What If I Don't Exercise?
Something that I have wrestled with over and over is… what if I don’t exercise? For a long time I hated to exercise – I found it to be hard work and took far more time than I wanted to invest.
I couldn’t find any motivation to get on a treadmill or pick up some dumbbells. No matter how many “No Pain. No Gain” quotes I would see in the gym window on my drive home, those activities still felt about as appealing to me as sticking packing tape to my arm and ripping it off over and over.
After all, my belly fat wasn’t TOO bad, I could live with that. My muscles seemed strong enough, I never had trouble sliding my couch over a little to improve my TV viewing angle. On top of that, I like sleeping until the very last possible moment before getting out of bed each morning! And they say sleep is just as important as exercise, right?
So here I am. Wondering if it is really that important to exercise. We all know that it helps drop a few pounds and builds your muscles. But if I have decided that those are not goals of mine right now, then it feels like I can scratch exercise off my to-do list.
I felt this way for a long time. But… as I began to learn more and gain a better appreciation for the big picture. I have started to realize that this is far from the best way to look at fitness – and a poor way to view exercise specifically.
What I have learned is that the benefits of exercise far exceed just fitting in your clothes a little better or being able to lift heavier things. While yes, those things are still healthy motivators and goals, they are not the most impactful benefits that exercise has to offer.
Let’s investigate some of the other impacts we can expect to see in our lives if we decide to prioritize exercise just a little more now.
Your brain will be sharper
Many studies have shown that cardiovascular and aerobic exercise strengthen tissues in your brain, including gray matter. Gray matter is the outer layer of tissue in your brain. It is what makes that greyish/pink color you see in pictures of a brain. It is formed from a kazillion cells that transmit information and allow us to control everyday things we don’t even think about. Like picking up your phone to read this article or remembering what key unlocks your door. Among many other things!
When you exercise, this part of your brain gets denser and stronger, allowing all those functions to respond faster and more acutely. We all want to be able to answer that trivia question first or be able to grab the cup of water we just bumped with the back of
our hand before it spills on our keyboard.
As you get older, strong gray matter will
keep these functions from deteriorating. Which translates to aging better. Have you ever chatted with an old guy who can tell you all those stories of what simpler times were like or was able to jot down the family’s secret oatmeal cookie recipe on a notecard without missing a beat?
This ability comes from dense gray matter in their brain that has been maintained throughout their lives. If you were to ask them questions you might find a trend of simple activity. Maybe they played sports through most of their lives, or maybe they went on walks with a neighbor each day. Just a little bit of exercise on a regular basis will pay off now and later in how sharp we are and stay!
You will be more productive
Your brain needs oxygen to function. Oxygen travels to all the parts of your body through your bloodstream. And how do you increase blood flow? You guessed it, exercise! When we raise our heart rate we get blood to our organs faster, in this case our brain. Oxygen makes all those little nerve endings perform better and connect more. So, when you’re going for a walk and you start connecting the dots to solve a problem at work or make a decision on how to organize your closet better, that is a biological result of getting your blood flowing.
Another result of increasing your blood flow is an increase in energy. I have been a victim many times of saying “I don’t think until I have my coffee” or maybe even after I have my coffee my mind has stayed in that fog all day. This, understandably, makes it hard to get stuff done. While a caffeine boost does stimulate your body’s nervous system, it has been proven that exercise is even better for getting those brain cells firing! And it does so without the side effects of a cup of coffee, like getting a headache or an upset stomach. I am certainly not saying you need to ditch the coffee (I would never…) but before heading back to the breakroom for a second cup (or third or fourth), consider a short walk.
When your productivity starts to suffer, remember the effects just a little exercise can have to steer you back into the lane of focus and clarity.
Your mood will thank you
So far I have talked about some of the biological benefits of exercise outside of weight management and strength, like gray matter and blood flow. I know you have heard of endorphins, serotonin, and those other long words they say help with things.
