Why Do You Exercise?
Honestly, why do you do it?
feel good about yourself?
get fitter or stronger?
prevent ailments or discomfort and pain?
overcome first signs of aging?
………. or because you feel it’s something you ought to do?
–> Think before you respond! I don’t want to know why you think you should exercise but rather WHY you really, truly engage in exercise.
–> What is your goal, your reason, your purpose?
In this article, I’ll address exercising for health and aesthetics.
Reasons For Exercising
Contingent on the culture you live in, exercise might be viewed as thing to do like brushing your teeth.
Many view exercise as the tool to lose weight or tone up a bit.
More stringent exercisers do so for looks, for physical attributes, guys as well as gals. Some of them exercise the healthy way, for a bit of curves or bellies (muscle bellies that is). Others focus on just one body part. You know the ladies who only work butt and guys who only work arms?! Other exercisers go a more extreme route. Each his or her own; we can argue over the definition of health and what constitutes healthy exercise or workout habits another time.
(I’m not talking about real athletes; training for looks is vastly different from training for athletic performance, health, and fitness.)
Some exercise for performance, for their level of fitness, endurance, and/or strength.
Others, many people I know who have reached their mid to late 30’s and beyond, exercise to feel better, fitter, and more energized and prevent ailments that are bound to come with age.
More often than not,
–> in younger years (although there are plenty of people who chase a certain shape still in their 30’s and 40’s, interestingly enough at older age often more men than women)
–> if they define themselves or their worth and value through looks
–> if they feel insecure or unhappy in their own skin
–> or also (!) if they feel like an artist and like to shape their body to their liking
That many people desire to exercise for a certain look or weight loss becomes apparent in most people’s New Year’s resolution: come January people want to lose a bit of flab, get in shape, and do something for their health.
Hence, gyms are packed and gym owners are happy……they know only few will still be around months later. Having paying customers who don’t use the services is exactly what most gyms desire.
~~We want to look good & feel comfortable naked.
We like to feel fit and healthy.
A problem might arise with some people caring more about aesthetics than being and feeling healthy, fit & well.~~
And before you offer me the argument that you can look good and be healthy and happy know I agree. Yet, most people who just exercise for a certain, desired look (for vanity perhaps) fail to recognize the influence of exercise on health, fail to listen to their body, fail to establish truly health supporting habits, and fail to exercise for fun and enjoyment.
Exercise & Expectation:
Gyms and various fitness programs try to lure with enticing slogans, „reshape your body“, „become lean & fit“, „get your dream body“, „calm your mind“, „find yourself“, „lose 2 dress sizes“……
If we truly believe it is secondary; people like the idea, especially if it’s new (a new gym, a new workout, a new….).
We are close to suckers for anything that offers a „novel spin“ on exercise or eating, on anything that promises that much sought after hot bod(y). That’s perhaps a reason so many of us buy into the latest exercise gadget or diet trend. Understand, most things aren’t new; it’s just been wrapped in a new package to wow you.
Only few understand their (true and realistic) EXPECTATIONS from as well as for regular exercise.
I wonder if many people actually have (true) expectations beyond shrink my thighs, get a six pack, get lean and lose the flab which are promised to us by gyms, magazines, and other fitness programs, and which of course are unrealistic, at least for most of us.
Wrong expectations set us up for failure. And failure rarely leads to desired changes or outcomes.
I also wonder, do our expectations meet reality?
The other day, I saw an overweight woman wander completely lost through the gym. I assumed it was her first day. There was nobody around to ask questions, to offer guidance. She held a pamphlet in her hand showing her a few exercises but she didn’t know which machine to use for what. She moved from one corner of the gym to the next; looking and searching….unable to find her way.
I wonder what her expectations were. I wonder if she’ll be back, how her motivation felt after this experience. Did she consider the skills needed to have a great workout? What were her expectations from the gym; did she have any or did she just consider „I’ll exercise for……“ without considering the steps needed on the road to success?
If we were to work out/exercise for looks, for aesthetics only, perhaps not. Perhaps that’s all we’d expect, or rather desire. That’s why we buy into it. We, at least some, want that body – a body taught by society and media to be perfect and desired, a leaner body that’ll supposedly make us happier.
