As a naturopath who specializes in weight loss, I see a lot of patients who are motivated to change their lives because they are convinced the loss of a few (or many) pounds will dramatically improve their outlook.
There is nothing wrong with being motivated by vanity, or even the belief that happiness lies inside a pair of skinny jeans, but "looking good" is not a strong motivator for adopting and sticking with a healthy lifestyle. Despite losses, you may never feel you look good enough, which will leave you discouraged. Or you might get there and give yourself permission to fall back into old patterns.
I've seen the most dramatic results when patients have found deep and personal reasons to stick with a healthy living commitment, and reasons that reveal how good it feels to reconnect with your body.
After you master nutrition and set yourself on a path to choosing wholesome and nourishing foods, I'd like you to master fitness — not to tone your butt but for these five amazing ways exercise changes your body:
1. Exercise turns you into a fat-burning Machine.
As you push your body to work in new and novel ways, whether it's holding and propelling your own weight or working with loads on the body, you create tiny tears in your muscles.
As these tears heal, your muscles grow bigger and stronger. Match muscle-building exercise with fat-burning (and proper nutrition) and you change the makeup of your body from primarily fat to more muscle tissue. Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat does.
For example, 10 pounds of fat would burn 50 calories in a day (at rest) while 10 pounds of fat would burn just 20 calories. Yes, this means building muscles turns your body into a fat-burning machine.
Be sure to refuel properly after a workout to encourage the recuperation of muscle tissues. Try a snack rich in protein, like a protein shake.
2. It strengthens your bones and helps prevent bone loss.
Exercise, in particular high-impact weight-bearing exercise — running, aerobics, and dancing — causes both muscle and bone to become stronger as the muscles tug against the bone during exercise.
As living tissue, exercise spurs the growth of new bone tissue, which makes you stronger. Bone mass peaks in adulthood and then begins to decline. As you get older, exercise is particularly important in helping you hang on to healthy bone mass.
Unless you have an injury that prevents you from doing so, incorporate weight-bearing and high-impact exercise into your routine. Try running, aerobics, or dancing. Non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming are still helpful, as they help you build muscle.
3. Exercise makes your heart work more efficiently.
Of course you know that your heart works hard during exercise to supply more oxygenated blood to those hardworking muscles. As you increase your endurance and strength the more you create this work for your heart, this very important muscle learns greater efficiency in getting the job done.
This means that even at rest your heart doesn't have to work as hard; you reduce your resting heart rate. You will also decrease your blood pressure as new blood vessels form. This seems like a very important reason to exercise — strengthening the body's most vital muscle so it works more efficiently.
So engage in exercise that gets your heart rate up there for at least 20 minutes at a time. This puts you into the maximum fat-burning zone, and it gives your heart the opportunity to work hard to work better.
4. Exercise is amazing for your lungs.
In order for your muscles to support you in exercise, they need oxygen. This is the vital role your lungs play. Your lungs bring in more oxygen to fuel your workout, and to make this possible the muscles around your lungs expand.
Once these muscles have moved as fast as they can to expand for more breath, you have reached what’s called V02 max — the maximum your body can work for oxygen. But a wonderful thing happens as you work out more and more, putting your body through this safe little test: Your V02 max increases.
Your lungs become more effective at bringing oxygen into your body. A great reason to get fit.
Put your lungs to the test (safely!) with exercises that call upon good breath control like running and swimming.
5. Exercise changes your brain.
Impressively, studies have shown that exercise creates profound changes in your brain.
Do you ever notice that after a workout you're often more focused and even more successful at your work? Exercising will promote the growth of new brain cells, which can improve memory and learning. What's more, studies show that exercise is an effective strategy for preventing and treating depression.
During physical activity, a number of neurotransmitters are released by the body, including endorphins and serotonin. These hormones make you feel good, like the "runner's high" you may have heard about. Tap into the way you feel after a workout; chances are you will safely become addicted to this benefit.
Trying working out at lunchtime to give yourself a brain and mood boost midday. It will combat the 3 p.m. slump.
Of course it feels good to lose weight. But once you tune into the way exercise changes your body for the better, you will release the true reward of being physically active.
You will combat disease, boost your memory, and make your muscles and organs work more efficiently. Isn't this the real reason we should get off the couch and move?
If you find it hard to get into exercise, stop going by what others tell you you should do. Find a sport or activity that you love, then tap into how it makes you feel at completion.