The Difference Between Seeing & Getting Results
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Exercise is one of the most valuable habits we can have. A variety of reputable sources from various fields -- Forbes, WebMD, CNBC, etc. -- list exercise as one of the most important regular activities for career success, health, and happiness. Despite the "common knowledge" of exercise's value, only 10-20% of people get enough exercise and roughly half of those who start an exercise program quit within six months .
Why are people giving up on this critical habit?
Seeing Exercise Through the Wrong Lens
In a way, exercise is the "fish judged by its ability to climb a tree." One problem with exercise is that it's often assessed only for its ability to create weight loss. However, if you assess exercise's value simply by whether or not you're losing weight, you will miss almost all of the results that exercise is providing. To see that exercise is "working," you have to look at it from different angles.
Let's look at a few examples. The following studies are situations where, if the exercisers only focused on weight loss, they would "not see any results" despite getting great results:
Study 1. People went from not exercising to strength training twice per week . At the end of the study, no weight was lost. Was the exercise a waste of time? No! People became stronger, gained confidence, lowered their blood pressure, and felt healthier at the end.
Study 2. Women walked for 30 minutes per day, five days per week . After 2.5 months, the women lost an average of just one pound. On the other hand, the women improved their aerobic fitness, reduced their blood pressure, and lost midsection fat.
Study 3. For 12 weeks, men and women did circuit strength training twice per week . There was no change in weight, but the participants enhanced their flexibility, aerobic fitness, general physical functioning, mental health, and self-assessed energy levels.
The exercise programs led to virtually no change in weight, yet people became physically and mentally healthier, fitter, livelier, more confident, and more physically able.
Why did I write this post? What am I trying to tell you? Here are my recommendations:
Exercise! First and most importantly, get involved in a regular exercise routine. Even something as simple as 10 minutes of walking can temporarily reduce anxiety and blood pressure. Exercise offers so many emotional, mental, and physical benefits.
Measure Progress in Several Ways. If it's relevant to your goals, track your weight. Add other measures of progress as well. Examples: measure your waist and hip circumference monthly. Get a blood test every six months. Rate your joint pain on a daily basis (e.g. 1-10) to see if the pain decreases with exercise. Rate your mood before and after a workout to see if your mood improves. Complete a maximum push-up test or time how long it takes for you to walk a mile.
Preuss, S.R. (2020). Work-It Circuit: Improving Health, Fitness, and Self-Efficacy through a Worksite Exercise Program (Doctoral dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro).
Murphy, M.H. & Hardman, A.E. (1997). Training effects of short and long bouts of brisk walking in sedentary women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30(1), 152-157.
Oliveira-Junior, S. A., Boullosa, D., Mendonça, M. L., Vieira, L. F., Mattos, W. W., Amaral, B. O., ... & Martinez, P. F. (2021). Effects of circuit weight-interval training on physical fitness, cardiac autonomic control, and quality of life in sedentary workers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9), 4606.