But is exercising for aesthetics actually wrong?
What about those of us who like exercising for health, for feeling fit, energized, and more balanced? How do we measure our expectations or do we actually measure our progress and the effect of exercise on health?
Exercising For Aesthetics
If you have picked up or looked or are influenced by fitness magazines such as „Muscle and Fitness“ or „Muscle and Fitness Hers“ or „Oxygen“ or „Men’s Health“ you might have realized (or not) that these magazines among others are NOT about fitness, but rather solely about muscle – about muscle to achieve a certain look, physique, body.
Put your perception away, for a second. I know we all have our own realities but let’s step away from it and keep an open mind.
Contingent on your goals, your motivation, personality, body shape, exercise inclination, exercise and dieting behavior, and social environment you might have tried to exercise to achieve a certain look – a look these magazines are trying to sell, along with their many supplement ads.
–> Btw, IF you choose to exercise for aesthetics, do you know WHY you are doing it, what persuaded you?
–> Would you have ever considered bulking that muscle or reducing that flab if it weren’t for these magazines and other media outlets?
~~Exercising solely for aesthetics,
to get a certain by media stipulated look,
is like throwing good money after bad~~
Now, there is nothing wrong with exercising for looks as long as it’s a look that suits your shape and genetics (not a look inspired by society or magazines) and that focuses on health – on all aspects of fitness (endurance, strength, speed, power, balance, skill, …..) as well as healthy lifestyle, mind-set, and balanced eating habits.
Plus, exercising for looks, hence lifting weights (external or body weight), allows you to become stronger, get a greater feel for your body, increase your level of confidence in yourself, your skills, and abilities, and of course alters your posture, how you carry yourself, and are perceived by others.
Exercising Solely For Aesthetics:
If you have tried to achieve a body portrait as desirable by these muscle and fitness magazines you might have realized this might not lead to true happiness, health, fitness, and satisfaction.
For some of us it can actually be rather frustrating.
Especially if you tried to achieve a look that’s not in line with your genetics and the shape of your bones and muscles you must have found this workout (and often diet) regime encouraged by these magazines rather disappointing, agonizing, and defeating. Or?
You drag yourself to the gym (initially super motivated but for many motivation declines), work hard & diligently, sweat like a pig, eat healthy…. yet your body barely changes.
But, for us women, exercising (and dieting) excessively actually leads to ill health, pain, and reduced quality of life decades later. (How: think triad, loss of menses.) I KNOW we live in the moment. I know we don’t care how we’ll feel in 20, 30 or 50 years from now but believe me, when the time comes you wish you had!
The fitness and muscle industry is mainly about aesthetics –
it’s a whole industry, a market, a very lucrative market:
this industry has influenced us, our desire to look good and feel sexy.
If You Decided To Exercise For Your Looks/A Certain Shape:
how long did your workout mission last? How long did it take before you threw in the towel? (older people can relate perhaps a bit more than younger people)
did you reach your desired look?
–> How long did it take you? What did you have to give up to gain that look? Was it worth it?
–> What happened once (if) you reached the goal weight or shape?
–> Were you able to maintain the look?
Now, if you are young (in your teens or early 20’s) and not too overweight you will have an easier time to perhaps achieve your desired look. But if you are a bit older or overweight and have been struggling with weight and eating habits your whole life you’ll be in for a challenging journey, especially if you do it for aesthetics, and only aesthetic reasons.
If you reached your goal body shape what kept you going back to the gym or your workout?
–> Did you exercise as regularly as you did previously or did your exercise (and eating) habits slip? What about your motivation?
If you failed to reach your desired shape, did you stop working out or going to the gym completely? Did you fall back into old, perhaps, less healthy habits?
Did working out feel enjoyable or like a chore?
–> What did you enjoy about your workouts?
How did you feel on days you didn’t like what you saw in the mirror or when the scale didn’t budge?
What about your eating habits? Did they change (drastically, towards an unhealthy, unbalanced direction) in order to achieve your desired physique/shape?
