An Unexpected Benefit of Exercise

I’m sure you know that you need to exercise if you want to stay healthy, and you’re probably also aware that exercising elevates your mood. But there’s another mental benefit of exercise no one talks about that you can use to your advantage to lose weight.

It has to do with goal setting.

First let’s go over some exercise basics. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, otherwise known as the feel-good hormones. These are serotonin and dopamine. When these hormones hit your bloodstream, you feel relaxed and happy.

However, it takes time for them to take effect, so you have to stick with your workout long enough to get them going. And this is where we often fall short.

A lot of times we approach exercise as something we “have” to do and, therefore, dread. This is a problem because when you feel resistance like this, your body releases the opposing stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These have the opposite effect on your body — they make you feel agitated, stressed, and constricted. Feeling this way increases your desire to binge, which obviously negates the benefits of exercising, even if you push through your resistance and do it.

By the way, dieting makes you feel the same resistance and increases your stress hormone levels. Which again makes you more likely to binge, thus negating any progress you may have made on your diet.

So here’s where the goal setting part comes in. The feel-good hormones you release when you exercise also make you feel optimistic and motivated, which can help you achieve goals. You can start setting small goals — add fruit to your meal, order a side salad instead of potatoes or French fries, skip the bread. As you achieve these, you will be motivated to set larger ones. Run a 5K or start learning the foreign language you’ve always wanted to.

When you start achieving goals, you feel self-confident and accomplished, which goes a long way toward eliminating your binge eating habit. First of all, you will be so busy being busy you won’t be sitting around trying not to eat. And the resistance you feel when you diet will go away when you have better things to do with your time than constantly try to lose weight. Then you will lose it naturally.

The key is reversing your mentality toward exercise. You have to feel excited rather than resistant. Here are three ways you can change your perspective:

1. Pick an activity you enjoy. You won’t want to exercise if you’re doing something you don’t like. Even if it’s something you do like but you’ve been doing it so long it’s become a chore, switch it up. For example, if you’re a runner like me, go for a walk instead or buy a rebounder to bounce on while you watch Netflix.

2. Don’t push too hard. Going into a workout with the attitude of forcing yourself to do it only increases your resistance. And if there’s a day when you truly don’t have the energy or the motivation to exercise, by all means give yourself a break and skip a day.

3. Don’t go too long. Even though it takes a good 15 to 20 minutes for the feel-good hormones to kick in, it’s more important to not feel resistant. A trick I use is my “just get on the treadmill” mantra. Once I get on, I usually find myself having a really awesome workout. Because I don’t dread it if that’s all I have to do.

Eliminate the resistance you have toward working out to keep yourself motivated to do it. Use the feel-good hormones you get when you exercise to set small then big goals for yourself. Use the excitement you feel by accomplishing your goals to stay active and feel even better about yourself.

Use these tactics to stay motivated to work out, and take advantage of this unexpected benefit of exercising. Set goals for yourself and achieve them, increase your self-confidence, improve the quality of your life, and lose weight naturally.