Strange question – I know. I am sure that you are well aware of the reasons for your training regime; to lose weight, to improve your fitness, to reduce your low back pain and so on. There really are a limitless number of reasons that you are training for. Ideally you have one specific goal and are working towards it in a clear way, with sound principles and stoic determination. But I am sure that you have had a few road blocks along the way, a few stages where your progress has hit a plateau or life has gotten in the way and your physical progress has stopped. And it is frustrating. At this point have you ever stopped and thought about the other benefits that exercise is delivering to you? I doubt it, but there are dozens and some of them might be so minor that you don’t perceive them, but they are there and they are real.
I talk quite a lot of the 3 P’s of health. The physical, which encompasses things such as weight loss, weight gain, fitness, strength and so on. These are quite easily identifiable and easily measured. When the progress is moving in the right direction it is easy to see and it is very rewarding. I would hope that this part of any health and fitness regime only accounts for about 1/3 of the benefits that you attribute to training. Unfortunately, most people that I have helped over the years have had the physical component encompassing nearly 100% of the training associated improvements to their life, and that is a shame, because when we go from being inactive to active there are so many more benefits.
The other 2 P’s in the triad are physiological benefits and psychological benefits. These are not usually factored in to any expected health regime improvements and when we consider that they should take up 2/3 of the exercise-associated improvements to your life this is a shame. Identifying them is crucial if we are going to maintain our health and physical improvements over the long term because at some point the physical benefits of exercise will stop. We cannot keep losing weight until we weigh nothing at all. We can’t keep improving our deadlift until we can pick up an entire building.
The physiological benefits are those such as improved blood glucose metabolism, improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol improvements and other organ-functioning improvements usually related to better enzyme and hormonal interaction because of increased sensitivity or function related to exercise. These improvements are almost always going to be imperceptible, but if we are going to live a long and healthy life are absolutely critical. Poor blood glucose metabolism can lead to Diabetes, among other things, and can cause irreversible damage to nerves and small blood vessels leading to things such as neuropathy, kidney failure, blindness and organ failure. Exercise improves the body’s ability to regulate or blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood that any of these things will develop. The same can be said of blood pressure and high cholesterol, the former leading to heart failure and the latter leading to things such as stroke. We don’t perceive these benefits but when we get a blood test we can see them. These improvements occur independent of any weight loss and physical strength improvements and ultimately lead us to feeling and living better.
The other P, psychological, is much more perceptible. Exercise and physical activity has long been shown to improve things such as depression, anxiety and sleep. Whether we can actively feel or sense these things or not, they are happening. Next time you are at the gym make a note of how you felt when you walked in as compared to how you felt when you walked out. Make a note of how you felt before you started your run as compared to how you felt when you finished. And I mean mentally, not physically. These improved feelings of self-worth and happiness last for days and weeks at a time when we exercise, because exercise alters the way in which our brains respond to certain hormones and substances. Be mindful of how you slept the night after a great exercise session. I am absolutely certain that you will note that you felt and slept a lot better.
I wrote this article because I often see and talk to people that place too much emphasis on the physical benefits of exercise. And whilst these improvements are important, there should be more emphasis placed on our entire health, as a package, and not just the way that we physically look or how well we are moving. When you hit your next plateau don’t think about how this is all a waste of time, but instead think about the 66% and how much you continue to improve it every day.
Yours in Health.