It’s no secret that there are myriad ways to measure your overall health: strength, aerobic fitness, cholesterol levels, mood and, of course, the seductive shrinking of that number on the scale. But what happens when you’re not dropping pounds — or worse, you’re actually gaining a few — despite sticking to your diet and exercise commitments?
This isn’t a sign that you should throw in the towel. The number on the scale is simply one factor of your health, and weight-loss plateaus are incredibly common.
If you feel like you’ve hit a frustrating leveling-off period after making some dietary changes, it might be time to amp up your fitness routine to restart that slimdown. Add speed drills to your morning run or tack cardio onto your weight-training routine.
In the meantime, to keep you going strong to the other edge of that plateau, pay extra attention to these seven signs that you’re getting healthier even if you’re not losing weight:
1. YOU HAVE MORE ENERGY
A major perk of dropping pounds is the increase in energy you experience as you get fitter. But even as your weight loss slows or plateaus, research points to the energy uptick you’ll experience when you continuously exercise.
One study from the University of Georgia found overwhelming evidence that exercise not only boosts baseline energy levels but also keeps you from getting fatigued. It may seem counterintuitive. How can expending energy through exercise boost your overall level? But the researchers found that the energy-boosting benefits existed for people of all health and fitness levels. Exercise does more to fight fatigue than drugs or stimulants. If you notice yourself powering through the time of your typical afternoon crash, chalk it up to improving your health.
2. YOU HAVE MORE STAMINA
The healthier you become, the more stamina you’ll have, meaning you can go farther and faster before throwing in the towel. A lot of factors influence stamina, but your overall cardiovascular fitness is a biggie. And while this is related to weight loss, it’s not totally determined by how many pounds you drop. When looking for indicators that you’re getting healthier, pay attention to small tests of stamina like how many flights of stairs you can climb before losing your breath or how far you can make it on your run without slowing down for a walk break.
3. YOU FEEL SMARTER
Obviously, improving your health isn’t just about the body — your brain health plays a major role, too. And if you notice you have more mental clarity, better memory and feel all-around sharper, you can thank your fitness routine.
A large body of research has explored the brain benefits of exercise and how committing to a healthier lifestyle can boost cognition. If you find you’re suddenly able to remember the name of every person you meet at that companywide happy hour, your sweat sessions are paying off.
4. YOU FEEL HAPPIER
What’s the point of getting healthy if you’re not happy? Luckily, the research shows these two are pretty intertwined. As your physical health improves, so will your mood. One 2015 study found that sticking with an exercise program significantly improved happiness among older adults in just eight weeks. For signs of progress, pay attention to your improving outlook in addition to the scale.
5. YOU CAN DO MORE REPS
Don’t get stuck in the rut of measuring health progress purely by how many pounds you’ve dropped. As you get stronger, you might even put on a few. Don’t panic. If the number on the scale jumps up a little along with the number on your go-to kettlebell and you’re staying within an appropriate-for-you calorie range, you’re getting stronger and healthier.
Keep in mind: Muscle is denser than fat. That is, a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. So even if the numbers on the scale aren’t decreasing, you might be replacing fat with muscle. You’ll look leaner even if you don’t necessarily weigh less.
6. YOU’RE EATING LESS
Logic says that if you burn more calories through exercise, you’ll want to eat more to make up for it, right? Research shows it’s actually the opposite. Several studies have shown that individuals who keep up with a consistent exercise routine are actually more likely to eat less and have a decreased appetite after their sweat sessions. One 2016 study found that exercise decreases your hunger hormones and led study participants to consume one-third fewer calories than those who were dieting without an exercise routine.
7. YOU SET A NEW EXERCISE PERSONAL RECORD
The ability to achieve new fitness goals is perhaps the biggest indicator that you’re getting healthier even if that needle isn’t moving when you step on the scale. Whether you’re aiming to achieve your weight-loss goals via a couch-to-5K program, signing up for a strength training boot camp or having a nutritionist give your diet an overhaul, it’s more important to pay attention to what your body is telling you than what the scale is telling you. If you’ve just run your fastest 5K, made it through a whole boot camp class without wanting to die or actually craved kale, you are well on your way to better health.