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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 [1].

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 [2] – 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 [3]: 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 [4] 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 [5] 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 [6] 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 [7] 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 [8]. I’d love to hear your perspective.

[tags] motivation, reasons to exercise, health benefits of exercise [/tags]

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