Exercise is hard work. It's time-consuming. Your body aches. Your butt smells like goat cheese. (Anyone? No? Only me?) Why bother, right?
And yet there are reasons—good reasons—why people go to (and even sometimes love) the gym. I'm talking about the people who can't imagine life without exercise.
What have they discovered?
What motivates them to work so damn hard?
Why do they suffer through injuries, through misery?
And what can they teach people who don't—to put it nicely—feel at home at the gym?
The Top 6 Reasons You Should Start Working Your Ass Off in the Gym
1. Because it makes you happy.
You'll feel awesome after you exercise. Immediately. Intensely. Unequivocally. Study after study confirms the direct relationship between exercise and an increase in feel-good hormones—one study found high-intensity exercise has a similar impact on your brain to cocaine. Daily treadmill exercise attenuates cocaine cue-induced reinstatement and cocaine induced locomotor response but increases cocaine-primed reinstatement. Thanos PK, Stamos J, Robison LS. Behavioural brain research, 2012, Oct.;239():1872-7549. (That's gotta feel good.) Other research suggests physical activity can help manage depression. Exercise intervention may prevent depression. He SB, Tang WG, Tang WJ. International journal of sports medicine, 2012, Apr.;33(7):1439-3964.
Even in the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau knew what was up. “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day,” he said. Both science and a great American poet agree: We cannot be our happiest without exercise.
2. Because it makes your life easier.
Being stronger, leaner, happier, and more capable can make for a better life. Case in point: Your boss needs you to lift that heavy box? Yes, ma'am, you can. Your neighbor needs help rearranging furniture? Damn right, buddy, you'll move that couch. Your friend needs to be carried home from the bar? Saddle up, cowboy.
Training increases your capabilities. That's the law of progressive overload—lift something a little bit heavier each day, get a little bit stronger. Run a little faster each day, get a little bit, um, faster.
3. Because it helps you win at life.
Setting and achieving fitness goals helps you set and achieve goals in every other aspect of your life. The goal-setting/goal-accomplishing cycle is a learned trait. From a very early age, winners reinforce a simple idea: If they set their mind to something and work tirelessly toward its accomplishment, the outcome will be positive.
Initially, these victories are small. But eventually, the accomplishments add up to something much bigger. For example, if you want to do a pull-up, you might:
Do seated rows.
Do inverted rows.
Do lat pull-downs.
Do assisted pull-ups.
DO A PULL-UP.
Set a goal, work hard, accomplish said goal, rinse, and repeat.
The more you reinforce hard work with a positive outcome, the more you think of yourself as a winner. If we get good at winning at exercise, we can be good at winning anything.
4. Because you care about your family and friends.
I don't want to get too sappy (it'll ruin my street cred), but the people closest to you rely on your love, energy, and compassion. Mismanaging your body is a disservice to them.
Taking care of your relationship with yourself is the first step toward taking care of your relationship with others. Making time for exercise isn't selfish. Quite the opposite: It's an act of generosity. The people around you deserve your best. The best version of you is a version that's physically and mentally strong.
5. Because you can.
It's easy to see exercise as a chore. Consider this instead: Exercise is a blessing. Not only do you have the knowledge and the means to exercise, you've been given a body that is strong as a tank, fast a cheetah, and more agile than a jackrabbit. OK, perhaps that's slightly overstated, but a healthy body is truly a work of art.
Take inventory. If you are fortunate enough, you have:
- Two strong legs that can carry you anywhere you damn well please.
- Two strong arms that can lift lots of really heavy stuff.
- A strong core and a strong heart and strong hands.
It all works. Every day. It works really well. When you stop and think about it, it's baffling just how impressively well it works. Your workout is a celebration of that.
6. Because you want to feel sexy.
You're going to be hard-pressed to find someone who works out just to feel better—they want to look better too. And for the record, I'm not mad at that. Looking better is a perfectly fine reason to work out—and it's a strong motivator. It's even better if coupled with one of the five reasons above.
I just scratched the sweat-stained surface here—there are hundreds (millions even?) of good reasons to hit the gym. Do me a favor and send this to someone who doesn't work out. They'll thank you later.