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I recently rejoined my gym after the two and a half years in which the world experienced COVID and I had my fifth baby. Since the start of 2021, I’ve been consistent in doing ten to fifteen minutes of Pilates every day, but I was ready to add cardio to my week. I humbly admit that my motivation had something to do with the scale, and the fact that the number I’d been seeing for months was not as low as I wanted it to be.

I expected a change in a couple weeks of consistent workouts, since that had been my experience in previous returns to cardio. Not so this go-round. I’m getting older, of course, and though I was discouraged at first, I quickly recognized a number of other positive changes that have come from adding cardio back to my routine.

If you’re considering a return to working out or you’re in the same discouraged space I was, take heart from these markers of real and positive change, no matter your BMI.

01. My jeans zip better. I haven’t seen a significant change in my weight, but I do feel different—more energized, stronger—in my body. I wiggle less when zipping up my jeans and find that they’re staying where they’re supposed to with fewer tugs throughout the day. Before, every tug felt like a reminder that I could be taking better care of myself. Now I’m more motivated to be active throughout the day, even in household tasks. I’m grateful to spend less time tugging and more time focusing on my kids, my home, and my work.

02. My emotions are more even-keel. My moods are noticeably more regulated thanks to breaking a sweat three times a week. When I get frustrated or stressed, it’s easier to let the little things roll off my back. For one thing, I feel accomplished each time I manage to get to the gym, which is a confidence booster. And for another, studies have shown that “habitual aerobic activity and aerobic fitness are associated with emotion regulation and mood benefits.”

03. I have more stamina. When I started this bout of exercise, I was running short intervals and walking between them. A month later, I ran thirty minutes straight, then walked a few minutes and ran another eleven until my workout was complete. This marker shows that I’m building strength and muscle, which is a much better goal to achieve than seeing a different number on the scale.

04. I sleep more soundly. Just a week into my new routine, I remembered that better sleep is one of my favorite benefits of working out. Ever since having kids, I tend to have very dramatic dreams—we’re talking whole plotlines; things I wish I could dream up when I sit down to write a short story! These can mean I wake up without feeling rested, which is a drain on the rest of the day. Since beginning to work out again, I’ve been sleeping more soundly. I’m also more motivated to get to bed earlier, so that I can give it my best at the gym in the morning.

05. My house is cleaner. Increasingly intentionality in one area of my life has bubbled over into other areas. Keeping the house (clothes, dishes, bathrooms) in order can feel overwhelming, and too often I had been giving myself late-night slack to let a chore or two go by the wayside. But that only exacerbates the problem and makes it harder to get things back in shape. Now, the feeling of success I have from going to the gym encourages me to stay on top of other daily habits; one good routine builds on another. And even when I had to take a day off working out to care for a sick child, I still had a tidy (or easy-to-tidy) house to spend the day in, which helped keep my spirits up.

Because of my previous and continuing success with Pilates and my habit tracker, I’m confident I can keep this routine going and continue to see progress. Next up: mastering dry shampoo!