Why You Shouldn't Exercise for Your Physical Health 🧠
The number 1 reason you should exercise isn't what you think it is. (8min read)
Did you know that on average, therapists are more effective at helping people lose weight and start exercising than nutritionists, exercise scientists, personal trainers, and even medical doctors?
When I heard this, it made total sense to me.
I believe there are lots of reasons for this, but today, I want to cover one in particular.
I’d like you to consider that exercise is less about the physical health benefits and more about the mental and emotional health benefits.
I’ve helped hundreds of people lose weight and start exercising, but not a SINGLE ONE was for the physical health benefits.
In fact, I’ve never once been able to convince someone to start exercising for these kinds of benefits.
What I’ve found, time and time again, is what gets people more motivated are the mental and emotional health benefits of exercise.
One of the most powerful of these mental health benefits is self-esteem.
Why is this the most powerful?!
I’m glad you asked, let’s dive in.
My 200lbs Overweight Client
I had a client come to me once who was 200lbs overweight.
I can’t share her real name for obvious reasons, so we’ll go with Alice instead!
Alice was a 45-year-old mom who wasn’t eating right, she wasn't exercising, she had a high-stress job, she had no time for herself, she wasn’t sleeping well, she was toeing the depression line, and recently had started to think she was developing “Adult ADHD” because her focus was getting so terrible…
You know, the average American these days.
She told me she had tried everything, but nothing was working.
She couldn’t stick to the nutritionist's meal plans, her trainer’s 1hr long workouts didn’t fit her schedule, and she felt so much shame in the doctor’s office, that she just stopped going.
After patiently listening to her story, one that I’ve heard hundreds of times, I told her that she didn’t have a weight problem, she had a self-esteem problem.
A “I’m not good enough” problem.
A “I’m not worthy” problem.
An “I don’t deserve health and wellness” problem.
A “I feel guilty for spending time on myself” problem.
A “I’m a burden” problem.
A “I don’t believe in or trust myself” problem.
Alice wasn’t struggling with her physical health, she was struggling with her mental health, and it was manifesting in her physical health.
Do you get the difference?
She needed to learn how to show up for herself, and believe in herself.
She needed self-confidence, not abs.
To which she replied, “BUT Cody, abs would make me self-confident!!”
If only she’d seen the ripped athlete who I met with right before her…
Who, despite his six-pack abs, was struggling with dating and talking with girls because his self-esteem was so low, and he was afraid of rejection.
I had to remind Alice that confidence was already in her, it’s not external to her.
We are all born with it but forget about it because life can really suck sometimes.
Rebuilding Self Esteem
So, how can exercise help rebuild it?
Well, it’s not restrictive eating or hour-long workouts, I can assure you of that!
It’s 1 pushup. Yes, you read that correctly.
If you’re surprised, so was Alice. In fact, she nearly left our initial meeting because she thought I was making fun of her.
She was so used to trying to lose weight for physical health reasons, that she thought that 1 pushup, which is a physical health outcome, was a joke.
She fought me on it, but in the end, I convinced her to try it out for a week.
A week later, she returned and reported that she’d hit her 1 pushup goal every day the previous week, with an eye roll, to ensure I knew she thought this was ridiculous.
She obviously was unamused with my assignment.
However, when I asked her, “Alice when was the last time in your life that you committed to something for yourself and then did it without missing a single day?”
To which I got a slight eyebrow raised as her eyes shot to the roof searching for the last time this had happened.
After a couple of minutes of searching, she said she couldn’t remember a single time in the last 25 years she’d done something like that.
I could see the wheels spinning in her head as I then asked, “That being said, how does it feel to have done exactly that this week, with no excuses, for the first time in over 20 years?”
That’s when I saw it.
The faintest glimmer of confidence appeared in her eyes.
Her shoulders inched backward, her chin raised just a little bit.
I know she felt it too, because she started to cry seconds later saying that for the first time in her life, she felt proud of herself.
It was an emotional moment, even writing about it right now gets me teary-eyed.
This mental and emotional outcome meant more to her than any squat max or six-pack ever would.
It motivated her from the INSIDE-OUT, not from the OUTSIDE-IN.
