Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 May

How Long Do I Have to Exercise Before I See Changes?

Short answer: probably a lot longer than you want.

Long answer: I tend to cover a lot of nutrition, food marketing and diet issues, but fitness is also a crucial factor in overall health, so I’m eager to discuss exercise issues in greater detail. Truth is I spend a fair amount of time coaching, speaking and writing in the fitness world, particularly triathlon but weight loss to some extent.

Exercise is a vital component of not just weight loss and weight management, but stress relief, energy, sleep, aging, disease prevention, bone health, and on and on it goes…but it’s easy (and maybe more fun) to exclusively focus on the nutrition and diet issues and forget that we have to move our lazy buns once in a while. Leaving exercise out of the wellness equation is far more destructive to your health than any number of diet “sins” you might commit. Notwithstanding the fact that I believe our standard American diet is largely responsible for most of our health problems and most common causes of death, the importance of exercise cannot be overstated.

We don’t exercise for many reasons.

Eating is not a habit, but a necessity. After all, no one really forgets to eat for very long. And it’s usually rather enjoyable to change food selections and to modify our diets for the better, for we get immediate psychological rewards: control, accomplishment, tangibility. Exercise is also a necessity, but as it’s no longer integral to our daily lives – few people plow an acre of sod nowadays – it feels like a chore. No one likes a chore, and establishing a chore as an ingrained habit is tough. Life’s rewards require elbow grease, and that will never change. If exercise were easy or yielded quick results, I suppose everyone would be doing it. Exercise is certainly worth the effort, and not in spite of the challenge, but because it is a challenge. The long-term health rewards of exercise – outside of the brief blast of endorphins following your workout – are not always initially apparent and certainly not immediate.

If we don’t view exercise as an unpleasant chore, we view it as a means to an end: getting a leaner or sexier body. Those fitness infomercials feature guys with six-packs and Christie Brinkley for a reason – we all want to look like that. But the reality is that even the fittest folks are not necessarily going to end up looking “like that”. You can only maximize what you’ve got. I believe that we have to stop thinking of exercise as a vanity tool and remember that it’s simply a basic necessity of life. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited about using exercise to lose weight if you hope to shed some extra pounds. But we fall off the proverbial treadmill over and over again because we’re getting on it for the wrong reasons in the first place – exercise is about far more than weight loss.

So, how long before you see results?

You really can’t fight your genes. I witnessed one young woman I coach become sleek and toned after seemingly two sessions with weights and a few rounds of yoga – it’s easier when you’re young, of course. Another guy I work with exercises day in, day out, and has for two years now; although he’s fit and lean, he will never look like Bruce Lee no matter how hard he tries. (It’s worth noting that if you start your children on exercise – such as a sport – from an early age, they’ll develop muscles that will stay with them for a lifetime, even if they gain a little weight down the road as we all tend to do.)

There is some justice: the longer you exercise, the easier it will be to make changes to your shape. That said, results are different for everyone. It’s a complex equation of existing muscles, your natural build, metabolism, fat distribution and many other factors. You actually do get an immediate health boost from exercise, but let’s be honest: how many are really after that? Most of us give up on exercise after a few weeks or even a few days because we don’t see the desired physical results. People like the aforementioned young lady are rare; most of us have to put in months before seeing any real improvement.

The point is, if you’re asking that question – how long before I see results – the answer is almost always: much longer than you want. Hang in there; change will happen. We all want to look good, and many of us want or need to lose weight. Those are healthy and admirable goals. But while exercise can and does help with these goals, at the end of the day, we’ve got to realign our thinking and remember that exercise, more than anything, is just a necessity for health, and despite what the marketers would have us feel, that is reason enough.

Please share your thoughts on exercise, your challenges, and your successes, with me in the forum. I’d love to hear your perspective.

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Hi guys!

    I would really appreciate it if someone took the time to read this and maybe offer some insight. I am 24yr 5’5”(165cm) and 132lbs(57kg). I don’t want to lose weight and honestly im happy with my body, but we all know there is always room for improvement right? My purpose is to get a toned up body, more athletic with more defined muscles(i.e abs, arms, legs, butt) so i joined the gym and for 3months now i go 4-5times a week for 2hrs.

