One thing we all love is this: Instant gratification. And there are so many ways to get instant gratification these days – Wine, Cheetos, going on Facebook to see that your high school bully gained weight…all of those things make us feel good.
A lot of the things we do for instant gratification aren’t that great for us (say, like wine and Cheetos), but we still do them and, really, it’s okay to do these things sometimes.
But there are other healthy ways to get an instant boost. Yes..I’m going to talk about exercise.
Exercise is something we don’t think of as giving us instant gratification, I know. If you do exercise, you probably do it because you know you’re supposed to or because you’re trying to lose weight. You’re not reallly thinking of it as something that can make you feel as good as, say, wine and Cheetos.
And, to be fair, it doesn’t give you that exact same feeling.
But…exercise can deliver instant gratification in a few ways. Just hear me out and you can prove it to yourself.
One of the single best benefits of exercise is an instant lift in your mood. In one study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (yes, we have one of those), scientists found that just 10 minutes of exercise a week was enough to significantly improve your mood.
10 minutes a week, y’all.
Now, scientists don’t know exactly how all of it works, but we do know a few things that happen when you workout:
- Distraction – Whatever’s going on in your life, taking a break to workout instantly takes you out of your head and into your body. This is especially useful when you’re working on a particularly gnarly problem, worrying over something or you just need a break from real life for awhile. Being physical means your brain can rest for a bit and you’ll often even find you’ll find a solution to whatever’s bothering you.
- Self-efficacy – We all have those days when we feel like failures. Exercise is one thing that can take you out of that place, give you some confidence and help you feel better about yourself. If you can finish a workout, you can finish other things too.
- Social Interaction – Not all workouts will be social, but just the idea of getting out reminds you that there is a world out there with people and puppies and flowers and that makes us all feel a little less alone in the world. We get energy from other people and when you’re all doing the same thing, like walking outside or working out in the gym, it gives you that little boost of being a part of something larger than yourself.
- Hormones – Then there’s the biological side of exercise. When you workout your body releases feel-good hormones. Sometimes it takes a while before those kick in but, when they do, you know it. Your mind clears and suddenly life looks better than it did before.
Do you ever feel like you’re tired all the time? I think we’ve all been there…maybe we are there right now. Some of that has to do with getting older. It’s a sad fact that we just don’t have the same energy as we did when we were younger.
On top of that, we’re busier than ever and we have a lot of responsibilities.
Trying to cram the same amount of effort into an older body and a busy schedule makes you tired.
We can probably do something about how we schedule our lives, but one quick fix is exercise.
One study done by researchers at the University of Georgia found that sedentary adults who did just 20 minutes of low-intensity exercise (like taking a walk, say) 3 days a week reported feeling more energized after just a few weeks.
I know that when you’re tired, the last thing you feel like doing is exercise. You may have to trick yourself into it:
- Just put on your workout clothes. Sometimes that alone is enough to get you moving.
- Promise yourself you’ll only do the warm-up. If you don’t feel more energized, you can stop.
- Plan a reward for finishing your workout.
Sometimes you just have to negotiate with yourself a little to get over that initial I-don’t-feel-like-exercising hump.
Do you ever have days when you wake up and are already making a list of the ways you suck? Or maybe you’re already thinking of all the things you have to do and are worrying that you’ll fail.
One way to get your mind in a more positive place is to achieve something and a workout is one of your best options.
This works in a couple of ways. First, there’s the instant gratification of completing something you view as challenging.
Just changing into workout clothes can be a challenge, right? And once you do that, once you start the warm-up and once you finish the workout, you feel good about yourself. You did it! If you can do that, you can do more.
The second way it works is over the long term. There have been some studies about exercise and self-esteem and most of them conclude that people who start exercising and keep doing it consistently for at least 6 weeks have a higher self-esteem whether they lose weight or not.
Looking at all of this, let’s sum up: If you workout for 10-20 minutes just once a week, you’ll be in a better mood. If you do it at least 3 times a week, you’ll be in a better mood, have more energy and raise your self-esteem.
Can’t beat that with a stick.
Need a workout to try? I’ve got a great Low-Impact Cardio Workout just for you.
D. Scully, J. Kremer, M. M. Meade, et al. Physical exercise and psychological well being: a critical review. Br J Sports Med. 1998 Jun; 32(2): 111–120.