By now, we all know that getting our sweat on does wonders for our physical and mental health. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get us off the couch, pause our Netflix marathon, and get our blood pumping – especially when six-pack abs don’t happen overnight. When asked, people give lots of reasons for why they work out: to gain more strength and endurance, manage weight, and look better.
Those motivators – model-hot looks (or at least some improved definition) and health impacts (avoiding dad’s coronary bypass) – are the long-term benefits. But the reality is that it’s hard to get excited about long-term benefits. That’s just not the way our brains are built. We’re wired for instant gratification.
We struggle with delayed gratification in all parts of life, not just when it comes to achieving our fitness goals.
While the long-term benefits of breaking a sweat are worth the wait, there are also some powerful perks you’ll experience right away. And for many of us, those are much more likely to convince us to head to the gym right now.
1. Boost your mood You don’t need an hourlong, high-intensity workout to trigger a grin. Just 20 minutes of jogging has been found to elevate mood – and surprisingly the intensity doesn’t matter. In fact, there’s reason to believe that pushing yourself too hard delays or reduces the lift in your mood.
2. Sleep like a baby The secret to a better night’s sleep could lie in a visit to the gym. In an Italian study, folks who worked out in the morning fell asleep quicker, slept longer and woke up less frequently. If you’re looking to maximize your zzzs, stick to cardio. While strength training helped study participants have a good night’s sleep, cardio impacted sleep quality even the next night.
3. Increase your self-esteem We all want to feel like we’re on top of the world, and working out can be just the thing to boost your confidence. Researchers in Norway found that children who exercised regularly showed signs of improved self-esteem in the short term after working out. Other research has found that achieving a goal – whether it be doing a few pushups or learning to do a handstand – has a positive benefit on the way we view ourselves.
4. Have fun! Forget whatever’s looming on your to-do list. The days of aching, sore muscles that inevitably follow a return to the gym can make it hard to remember one of the best parts of working out: It can be a lot of fun. One quick trick to make exercise more fun: Make sure you’re listening to some bumping beats throughout your workout. This kind of enjoyable distraction can double the mood-enhancing impact of exercise.