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.”
You have no balance
Okay, so you don’t have to have the skill of a Cirque du Soleil performer, but a total lack of balance may be a sign that you need to start working on your fitness, according to Samantha Orme, owner of CrossFit Virtuosity in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
“Close your eyes and try to balance on one leg. If you struggle, your fitness is incomplete,” she told me in an interview. “Balance is key to fitness and long-term health: good balance helps everything from sports performance to preventing falls as we age.”
Do you often find yourself slouching at the office or slumped over your desk? It turns out, poor posture may also be a sign a poor health, according to fitness instructor Albin. “Good posture is difficult when core muscles have atrophied, let alone if the body is carrying excess fat,” she told me.
You have chronic pain
Is your back constantly hurting? You aren’t alone. In fact, Elzomor told me that over 70% of Americans have lower back pain, and even more have pain in other places as well.
And as much as this might feel like a solid reason to avoid the gym, chronic pain might actually be a sign that you’re in desperate need of a workout. “Many people that are in chronic pain are scared to workout [for] fear that it may aggravate or exasperate their pain. However, their pain is usually a case of a sedentary lifestyle,” said Donavanik. “If your low back is hurting, it’s probably because the low back is de-conditioned and the core is weak. If your knees always hurt, it may have nothing to do with the joint and everything to do with the muscles that support it. If you have constant tension in your neck, it may because you’re hunched over a desk too much which causes the muscles in your chest to tighten and back to weaken and leads to neck and shoulder pain.”
You can’t do a push up
Maybe you can run a mile like nobody’s business. But can you do a push up? If you answered no, you may not be working out as effectively as you could be, according to Parinaz Samimi, a certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, and sleep researcher for Mattress.com.
“The pushup, being the ultimate measure of fitness, is one of the best indicators of an individual’s physical condition,” she told me via email. “It is a body weight movement that engages muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips, and legs, testing the entire body. It is suggested that a 40 year old woman be able to do 16 push-ups, while a man of the same age do 27.”
Guess I better get to practicing…
You don’t enjoy exercise
Okay, so maybe you don’t love working out. But if you’re getting to the gym on a regular basis, you’re probably off to a good start. However, if even putting on a pair of sneakers feels like a chore, it might be a sign that you’re out of shape.
“The reason people who get into fitness typically stick with it and crave more is because exercise (literally) positively effects your body down to the cellular level,” Donavanik said. “Hormones, cells, everything changes in order to better serve you and help you become more efficient.”
We get it: working on fitness isn’t always the easiest, or most fun, thing to do with your time. But in order to reap the benefits of being physically fit — and there are quite a few — the experts say you just have to start. “This is one of those things that isn’t a popular tip, but you just have to start, Donavanik said. “You just gotta do it! Get to the gym, subscribe to a streaming site, you just have to take that first step.”
To make exercise feel like less of a task, Nikki Metzger, Nike trainer and Women’s Health Magazine’s “Next Fitness Star” 2015, suggests finding a workout that your truly enjoy. “Shop around a bit, take a bootcamp, dance class, spin or yoga. There are so many options,” she told me. “If you find something you actually enjoy doing then you will be more likely to stick to it.”