Why I don’t exercise to lose weight
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“I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any.” – Mark Twain
Exercise can be an incredible tool for weight loss, but a lot of people don’t truly understand what is happening when they exercise their body, especially if they go from 0 to 60 trying to use exercise to shed weight.
The cells of your body consider exercise stressful. It’s a hormetic stress, meaning that although stressful, the stress can result in something good. But overdoing it can result in something bad.
Exercise stresses your body in a few different ways:
- It creates a demand on energy. Our bodies like to hang onto any energy it has stored, and resists giving it up. This is how extreme exercise can actually inhibit weight loss. Your body can exert a will so strong to replace lost energy that after a tough workout it will drive you to replace that lost energy by any means. And usually the more caloric and tasty, the better.
- It creates lactic acid, which creates that “burn” you feel. Turns out though, this isn’t always a bad thing.
- Overdoing it can create overburdened joints and organs. This also comes with aging, and most people you talk to that love their physical activity routine will tell you that the pain is worth it, even though it creates physical stress.
Holding on to energy
Let’s focus on bullet point one for a bit, the fact that exercise creates an energy demand, but your body likes holding onto its energy stores.
If you’re overweight, there’s a really simple reason for it. We all have an incredible system in place in our bodies to ensure that if we run out of food, we can live for a while. Hopefully long enough to find more food.
The preferred way for your body to store energy is in fat. All your cells have stores of sugar (called glycogen) for quick energy. When you ingest carbs (sweet or salty) they are broken down into glucose in your gut, and absorbed into your bloodstream as sugar. If your glycogen stores are full, your liver will convert that sugar into triglycerides, which get packed into cholesterol molecules that carry those triglycerides to fat cells for storage.
These fatty acids can then be utilized for energy at a later time, because the mitochondria in our cells can use either sugar or fat to create energy. (It would probably be pretty prohibitive to movement if we stored extra energy as sugar in our body. Imagine trying to lug around sacs of honey or maple syrup hanging off your butt!)
The point to all this is that the food we ingest profoundly affects how much fat, or weight, our bodies hold onto. And if someone tries to use exercise to get rid of the fat, but can’t resist the will of the body to replace that expended energy, then weight loss can be futile. Even if weight loss happens at first, the body will eventually makes its push to get that energy storage back to the level it was at. Curses!
A new way of thinking
It’s because of this knowledge that I’ve change my viewpoint on exercise. I think exercise is VITAL for health, but I think getting on the cultural hamster wheel of working out JUST for weight loss and vanity is a detrimental view of exercise that expects you to base your worth as a human being on how much you weigh or how often you are at the gym.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a bunch of bull-poopy.
With all that being said, here’s why I exercise:
- It moves things through your cardiovascular system, including your brain. Exercise increases the speed of your blood flow. As we age, waste material can accumulate in our veins, arteries, and organs. When you increase blood flow, you force these things to move through and get filtered out. This is the difference between a pond and a stream. Ponds get murky and gunky. The higher movement in streams pushes things through.
- It makes you strong. Even walking creates strength. And if you have any concerns about brain health like I do, studies have correlated leg strength to brain strength.
- It creates endurance. I have a weird reason for running every Sunday. It’s really the only time I run, but I do it because if an emergency were ever to happen, and I needed to run for a while to get help, I want to have the endurance to do it. Random, I know, but it works for me.
And that’s really why I exercise.
Now that’s not to say that the old thought conditioning of feeling like as a woman I should look a certain way, weigh a certain weight, and fit into a certain size isn’t there in my brain anymore. (Men are also subject to conditioned thinking about what a strong man should look like.) I think that story-line is so ingrained that it will always take up a little space in my brain, but I just don’t really believe the story anymore.
One of the top benefits of including exercise regularly is that it reduces stress. When you exercise your brain produces endorphins, a natural pain killer. Plus exercise during the day can help you sleep at night.
My recommendation is that you use exercise as a tool to assist you. YOU get to pick what exercising looks like for you. If it’s just walking, walk. If it’s dancing to your favorite music, pick three or four songs daily and dance your butt off. If it’s working out at a gym on a machine, do it.
Use exercise as a tool that WORKS FOR YOU. Don’t exercise just because you feel shame about wearing a couple sizes larger than you used to, or because when you look in the mirror you don’t look like the model on the cover from the latest catalog. Exercise because it is VITAL to human health, and will hopefully keep your cardiovascular system running well, toxins cleared out of your body, and your endurance up to par so you can participate in anything you want to at anytime.
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