    However, now 3months later i have gained 3kg(6lbs) which im guessing is muscle weight. I absolutely don’t want to bulk up or gain muscles cos im not a guy! I just want my current non visible muscles to be more exercised and visible(i sound so stupid, but i just want you to understand what im trying to achieve). I just want to convert my softness into strength and look still lean but exercised! My body fat was 19-20% which they told me its normal so if that could be transformed into muscle instead of my current muscles getting bigger, that would be fantastic!!!

    I do notice change of course its not all negative, my abs show more and my arms and legs are more toned. Im happier more energetic and definitely stronger, but i feel like my muscles are bulkier too, especially my arms since i genetically have a more defined upper body. Another thing i have noticed is that i get extremely hungry after every work out and generally since i started the gym my appetite has increased tremendously! I do however restrain myself not to eat more than i should, but it is a struggle!

    If you have managed to read up to here, then i salute you! My questions are, what am i supposed to do to achieve a lean but defined body instead of gaining muscles weight? Any diet suggestions, what to avoid or eat more? Maybe i should quit the gym and join some sport instead, like Kickboxing or maybe Pilates? Maybe change my routine work out? I am really lost at the moment so any advise would be greatly appreciated :)

    Thank you in advance everyone!

    Maya wrote on July 20th, 2012
  2. I quit smoking 8 months ago and started working out . I work out 5 times a week am doing fitness classes hour long. I count calories and keep track of how much sodium I get etc. ive gained 15 lbs and cannot drop it. What else can I do??

    Ab wrote on July 22nd, 2012
    • What I noticed is that I was using the wrong numbers.Use your base metabolic rate , that is what your body uses to run your organs in complete rest,as your reference point and deduct calories from that.Working out is fine and it is supposed to help.5 times weight training is bad for your muscles they need rest to rebuild and grow but 30 minutes of cardio 5 days a week is good.But the main thing should be cutting calories that is really the only way you are going to lose weight.Also drink water 2liters a day and eat three pieces of fruit a day. This is to trick your body into thinking everything is fine and there is no hunger winter coming.

      Roland wrote on August 20th, 2012
  3. I saw results 2 weeks into weight training but not in the sense I turned into Arnold or lost fat. But I started noticing a muscle in my bicep i never seen before,after about 4 weeks seperations started to become visible between the tricep and bicep, my quads started to get more definition in my upper leg I could sense them being “pumped” after working out which was a nice feeling like they are swollen.It’s these little things that motivate you to keep going. Building a physique like Arnold takes years probably at least 5 of intense weight training depending on where you are at.But you can get nice results after about a year of intense training and eating the right food.Getting that body fat low.Many muscles are covered in lard. Abs are the hardest muscles to make visible because males tend to store fat around there belly. The trick to having them is to have very low body fat percentage.Working out your abs is fine but you already have them just not visible.

    Roland wrote on August 20th, 2012
    • I forgot something important , most say that the max you should go below your daily energy needs is 10%. Otherwise you risk losing muscle.You won’t lose fat as fast but you will still grow muscle.Also the fat that annoys you the most the belly fat the double chin that is going to come off last your whole body will be tight but your chin and belly will still be fat.It’s annoying but the body burns the last deposited fat stores first.

      Roland wrote on August 20th, 2012
  4. hi, i know you cant begin to make an assessment without seeing or knowing me, but i was wondering how long it would take to see changes if i exercise twice a week on weights. im 21, pretty lean and just shy of 11 stone

    sam wrote on September 5th, 2012
  5. I was looking for the QUICK answer to that question and it was most frustrating to have to read All that crap in between. I hate the way you answered. It was a lecture!

    Joyce wrote on October 25th, 2012
  6. I totally agree, it is the carbs that make you fat not the fat, people often say ‘oh this is fat free’ without realising it is full of carbs and sugar. Your body stores carbs and sugar as fat. Or if you have carbs in you your body will use these as energy in the gym, with less carbs in you your body will turn to fat storage for energy. Also. take a lil caffiene before your workout, it speeds metabolism and helps you work harder :)