Did you end up taking supplements (I’m not talking about vitamins or minerals) or develop unhealthy habits to get closer to achieving your goal?
We KNOW a physical perfect body doesn’t exist. What does this ONE body look like? We are all different, come in different shapes and sizes. The shape of my hips are different from yours. The shape and length of your legs are different from mine, so are your arms, so is your belly……yet, we allow to be influenced, for our bodies to be compared, perhaps for our happiness and success to be defined….
Have you ever looked around the dressing room (or beach,…) with other people around?
Isn’t it amazing how many beautiful bodies (especially female, sorry guys but you often tend to look rather similar) exist?
None of them look alike.
They all come in different shapes and sizes, yet they are all somehow beautiful.
(I hope I don’t need to argue our need to change our standard of beauty!)
By the way, would you really want to look like the „perfect“ body (however unachievable that is) encouraged by media or society? – I DON’T.
Understand your perception of what you desire is heavily influenced by social constructs & marketing.
(Big companies are establishing for YOU what you want, whether you know it or not. They work hard in getting you to do exactly what they want you to do.)
~ Kenny Kane & Andy Galpin @ Body of Knowledge
In order to work out for aesthetics or reach a certain body or shape, we need to:
- lift weights regularly (push through our comfort zone)
- consume proper, real nutrition (the supplement industry did a fine job in having us convinced we need their stuff to build muscle)
- allow our body to rest
- and to maintain muscle mass we need to lift regularly, continuously
Lifting weight comes with many awesome (!) benefits:
- it strengthens our bones and muscles (duh!)
- slows muscle loss due to aging
- reduces risk of osteoporosis
- raises caloric expenditure
- supports weight loss
- increases quality of life and independence
- can reduce risk of injuries, pain, and ailments
- improves posture
- increases confidence
- leads to better mood
BUT, if you ONLY lift weights for aesthetics, you don’t focus on your health, condition, endurance, speed, weakness, balance, mental & physical strength, level of happiness or enjoyment.
On a side note for those of you comparing your workouts to another person (I know plenty of you do) keep in mind we have different goals, work out for different reasons with different objectives in mind, have different strength and weaknesses,……!
Now, some of you might say: well, i don’t lift weight. I do yoga. Just know that yoga, too, if that’s the only thing you do, is too unbalanced!
But only lifting weights is too one sided.
True fitness, true condition, health & happiness and the benefits of an active lifestyle go beyond throwing a few weights around and definitely beyond working only on aesthetics.
(We all like feeling comfortable in our skin BUT the difference lies in us being told which body makes us comfortable and which habits, behaviors, and body awareness & satisfaction truly leads to our own happiness.)
When and Why Working Out For Aesthetics Works:
I would be a hypocrite if I’d say working out for looks is bad. I’d be an even bigger hypocrite if I’d say working out for muscles (and a desired certain shape that goes along with it) is bad.
I, after all, look at my body as an art project: sometimes I like to have a fuller, more curvy look. Other times I seek a lean look. Then I have times I want a strong, powerful, and muscular look.
I often state: „I eat and train for my curves & happiness“.
I love my muscles & curves and how I can manipulate (in a good way) my physique.
Difference being, however, I work out firstly for performance, fitness, condition, health, strength, and happiness……and so I can enjoy the food I love…..and secondly for muscle shape.
Getting an aesthetically, fit & strong, and healthy looking body (which suits my definition based on my genes) is actually just a positive side effect of it all.
(Don’t neglect that positive effect on mental health, healthy sleep habits, cognition,…)
….but, that’s me. You might have other reasons to exercise. Any motivation to exercise, given that we as society have a motivation problem when it comes to exercise, it to be applauded and supported.
Just keep in mind, your motivation will change. What motivated you today might not motivate you next month or year. And given that exercise and working out should be part of your lifestyle, not just a single period in your life, find something that motivates you to continue to exercise, today as well as next year and decade.
