With the new year underway, chances are you’re working hard on your 2021 fitness goals. Whether you’ve resolved to exercise regularly or eat healthier, it’s tempting to turn to the scale as a marker of your progress—but there’s so much more to focus on. In fact, even if the scale seems like it won’t budge, there are all sorts of important milestones to look for during your health and fitness journey.
“Do yourself a favor and only weigh yourself once every seven to 10 days—or even stay away from the scale entirely,” says Juliet Kaska, C.P.T., celebrity personal trainer and member of Vionic Innovation Lab. “One thing that turns people off in the beginning is witnessing fluctuations on the scale. They become blinded by that number and end up missing out on the other signs of success.”
Here are six non-scale-related signs you’re making health and fitness progress. Make sure to celebrate these wins!
1. You’re Losing Inches
Though the number on the scale may not change, your body composition and physical size might. In fact, a decrease in inches is a better indication of success than a decrease in pounds on the scale, according to Kaska. “The reason is that you’re losing fat while simultaneously building muscle,” she explains. “While your body weight may not change too much, you will begin to shrink.”
How? Body fat is larger and less dense compared to body muscle. “In other words, 10 pounds of muscle is actually smaller in size than 10 pounds of fat,” she explains.
To track your progress, simply keep a log of your body size in inches.
2. You’re Making Fitness Gains
Take note of any progress you’ve made during your exercise routine and how you improve. For example, if you find you can increase the number of reps during a strength-training workout, pick up your running pace, or switch from a modified pushup to a regular pushup, you are definitely on the right track, says Stephanie Mansour, C.P.T., host of the PBS show Step It Up with Steph.
Another thing to look for: needing shorter resting periods, which typically means you’re feeling reenergized faster in between workouts.
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And don’t forget to look beyond your workouts. Perhaps you’ve been making small physical gains in your everyday activities, such as walking up a flight of stairs faster, strolling at a quicker rate, or lifting heavier groceries more easily, Kaska says.
Fun fact: Building muscle encourages the body to burn fat. A study published in the journal Obesity even found that overweight or obese adults who did resistance training lost more body fat compared to those who did aerobic training.
3. You’re More Energized
Another major payoff of sticking to your fitness goals? Alertness and energy. “Many people find themselves hitting the snooze button less often and feeling extra perky after a period of consistently working out,” says Mansour.
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Plus, research published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity concluded that older adults who followed a 24-week moderate aerobic exercise program showed significant improvement in cognitive function, including attention and concentration.
4. Your Cravings Disappear
If you find yourself grabbing Greek yogurt instead of cookies—and do so without effort and hesitation—give yourself a serious pat on the back. This is a major shift.
Your workouts may have partially contributed to this milestone. “Exercising decreases your cravings for sugary, processed foods, which means you’ll feel less reliant on unhealthy snacks and more willing to stick to a healthy diet,” says Mansour. And, of course, every time you opt for nourishing, whole foods, it becomes easier to do again.
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While further research is necessary in order to understand the association, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that following a 15-week exercise program motivated young adults to change their dietary patterns.
5. Your Spirits Are Higher
Do you find yourself in a better mood or feeling more relaxed? Consider it a sign all of your health and fitness efforts are succeeding.
“Working out, as well as eating a healthy diet, result in reduced anxiety and depression and improved feelings of happiness,” says Kaska.
After all, exercising helps release endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals), boosting mood and feelings of pleasure, and enhancing an overall sense of wellness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Consistent exercise also often allows for more confidence,” Mansour adds. And who doesn’t want that?
6. You’re Sleeping Better
A side effect of feeling less anxious, catching more zzz’s is another telltale sign you’re all-around healthier. A systematic review published in the journal Advances in Preventive Medicine, for example, concluded that exercising promotes increased sleep efficiency and duration, regardless of the intensity of your workouts.