We’ve all been there: the moment that our go-to jeans fit just a little too-tight for comfort. When seeing the number on the scale makes us cringe in disbelief. It’s the moment when we know it’s time to make a change. But you’re not alone.
“Most of us have had those moments,” Mohamed Elzomor, head trainer at NYC’s Core Club, told me in an interview. Even when we’re living a seemingly healthy lifestyle — drinking enough water, cutting back on sweets — we might not always be living up to our fitness potential. “Besides the classic gasping for air after running a couple of flights of stairs or not being able to see your feet anymore, there are a few surprising signs that may inspire you to get off your butt and get back into shape,” he says.
After tapping a few fitness experts, here are some signs you might want to trade in your next weeknight happy hour for a date with the treadmill.
If you’re finding yourself tossing and turning in bed into the wee hours of the morning, it could be a sign that you aren’t getting enough exercise, explains Elzomor. “Sometimes when you haven’t exerted a good amount of energy throughout the day, falling asleep at night can be daunting,” he told me. “Try working out and challenging yourself physically — you’ll find that sleeping can be a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable as well.”
You’re feeling depressed
It’s totally common to feel down after a breakup, a fight with your mom, or a bad performance review at work. It’s even normal to feel extra sensitive when your monthly visitor rolls into town. But if you’re feeling the blues on the regular — for no specific reason — Elzomor says you may simply need more exercise in your life. “Exercise can do wonders — not just on the body, but on the mind and soul as well,” he told me. “The endorphin release following a workout can be extremely rewarding and do a number on whatever it is that may be dragging you down.”
Renowned functional medicine practitioner and health and wellness expert Dr. Will Cole agrees, telling me, “When you exercise, your body releases feel-good hormones [endorphins]. Exercise also reduces anxiety by alleviating stress through the stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis through increasing blood flow.”
Dr. Cole also noted that when your HPA is out of whack, it can cause cortisol, your stress hormone, to be too high or too low which can make you stressed and cranky.
You’re injury prone
Ever felt like you can’t walk a mile before pulling a hamstring or rolling your ankle? Elzomor says this can be a major sign that your body needs more exercise.
“Unless caused by a sudden accident or something else of obvious nature, these pains are all signs that your body may not be functioning properly,” he explained. “None of us are totally symmetrical, and it’s safe to say that we all have muscle imbalances (some more than others). By working out and strengthening, [and] stretching and rolling out the proper muscles, you will see that you can get rid of those aches and live a more enjoyable and pain-free life.”
You feel sluggish
We’ve all fallen victim to the late-night Netflix binge fest or unexpected night out way past our bedtime, but if you’re finding yourself feeling tired all the time, you might want to reassess your fitness habits. “Anything from walking the dog to carrying bags of groceries is difficult if you are lethargic,” Grace Albin, Miami-based Pilates and fitness instructor, told me in an interview. “Countless studies link fatigue to lack of physical fitness.”
Dr. Cole agrees, explaining that without physical activity, our bodies become stagnant. “When you exercise, it energizes your body from the inside out through your cells,” he told me. “The mitochondria is inside every cell in your body and is what produces energy. The more you exercise, the more mitochondria are produced, leading to increased energy.”
Craving junk food
Eating poorly is a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break. When we eat junk, we typically crave more junk, which leads us to make more and more bad choices when it comes to food. If you’ve found yourself caught in a fast-food habit you just can’t break, there’s a good chance your eating habits could be spiraling into other areas of your life, including your fitness level.
“What I will say from my own experience (clients and myself), is that when you’re in a regular fitness routine, you’re more likely to make healthy choices,” Mike Donavanik, FitFusion trainer, told me via email. “People who do a bunch of work in the gym usually want to parlay that hard work into healthier eating habits. Conversely, when you’re not working out, a lot of people have that mentality: ‘well screw it.'”
Does the thought of giving up your morning triple caramel macchiato make you want to cry? You could be suffering from sugar addiction, which Donavanik says might be easier to let go of, with a little bit of exercise. “Sugar can be as addicting as alcohol or tobacco…or cocaine. It alters brain chemistry and gives you a feel-good vibe when you have it,” he told me. “Exercise curbs those cravings because it actually promotes those feel good vibes as well (obviously, in a healthy way) and also (positively) effects brain chemistry so you’re less likely to seek that feel-good vibe from a negative substance.”