When Working Out For Aesthetics Will NOT Work:
- go through bodily changes and stages we have no control over
- deal with aging sooner or later and the effect of hormones on the shape of our body
- have our own set of genetics
- have more or less (to varying degree) supportive health-promoting behaviors which might still be challenged by our environment
- experience challenging phases, sabotaging relationships, and, and, and
- are enticed by food manufacturer to consume more calories than we need or would want
If you only focus on your looks or the shape of your body and are unable to achieve the desired look you will not only sell yourself short but also throw in the towel. Worse, you might developed unhealthy or obsessive behaviors that lead to even less success and more unhappiness.
Not to mention, you fail to do anything positive to support your health (physical and mental) – which actually truly matters.
~~Embrace your differences, embrace your genetics & your curves.
Embrace what makes you stand out from the crowd~~
Exercising For Health
Thus, I encourage you to think in terms of exercising for your health, YOUR health which matters day in and day out, today, next week, next month, next year, and next decade(s).
Exercise for how you feel, your strength and stamina, energy, well-being, happiness, confidence, level of fitness and for fun and enjoyment.
Lifting weights and building muscle is part of it; it plays a huge part in health, just like engaging in cardio as well as relaxing, body-mind exercises (yoga, qigong,….).
Exercising so you’ll feel great from inside out
exercising for performance, fitness, happiness, and health
are great motivators to keep (or start) exercising
By exercising for health and how you feel you don’t focus on something you can’t control, such a body fat disappearing from your thighs or love handles.
much stronger you have gotten,
much fitter you’ve gotten,
easy it feels to dash up the stairs, and
much more energy you have when dealing with stressful work events.
Exercising regularly and exercising based on your realistic goals, eating healthy, enjoying what you do, recognizing progress, and being happy with yourself leads to happiness and body image satisfaction. The beauty, your beauty will shin through.
Focusing on something superficial as looks, exercising solely to achieve a certain look will lead to disappointments (if you are unable to achieve or maintain it) and emotional roller coaster especially if you don’t have the genetics to achieve your desired physique or body shape. More importantly, however, you lose out on valuable life, experiences, and happiness. Live your life fully, do what you enjoy, and make exercise for the right reasons part of your healthy lifestyle.
What are your reasons to exercise?
Make it inspiring.
Make it personal!
I believe, you want to
- look and feel great in your own skin, given your body’s limitations.
- work out for your health, confidence, performance, and happiness.
- engage in exercise you enjoy, that challenges you but makes you feel in control and successful.
…. if those are your reasons and you’d like to be part of a small group of like-minded people join us for our group workouts. Plus, the best part, you’ll be part of Mother Nature, especially if you’ve been stuck indoors all day….the benefits are endless!
Let’s Get Personal:
After having exercised (and dieted) for nearly a decade all throughout my 20’s, my mind-set shifted. Perhaps I recognized the agenda of marketing and all these muscle magazines. Thank God!
I no longer chase after a certain shape. I chase after my level of fitness, condition, and happiness wherever the focus may be. Recognizing how great I feel after a workout and how happy it makes me feel (even on days I initially didn’t feel like working out) regardless if I work out at the park, go for a trail run in the woods or train at a gym…became my motivation for working out (there is no such thing as bad weather, just dress properly and you too might love it).
For me, working out became about trying new things, meeting new challenges, changing my physique to my liking, having fun AND enjoying rest days, and great food. It became about spoiling myself and my body, and loving my body for it’s strength and abilities but also its weaknesses.
Yes, I have days I wish my thighs would be even more muscular, with a bit less inner thigh flab or tummy flab (I blame carbs, hence water weight – yes, I’m a carb junky)…….but not obsessing over it and working out for fun and performance and health has made my body stronger than ever.
And on the subject of working out outdoor:
I just don’t experience my body the same inside a gym or other sport studio as I do outside. I don’t get to experience Mother Nature’s beauty the same, and might miss the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, the most breath-taking colorful spectacles, and diverse air conditions (I’m not referring to A/Cs).
~~My health, my physical ability, how strong, powerful, and energetic I feel,
the confidence in myself, my mental strength & balance, and my happiness –
takes priority. Those are reasons I choose to exercise.~~
I hope you too have or will discover(ed) the true benefits of exercise.
This blog post is of course geared towards the average Jane and Joe, not athletes and their reasons for exercise.