compulsive, & have usually exercised too much, but my body cannot take that much activity any more. I stay active, keep moving, as I believe that, given the way I stiffen up after just sitting long enough to read blogs, if I do not move, my CP & arthritis will render me incapable of moving. I am always glad that I HAVE exercised; how much I enjoy the actual process depends on how tired I am & how much pain I am in. It tends to improve my mood &, as someone who always used to sleep well but is having fairly frequent rough nights as I age & now in post-menopause, I have no idea how much effect my activity has had on my sleep. I am also a very highly-strung, tightly-wound, emotional person with a lot on my mind & some considerable daily stress, so perhaps that & the aging & at times chronic pain have more bearing on my sleep than exercise.

    I will stay as active as I can for as long as I can & I do believe it is likely that movement MAY have SOME health benefits…though not as much as we are led to believe & that it takes much LESS exercise than they want us to believe to reap those benefits. I have been related to & known far too many people whose idea of exercise was walking from house to car & back who lived to be 85 or more to be willing to condemn those who cannot or will not exercise to some kind of early grave or guilt hell. I honestly believe that how we live in our bodies is no one’s business but our own & I also believe that if someone HATES to exercise &/or has a lot of pain exercising, forcing oneself to exercise may cause more harm than any benefit it gives.

  15. Anger reduction.

    I have bad knees, and while swimming would be ideal, it is complicated. I got a speed bag — one of those smaller punching bags — and some gloves. Now, when someone makes a fat comment or Mom works her passive aggressive magic or customer service at Best Buy acts like customer service at Best Buy, I hit. I hit and hit and hit, and no, I don’t actually imagine the face of the person I’m angry with — that really does not seem healthy. But there is something empowering in using your muscles to make a really loud WHAP!!!

  16. Pingback: The Fitness Question « Living ~400lbs

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