Tapping into the positive feedback of exercise
Exercise is good for the body. It has a ton of health benefits.1 But taking that first step often seems like a big effort. And sometimes you may not have the energy.
But here’s something that might be surprising. Being active not only boosts mood.1 It also helps you manage stress better, “which can lead to a better outlook on things,” says Keith Hodges, fitness coach and founder of Mind in Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles. Those mental benefits can make exercise more appealing. In other words, the more you exercise, the more you want to do it again.
The key to tapping into that positive feedback? Just start moving. Play pickleball, do yoga or dance like no one’s watching. It will kick off a rush of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Learn how to set those positive feelings in motion — and help keep on track with a fitness journey.
Know why you’re exercising
It’s helpful to identify the reason for exercising and remember that reason as a source of motivation, explains Hodges. Before lacing up your sneakers, “set your intentions for the workout,” he says.
“A lot of people wait until they get bad news from the doctor to take their health seriously,” Hodges notes. But there’s no reason to wait until a person has high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar to increase physical activity.
Your intention or motivating factor could be as simple as wanting to play tag with the grandkids when they visit. Or going on a hike with the dog to check out the views. Whatever the reason, hold onto it to help get inspired.
Take one small step to start
Remember the saying “slow and steady wins the race?” Well, it applies to working out too. “You don’t want to overexert yourself and not be able to recover consistently enough,” Hodges says. “There’s nothing wrong with taking things slowly and then gradually increasing your workload as time passes.”
A beginner should initially set a goal of exercising at a level that is challenging yet sustainable for them moving forward.2 Even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time at first.
Those minutes can add up to big health benefits. Even short bursts of activity throughout your day — walking briskly or climbing the stairs — can lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.3 And short intense workouts can help keep the brain sharp as a person gets older.4
Stick with it
Regular exercise pays off in various ways. “We have more energy throughout the day,” says Hodges. Exercise can also boost mobility over time. “Our bodies function on a move-it-or-lose-it basis. We lose what we do not use, which can lead to pain or discomfort in some areas,” says Hodges.
If less pain and more energy aren’t enough motivation to keep going, find something else that will. Maybe it’s taking group fitness classes at a gym or local YMCA. The social benefits of exercising, especially with people roughly the same age, can encourage you to stay active.5 And you might make new friends.
Keep the positive cycle going
The longer you exercise consistently, the more you’ll like the results you see and feel. “Think of exercise as medicine. Let’s say you had a chronic condition and your provider gave you medicine that helped — you would keep taking it because you’d want to keep enjoying that better quality of life,” Hodges says. “Exercise works the same way.”
Plus, the feeling of accomplishment can make you feel stronger and more confident and secure. And that can translate into other areas of your life. “Those healthy habits and positivity carry over to your work and personal relationships,” notes Hodges.
Here’s another benefit that starts that first day. “Most people feel better as soon as their very first workout,” Hodges says. “Those endorphins lead to more energy and can provide a sense of accomplishment. Some people just need to prove to themselves that they can do it. And once they do, that’s a big win.”