It's awesome that over the past few years the fitness industry has slowly adopted the language of lifestyle change. But magazine covers and Instagram feeds still reveal ab photos aplenty. Transformation Tuesday is still a weekly occurrence.
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Indeed, the belief that exercise is a great way to lose weight is still too common. The idea that weight-loss is a great way to motivate yourself to exercise is still far too popular. Though talking about making long-term lifestyle changes for overall health and well-being has become trendy, the prevailing weight-loss narrative hasn't fallen out of favour.
This needs to change for five reasons
The first is that research has shown that when it comes to losing weight, exercise plays a less significant role than originally thought. It's certainly not the largest factor, nor is it half the equation as the popular refrain "eat less and move more" implies. People who are active tend to be health conscious and eat better, but the weight-loss results have far less to do with the movement of the body and far more to do with the movement of the fork.
The second is that, contrary to popular belief, weight loss is a weak motivator. Studies show that people who maintain long-term lifestyle changes do so for intrinsic reasons. They do it to for their health and well-being. Looking good in a bikini or with your shirt off is certainly a pleasant and enjoyable by-product of exercising more, but long-term motivation must be more than skin deep. As long as weight loss remains the primary motivator, permanent change may remain elusive.
Lean people need to be every bit as active as those who are overweight.
The third is that linking exercise to weight-loss perpetuates the mistaken idea that exercise is predominantly good for you because it helps you lose weight. This is misleading. Being more active positively impacts your blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, strengthens your bones and muscles, and improves the functioning of your heart, lungs and brain. Regardless of any impact it has on your waistline, physical activity is overwhelmingly good for you.
The fourth is that talk of weight loss leads to the false assumption that physical activity is only important for those who are overweight. The truth is that regular exercise is instrumental for good health no matter how much you weigh. Lean people need to be every bit as active as those who are overweight. Whether you're young or old, tall or short, slim or robust, or anywhere in between, exercise is an essential part of leading a happy and healthy life. Period.
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The fifth is that losing weight isn't a lifestyle. Getting active to lose weight may seem admirable, but what happens when you reach your goal? Where you end up in life has a lot to do with where you start --
weight loss isn't the best place. It's important to set yourself up for long-term success, and losing weight simply doesn't provide the incentive and motivation necessary to sustain long-term change.
Making exercise about weight-loss leads down a dangerous path
Exercise alone is not an effective way to lose weight, nor maintain it, which leads to frustration. When losing weight is your sole motivation and you struggle to see results, you're more likely to quit. If you don't realize that the benefits of exercise are independent of weight-loss, and if you don't value those benefits (like having more energy, growing stronger and feeling less stressed), you have no reason to keep going.
Linking exercise to looking good has caused us to drastically undervalue its importance.
Being physically active needs to stop being treated as a means to an end. Our bodies were made to move and that's just what they should do -- not to fit into a pair of jeans, or to look good for beach season, and certainly not for more Instagram likes -- but because much like eating, breathing and sleeping, it's a vital part of life.
Oddly enough, linking exercise to looking good has caused us to drastically undervalue its importance. Getting active has much more to do with what you gain and much less to do with what you lose. That's what we should be talking about.
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