Exercise gets plenty of credit for burning calories, building stronger muscles, boosting mood levels and improving overall health and wellness. But beyond whittling away pounds and inches, did you know that daily activity can also impart some inspiring life lessons? Long after the last step or rep, these nuggets of wisdom can be applied all throughout your day—consider it therapy with (physical) benefits.
- Practice makes (closer to) perfect. Okay, so there’s no such thing as perfect (thank goodness), but there is definitely such a thing as better. And the more you do something—whether it’s running, walking, push-ups or aerial yoga—the better you’ll get at it.
- There’s no such thing as failure. If you set out to run three miles but only make it halfway, you still ran one-and-a-half miles. And that, friends, is a success in itself. When you are tempted to think of something as a failure, reframe it as a lesson.
- A watched pot never boils. You know what we mean. If you stare at your stomach or stand on the scale after every single workout, you probably won’t notice big changes from one day to the next. But over days, weeks and months of consistent work, the gradual improvements will add up to big results.
- Sometimes you won’t want to do it. But on those days, you’ll do it anyway. That is what separates the dreamers from the doers, the complainers from the committers.
- Always have a plan. No matter how big or small, a plan is your compass. Without it, you could lose your way or forget why you started in the first place.
- Pain can be good. Not the kind caused by injury, of course, but the discomfort that indicates your body is changing and becoming stronger. Transformation does not happen in your comfort zone.
- Everything in moderation. Yes, it’s good to move every day, but it might not be in your best interest to try to run a 5K or lift heavy weights on the daily. Just like it’s unrealistic to try to eat perfectly for every meal, be sure to give yourself some grace (and rest) in your exercise plan.
- Quality is more important than quantity. Ten careful, measured reps done in good form trump 30 rushed, sloppy ones every time. Apply mindfulness to your workouts to get the biggest bang for your buck and protect yourself from injury.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s not just a song lyric—it’s 100 percent true in every single situation. Whether it’s a burpee or a treadmill interval, chances are quite high that you’ll make it through alive, with more strength than you had before. Listen to your body, but don't be afraid to push it a little here and there when you're feeling good. Chances are, you'll surprise yourself.
- There are no shortcuts. It’s true for pretty much every important thing you’ll ever do. The only way from here to better is hard, honest work.
- You can’t care for others if you don’t care for yourself first. The old airplane-oxygen-mask logic applies to exercise, too. Remember that next time you’re considering ditching spin class because you feel guilty being away from your family.
- It’s not the destination—it’s the journey. If you focus too much on the result you’re chasing, you’ll miss out on the scenery of the path. Allow yourself to fully experience and enjoy every last step and rep along the way.
- Your tastes change over time. Still hanging onto the assumption that you hate running because of that botched track meet in high school? Be open to (re)trying an activity that might not have appealed to you in the past; as your mind and body change, they could become more amenable to it.
- People are paying far less attention to you than you think. Trust us, they’re too busy thinking about their own Zumba steps to critique yours, so don’t hold back on their account.
- You are defined by your habits. Would you rather be defined by an extra hour of sleep, or by a daily run, walk, yoga practice or boot camp class? The choice is yours.
- Even the smallest victories merit celebrations. Don’t wait for the marathon to rejoice in your victory. Every milestone along the way—whether it's skipping soda for a month or fitting into your old favorite pair of jeans—deserves to be recognized as an important stepping stone to success.
- You’ll never know if you don’t try. Chances are, you can lift the heavier weight, run the extra half-mile and master that strange-looking machine. Don’t sell yourself short.
- Sometimes you just need someone to lean on. When you need that extra boost, grab a fit buddy to come along for the ride, whether that’s a five-mile run, an elliptical session or just a walk around the block.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Personal trainers, gym staff and more experienced fitness friends will be more than happy to give you the guidance you need to do it right and avoid injury.
- Leave the past in the past. So you used to be able to crush a mile in seven minutes, or once benched 200 pounds back in college? Those are great achievements, but don’t use them as a benchmark for your current fitness goals. Every day is a fresh start and a new you. Keep looking forward and improving.
- Showing up is the first step, but not the only step. Sure, getting there is half the battle, but if you’re just going through the motions on the elliptical while watching Netflix, you’re not likely to see any real, tangible results. To move forward, you’ve got to push past your comfort zone (or find someone who will give you that push).
- Hard work requires recovery. Killing it day in and day out with no rest is a recipe for burnout and injury. Give your body and mind the time it needs to restore, re-energize and rebuild.
- Things aren’t always what they seem. Just because the scale isn’t moving as fast as you’d like (or not at all) doesn’t mean progress isn’t happening. Plenty of changes go unseen, but are felt in important ways.
- Music is life. Run a mile without it, then run a mile while listening to a playlist of your favorite up-tempo songs. Point proven.
- Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. And if it leaves you feeling amazing, that’s the stuff. Go with your gut.
- You create your own motivation. Don’t waste time waiting for your fitness muse to show up and sprinkle you with some sort of magical, motivational fairy dust. Everything you need to succeed is already inside you, and the key to unlock it is movement. Start moving, keep moving and the motivation will come.
- Your goals should grow as you do. As you get stronger, faster and more confident, your goals should adjust accordingly. If they don’t, you’ll get stuck at the dreaded plateau, and nothing good happens there.
- You deserve it. Although it might not always feel like it, exercise is a form of self-love. It’s time out of your busy day dedicated to making yourself better, stronger, more relaxed and more energized. And you’re absolutely worth it.
- It’s never too late to try something new. Think you’re too old for that boutique studio, aerial yoga class or Saturday morning running group? Think again: Even the most seasoned exercisers never stop learning.
- You’ll never be finished. If there’s one overarching rule of fitness, it’s that you never get to rest on your laurels. Fitness is an ongoing, never-ending pursuit. When you hit one goal, it’s time to set another.