Of all of the reasons and motivations that people have for beginning or maintaining a fitness regime, the most popular motivation BY FAR is to improve the appearance of their body. I would even venture to say that if exercise did NOTHING to improve one’s appearance but still provided all of the other benefits like improving health, mobility, reducing stress, increasing strength, etc., gyms and fitness classes would lose 70-80% of their members. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does provide us with valuable information that can help all of us with how we value fitness and how much we prioritize it in our everyday lives.
I am confident that the statistic I gave earlier (70-80% of people would stop working out if there were no aesthetic benefits) is much more accurate than not. I am also confident that the minority 20-30% of the people who currently work out would NOT stop being consistent. That minority group is also the most consistent long-term regardless. The secret to long-term success with fitness lies within that minority group.
A large part of your success with a fitness program has to do with consistency. A subpar workout program done consistently is far more effective than the best and well-planned workout that is done inconsistently. There are many factors that can contribute to consistency but chief among them is the core reason you work out. Focusing on appearance as the main driver will prevent you from developing a good relationship between you and exercise and, often times, will result in WORSE results even if you still work out consistently. The best long-term approach is to value exercise for all its other benefits. This will lead to consistency, which will then lead to better AESTHETIC results. Ironically, not focusing on appearance will give you better chances at improving your appearance through fitness.
Keep the following in mind: a healthy body looks good, an unhealthy body does not. Make health your primary focus and the looks will follow. Make looks the primary focus and often times you will sacrifice your health (through unhealthy dieting, over training, “punishment” dieting, exercising, etc.) for the pursuit of appearance; and as your health declines so will your appearance. To help you get to this place you must understand value and ACKNOWLEDGE all of the “other” benefits that working out can provide.
You get stronger
Physical strength is an awesome thing. I am not talking about extreme performance types of strength either. I am simply referring to being solid and physically CAPABLE. Strength is the foundational physical attribute. It contributes to all other physical pursuits. Get stronger and you gain more endurance. Get stronger and you gain more functional flexibility. It’s EMPOWERING to feel more capable in your own body. Next time you are working out, value and appreciate your physical strength improvements; they often lead to physical appearance changes.
You alleviate stress and reduce depressive symptoms
One of the best and most effective ways to elevate mood, reduce depressive symptoms and mitigate anxiety is exercise. It’s all natural and is at least as effective for mild to moderate depression and anxiety as prescription medications. In fact, regular exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which experts believe helps relieve depression long-term (https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression).
You improve general physical health
Studies have consistently shown that regular exercise improves almost all measurable markers of health. Lipid profiles, blood sugar regulation, organ function, brain function, bone health, muscle health, connective tissue health and more all IMPROVE with regular exercise. Having good general health is strongly connected to overall life quality. In other words, being healthy just makes life BETTER.
Getting leaner and staying lean is a whole lot easier when your natural metabolism is burning more calories. Proper exercise (resistance training in particular) builds muscle, which increases your body’s calories burning machinery. In other words, your body will burn more calories at rest, aka a faster metabolism.
There are many other benefits to proper exercise, too many to list in one blog article, but the ones I listed are the most important. When you are assessing and VALUING exercise, remember the benefits listed above. When you feel as though your visual changes have plateaued, make a mental note of the other benefits you may have been improving upon. Focusing on and enjoying the extra strength, reductions in stress/anxiety/depressive symptoms, improvements in general health and the fact that you now burn more calories naturally (meaning you can eat more without gaining fat or maintain your body weight easier) will maintain your consistency better and more reliably than simply focusing on your appearance. The best part? They all lead to the wonderful “side effect” of looking better, which is why you started exercising in the first place.