The next week, she came back and let me know that not only had she hit her single pushup goal, but she’d actually done 5 or 10 pushups each day!
Now that she realized she was doing this for herself, and not just for me, it was a whole new ball game.
We still kept the goals tiny, but the flywheel was turning!
Over the coming weeks and months, we went from 1 pushup per day to 10, to 20, to 30.
Each week she’d report back with her progress, and my singular goal was to ensure she spent time remembering her confidence.
Growing that tiny flame after the first week into a roaring fire!
Over time, Alice went from 1 push-up to 15-minute walks, to never eating two bad meals in a row, to 30-minute workouts, to a yoga practice, etc.
The confidence she felt on the inside started to manifest on the outside as the pounds started coming off!
It was at this moment, that I knew it was time to introduce some failure into the mix.
In the beginning, our goal was to master the art of showing up for herself by any means necessary, which is why the physical goals were so laughable.
However, as her self-esteem grew, we started to set larger goals that Alice didn’t always hit, which introduced some failure into the mix.
This is important because failure is inevitable when you’re doing anything worth doing.
I can remember the first time this happened because Alice walked in head down, shoulders sagged, and nearly on the edge of tears before even saying a single word.
As we started chatting, she informed me that she missed her exercise goal 1 of the days that week.
This was the first time this had happened since we started working together, and she told me she could barely get herself to come in and “face me” that day.
So, I smiled gently, and asked her, “In the past, how would failing 1 day out of 7 have affected you?”
She said it would have crushed her, and she would have given up on the rest of the week after missing just one day.
The classic snowball effect.
But that didn’t happen, and she even mentioned that on the day that she missed, she still did 1 pushup.
To which I replied, “So, you not only still hit your single pushup, but you hit the 15-minute walk goal the other 6 days, and despite the shame you were feeling before this session, you still came in and didn’t quit on yourself… Does that sound like a “failure” to you? It sounds like tremendous growth to me.”
She was so focused on being perfect, that she forgot to look backward at how far she had come.
So, instead of shaming herself, she was able to celebrate her progress in the face of failure.
We transition from growing the flame inside of her to maintaining it.
How to keep it lit even in the face of adversity and failure because that’s life!
Adding in controlled failure is one of the best ways to strengthen resilience.
This helped Alice set bigger and bigger goals over time without the fear of failure.
She realized that true growth and progress happen at these failure points and that she could handle it now.
From that day forward, we used failure as our meter stick for her progress because her self-esteem was so solid.
If she’d gone too many weeks in a row perfectly hitting each goal, we knew it was time to up the ante!
You’re probably wondering what happened to Alice, and how she’s doing today.
I’m happy to inform you that she’s lost 163lbs, her blood pressure is in a healthy range, she works out daily, and is the most physically fit she’s ever been.
But those are just the physical health benefits…
She’s more confident today than she ever has been, which has allowed her to set boundaries at work to reduce the amount of work stress in her life.
She no longer feels depressed, anxious, or like she has ADHD.
She doesn’t feel like a burden to those around her and knows that she is worthy of health and happiness.
Her relationship with her family has improved, and she can go on trips to the mountains or amusement parks and not worry about whether she can keep up with her kids so that she never misses a moment with them.
And most importantly, she started a group to help other women like her, giving back and helping others to make the world a little better than she found it!
And it all started with 1 pushup… But it wasn’t ever about the pushup.
It was about the fire that 1 pushup rekindled inside of Alice.
Exercise Isn’t About Physical Health
I hope Alice’s story helps you reframe the way you’re thinking about exercising, or any of your goals for that matter.
What’s going on inside of you is far more important than anything on the outside.
Your self-esteem is your most powerful alley.
This is one of the many reasons I believe therapists have been shown to help people with these kinds of goals more effectively.
Exercising isn’t for the physical benefits, it’s for the mental health benefits, self-esteem being just one of the many mental health benefits it can bring, as you saw with Alice.
The fire Alice lit inside of herself lives in all of us.
Whether it’s confidence, calmness, clarity, compassion, courage, creativity, or curiosity, you are 1 push-up away.
And until next time… Live like Alice, Heroically! 🧠