By Ben Rubin
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 – the model-hot looks and health impacts – are the long-term benefits. But the reality is that it’s hard to get excited about long-term benefits. We struggle with delayed gratification in all parts of life, not just when it comes to achieving our fitness goals.
In economics, researches have found that when people are offered $50 now versus $100 a year later, most will opt for the instant reward.
While the long-term benefits of breaking a sweat are definitely 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 (or at least after finishing this article).
1. Boost your mood
You don’t need an hour-long, 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. So choose a workout you’re comfortable with and ride that exercise high for hours.
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.
Other research has shown that exercise leads to more deep sleep, which is not so surprising when you consider that growth hormone – the thing that repairs tired and torn muscles – spikes during deep sleep.
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 push-ups or learning to do a handstand) has a positive benefit on the way we view ourselves. And we don’t even have to be aware that we have that goal in the first place. Meeting unconscious goals – like that vague intention to work out that you’re feeling right now – also gives a self-esteem boost.
4. Think more clearly
Moderate aerobic exercise (like running or cycling for 30 minutes) can make us ninja-like with our reaction speed and improve our problem solving abilities – just the things you need for a productive day at the office. But try not to push too hard too fast. High-intensity interval training has been found to cause physical fatigue that also makes your reactions slower.
5. Have fun! (And 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.
Research has found that minimizing pain (or perceived pain) from working out can be as simple as thinking about the activity as something you’ll actually enjoy. After all, liking a specific workout is a strong predictor of whether you’ll return again.