Fitness trackers and watches can be a blessing and a curse. They give us insight into our workouts, bodies, and rest and recovery, but they also provide us with data that is easy to obsess over, like how many calories we burn during a workout. While it can be rewarding to feel like you got a good burn after an intense workout, it’s important to remember that exercise is about much more than that. Next time you lace up for a run, swing a kettlebell, or clip in for a cycling class, focus on these seven workout benefits that are more important than calories (I promise!) and watch how your relationship with exercise changes as a result.
1. How you physically feel
After a good workout, there’s an unmistakable feeling of accomplishment, adrenaline, and pride that can’t be beat. Exercise opens the blood vessels to allow more blood to the muscles, which makes the body feel refreshed. The heart rate comes down, which brings an overwhelming sense of calmness to the body, and adrenaline and endorphins flow through the body. No matter how challenging the workout, the way your body feels afterward is almost always worth it. By celebrating this feeling (as opposed to a numerical metric), you’ll start to look forward to exercise instead of it being another item on your to-do list. The next time you work out, pay close attention to how your body feels afterward and how that feeling impacts the rest of your day.
2. How you mentally feel
The famous Legally Blonde quote about how exercise makes people happy (“and happy people just don’t kill their husbands!”), is not just iconic, it’s true (well, at least about the exercising making people happy part): Exercise increases the brain chemicals that are responsible for a boosted mood. “Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that help you feel happier, more relaxed, and less anxious,” explained Dr. Kristin Hughes, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and concierge health strategist. When you make a workout part of your everyday routine, you’ll notice big changes in your mood, emotional outlook, and stress levels, which are much more impactful than caloric burn.
3. Progress made
Calories are a measurement of how much energy the body expends, which means that as you get more fit, your calories burned per workout should decrease since your body will be expending less energy as it adapts. The better you get, the less calories you’ll burn, and therefore, using calories as a measure of success is a losing game. Instead, put more focus on the progress you’ve made, whether it’s increasing weights, speed, number of reps, or increased confidence. The next time you start a workout, look for all the ways you’ve improved. If you’re just starting out, make sure to take note of where you’re at so you can measure your progress as it happens.
4. Strength gained
While physical strength is majorly important for a healthy and happy life, nothing compares to the emotional strength that regular exercise provides. Completing a tough workout is a major accomplishment, and the “I can do anything” feeling you get afterward can have a domino effect on the rest of your day. Whether your exercise affirmation is “If I can get through this, I can get through anything” or “I am strong enough to conquer all of today’s challenges,” a good workout will remind you that you are stronger than you think. Calories or weight can’t measure strength, so start taking note of which workouts make you feel like a superhero and proceed with your day accordingly.
5. Commitment and dedication to yourself
Following through with our commitments to others is often a non-negotiable in careers and relationships, but our commitments to ourselves can easily be the first things we abandon when life gets busy and overwhelming. By dedicating time for your body and honoring that commitment, you tell yourself (and others) that you value your own needs, and that attitude will rub off on the rest of your life. Filling your own cup is necessary for a balanced life, and spending time doing something that benefits you, makes you feel good, and improves your day is something you should be proud of. By honoring your commitment and dedication to yourself, you’re putting yourself in a better position to serve others, and that’s something to celebrate.
6. Energy levels and sleep patterns
Maybe you no longer need a 3 p.m. coffee pick-me-up because you have more energy when working out regularly, or you’ve been falling and staying asleep more easily at night since having a consistent exercise routine. Working out affects energy levels and sleep, which is way better motivation to move your body than a calorie burn could ever be. The next time you crush a workout, take note of how much more awake, alert, and attentive you feel throughout the day and how easily you fall asleep at night. Burning calories is great, but if you don’t have the energy to get through your day, what’s the point?
7. Your self-esteem
More important than any other aspect of physical fitness is how it affects our relationship with ourselves. Fitness trackers can’t measure your confidence, pride, success, or self-esteem, but those things are far more important and longer lasting than calories burned or weight lost. Whether you’re improving as an athlete, see positive physical or emotional changes, feel less stressed, or are simply honoring more time for yourself, pay close attention to how your workouts impact your self-confidence and start using that as a metric of success. Calories are cool, but confidence is everything.