The Tipping Point Of Exercise

If you frequent this blog, you know by now the many reasons exercise positively effects you physically. Incase this is your first time here (hello there, and welcome!) here are just a few compelling findings on what exercise does to your body:

  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Control/Maintain your weight
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer (

But what’s more interesting than any of these physical changes, are the unexpected changes in other areas of your life. I recently read The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., and finished with a nice array of Post-its jutting out of the top, the first being this finding, she calls “The Willpower Miracle”. McGonigal sites a study for a new treatment to enhance self-control.

“After two months of the treatment, they showed improvements in attention and the ability to ignore distractions…They had reduced their smoking, drinking, and caffeine intake—despite the fact that nobody had asked them to. They were eating less junk food and more healthy food. They were spending less time watching television and more time studying. They were saving money and spending less on impulse purchases. They felt more in control of their emotions. They even procrastinated less and were less likely to be late for appointments.” (McGonigal, Kelly, Ph.D. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery, 2012.)

You may be wondering if this treatment comes in pill form and if you need a prescription, or if it’s more of a powder that you add to your smoothies.

The treatment – as you may see coming – was exercise.

Two fascinating things to note:

  1. Participants were not given specifics on amount of time to exercise OR  asked to make any other changes to their lifestyle, but increased exercise sessions from 1 time per week to 3 times on their own.
  2. Willpower increasing effects were seen both immediately and long term.
    1. “Fifteen minutes on a treadmill reduces cravings, as seen when researchers try to tempt dieters with chocolate and smokers with cigarettes.” 
    2. “The long-term effects of exercise are even more impressive. It not only relieves ordinary, everyday stress, but it’s as powerful an antidepressant as Prozac.” (McGonigal, Kelly, Ph.D. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery, 2012.)

The take away here is that exercise – moving in any way you enjoy – is like exercising your willpower muscle. It will carry over into other areas of your life both immediately and long term, even when you don’t set out to make other changes.

I have noticed this in my own experience in the following ways:

  • I go to bed earlier when I have a workout planned for the morning.
  • It’s easier to make healthy eating choices on days I work out because I want to support the activity.
  • I drink a ton of water and generally pay more attention to how much water I have had.
  • 10 minutes into a workout – running, weight lifting, yoga, anything! – I feel my mood improve especially if I am particularly stressed about something beforehand.
  • I seek out ways to be active even on vacation; hiking, biking, walking everywhere, etc.
  • I feel more connected to my body; recognizing being overtired, hunger cues, soreness vs. pain, etc.
  • I am more confident; I set goals and work towards them in a calculated way.

There are many ways – big and small – that exercise positively effects your lifestyle. It doesn’t take much, and it can be anything you enjoy from a weekly yoga class to training for a race. The fun thing is, once you start exercising, you find other ways to move you may have never thought of before, that can become your outlet. An option like ClassPass, where you can take classes at a wide variety of studios, is a great way to try a ton of different ways to exercise. Have fun finding something you enjoy doing!

Want guidance determining what lifestyle changes fit your goals, and accountability in taking that first step? My 4-Week Kickstarter health coaching program could be just what you need! Shoot me an email and let’s chat about where you are and where you want to go!

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