You don’t have to spend long searching on google to see these words thrown around like magical antidotes to all our worries. We know these chemicals in our bodies, like endorphins and serotonin, play immense roles in how we feel. I can’t lie and say I know how they work. Because, well, that would be a lie. But studies have shown that they are released at much higher levels when we exercise. Our mood becomes more stable and overall more positive when we get moving. It is a recommended and proven remedy for the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Even the American Psychological Association has made it official: exercise is a recommended treatment for depression.
The more I learn, the more I feel like I could go on about the benefits exercise has on your mood. But I want to move on after sharing one more point.
Exercise helps you sleep better. Once again, Studies have proven the correlation between the two. You sleep better when you have less stress or anxiety (a benefit of exercise as we discussed a bit ago). Being active tires your body out to be ready for sleep. Additionally, through stimulating your brain cells and providing them with more energy during the day, your mind will also be more prepared to shut down at night and allow you to fall asleep. This means less time lying in bed awake, less waking at night, and a better mood the next day!
Getting the proper amount of rest is as important to your body and mind as exercising is. A healthier lifestyle includes an increase in both. And both are improved by function of the other.
Better sleep will improve your life in so many ways, this could have been placed under any of these subheadings. But I chose to put it here because the benefits of better sleep, by way of exercise, may be noticed the most evidently in your mood.
You will age more gracefully
We touched on this when we talked about keeping your brain sharp. And I have had to resist bringing it up again ever since so I could save it for now. It would not be difficult to write an entire article on only the benefits of exercise in aging alone. But don’t worry, the full version will be saved for another time. For now let's just glance at how truly big this is so we can be thinking about how just a little exercise would go a long way and help motivate us to do something now, even if we think our muscles are plenty strong enough.
I mentioned the strengthening of gray matter in our brains. This is a lasting effect, stronger gray matter and other cells in our brain improves lifelong memory and cognitive thinking. A lower level of stress and anxiety throughout our lives will also show up on the meter late in life.
What about the prevention of disease too? This is where my mind starts to explode a bit. With exercise as a part of your life you are at a lower risk of heart disease. Exercise aids in insulin being more effective in your body lowering the risk of diabetes. Asthma concerns are lessened through exercise. Cardio and aerobic movements improve back function and back strength, significantly decreasing back pain late in life. Bone density is increased and joint stiffness is mitigated, lowering the impact of arthritis on your life. Studies have shown that those who exercise are at a lower risk of cancer. Dementia can be staved or avoided altogether through the cognitive rewards of exercise.
Phew. When considering the aging process, we start a whole new ball game for why to exercise. Now I am not saying that we won’t have to deal with any of these diseases, or other symptoms as we get older. But there is no question that it has been researched and proven many times over exactly how we can take action in lowering the risk of disease and/or making the symptoms of disease much more bearable to live with through regular exercise. Enough so for me to stop worrying about if I REALLY need to lose those pounds and start thinking about what I can do to live life to its fullest.
There you have it. Four reasons to consider making exercise a part of your lifestyle that have nothing to do with managing weight or getting stronger. There are several more reasons too! Did I mention that exercise will improve your relationships? Or that it increases your confidence and self-esteem? Those aren’t small factors either.
Getting up and moving is a straight path to being happier. Science says so. But you don’t have to be worried about where or how much you exercise, or about what others do when they work out, and you don’t have to worry about physical results to see the benefit of exercise.
The CDC says about 150 minutes a week is a good place to set your sights for now. That is only 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. A walk during your lunch break or a little yard work can get you to that mark easily. But if you’re starting from zero, work up to that – there isn’t a minimum you must reach when you’re getting started.
Simply moving is all you need, and as you build habits and routines, you will see the results start showing up in small ways as they build to show larger impacts. Understanding the big picture, and looking at fitness and health from a happiness point-of-view is where you start to be motivated and feel happy.