    Maxine wrote on November 6th, 2012
  7. I have joined bootcamp/semi cross fit since november of 2012. I started at 130lb and now I’m at 139. My body fat stays the same or a little bit less. I eat mainly low carb/paleo. However, I noticed that I eat a lot of fruits and crave a lot of fruits since starting exercising. I go to bootcamp 3 days a week. My clothes fit well, but I still can’t fit in my size 2-4 jeans (of course). But my size 6 jeans fit well and have room to move. I’m just impatient because I want to be back at 115-120 lbs but now I’m at 139lbs. I know that it must be my lean muscle weight but the number is a bit scary to me. I’m thinking of going back to do straight low carb withholding fruits for couple of weeks (basically first phase of Atkins or Southbeach diet). Do you think that if I cut the fruits, and stay mainly low carb for awhile, I will lose weight or my weight will continue to increase? Should I also exercise on the days that I don’t do bootcamp? Right now my exercise routine only involved bootcamp on TThand Saturday. I should perhaps get on the elliptical on M and W. I’ll exercise for a total of 5 days a week and have 2 days of rest. Will this routine help me lose weight and back down to 120? I feel like I’m confusing everyone including myself >_<

    Stacy wrote on January 20th, 2013
  8. Hi there. I started working out 3 months ago and have not yet seen weight reduction.

    My work out regimen is 6 days a week. I do Cardio in the morning for an hour and a half. Then I hit the weight room for an hour and then I go swimming for an hour. I walk from and to the gym 1 hour walk. And I walk in the morning at 5 am for an hour. So that’s around 20 something hours of workout a week. More then needed.

    I eat healthy as well. Morning for breakfast I have fruit, 1 slice of bread, tea no sugar, milk. Lunch I have a salad or soup. Dinner I stick with fish or chicken breast and some greens on the side. Snack after workout I have a banana or yogurt once or twice a day.

    I weigh 205 pounds height 5′ 5″ and I’m really getting annoyed and impatient to not seeing results in the scale. I do feel healthier and my sleeping has gotten better I sleep around 7-8 hours a night.

    So what on earth is wrong with my system. I’m eating enough calories. 1500-1700 calories a day and no results.

    Please help getting really impatient here.

    sarah wrote on February 27th, 2013
  9. It may help if you join an online group like SparkPeople.com,this one is free. It’s a community that will provide you support of all sorts, such as: Contact with a group of people to help provide emotional support – tasty recipes that promote a healthy diet – exercise programs – tracking of food, exercises and/or weight lose. I would most especially recommend that you measure with a tape measure, no more than once a week, those areas of the body that you are trying to make a change in. This way you will see the small changes going on. No one has mentioned that muscle weighs more than fat, so the first few months of exercise may cause a weight gain until that new muscle begins to burn off the fat. Don’t forget that there will be those monthly changes that cause bloating, so don’t let those days discourage you. Lots of support and blessings.

    Rene K. wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  10. Hi I weigh 80 kilos and have been suffering with menopause for the last 3 years.

    I suffer with a swollen tummy, and have been putting on weight around hips and thighs.

    I was walking on my treadmill for 1 hour a day at 5.4 km speed, I cant raise my treadmill, so I can only walk flat. I did this for about 2 months, I then started to get
    bad anxiety, so I reduced my time on the treadmill to 30 mins, 4 times a week, along with a 20 min work out on my exercise bike that has programs for riding up hills. I also do 30 push ups & 60 sit ups and also use a rowing machine for 5 mins.

    I have been doing this now for 3 months and have only just beginning to see a change in the way my clothes fit, but when I weigh myself I don’t see much of a change at all, but my scales are old so they may not be very accurate.

    Tell me, are I waisting my time while I am going through menopause, and is there
    a special diet of some kind that might help me to loose weight while suffering with menopause?

    Please help me? very desperate to shed some kilos, and to improve my cholesterol levels.

    Robyn.

    Robyn Gee wrote on October 8th, 2013
  11. Ever since I got pregnant I cannot lose the last fifteen lbs and losing weight has never been so hard ever. I have been going to the gym for two months now 5 days a week for an hour I take a studio cycling class 2 to 3 times a week and do weights 2 or 3 times a week for a total of 5 hours a week. I have not lost a lb and see no changes in my body. I actually feel like I look bigger and the scale has not moved. It is really disappointing to me because it used to be easy. It makes me feel like I want to give up. Or Is it just all gonna drop off one day. I keep pushing but come on I want so results here. Any suggestions?

    Two months so far wrote on November 20th, 2013
  12. Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your article. I wanted
    to write a little comment to support you.

    zoe voss wrote on May 15th, 2014

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