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For many of us, exercise can be an uphill battle. The allure of a Netflix binge or, a day in bed, can sometimes be far greater than the temptation of a morning jog or, a sweaty gym session. It’s not that we don’t understand the importance of exercise — it’s just that we don’t want to do it. But why?
Why Some of Us Struggle to Enjoy Exercise
To understand why we may struggle to enjoy exercise, it’s helpful to look at its humble beginnings. Many of us were not born into an exercise-oriented lifestyle. Instead, our ancestors were focused on surviving, and the need for physical activity had its limits for the average person. Nowadays, too, the culture of convenience has removed a great deal of the necessity for physical activity.
For some of us, the lack of physical activity can be directly linked to lifestyle. In modern times, it can be easy to make decisions that don’t promote healthy exercise habits. Long working hours, inadequate sleep, and unhealthy diets can quickly add up to a lifestyle that doesn’t prioritize the need for exercise.
Uncovering the Reasons Behind Our Aversion to Exercise
In order to tackle our aversion to exercise, it’s important to identify the underlying reasons.
For some, it can be the fear of failure or, a lack of previous experience. Others may not see the relevance of exercise in their daily lives; or, may not understand the potential health benefits. A lack of motivation or, confidence can also contribute to exercise avoidance.
Surprising Reasons for Exercise Aversion
In addition, modern society can also be a contributing factor to exercise aversion. We are increasingly encouraged to focus on our outward physical appearance — something which can be difficult to achieve without exercise — and this obsession can cause anxiety, a lack of self-confidence, and low self-esteem.
Moreover, in a society that places ‘busy-ness’ and productivity on a pedestal, many of us don’t want to take the time to slow down and focus on exercise. It can feel as though we are taking away from our own goals and ambitions by dedicating our time to something that isn’t ‘productive’.
Exploring the Psychology Behind Exercise Avoidance
Interestingly, there is a psychological element to our aversion to exercise.
When we are faced with difficult challenges, our brains respond by releasing a natural reward. This reward is our way of coping with difficult experiences, and encourages us to repeat the same behavior in the future. In everyday life, this might be seen in the form of a treat after a hard day’s work — something which we are naturally programmed to seek out as a form of reward.
In terms of exercise, this reward is not as obvious. It can be difficult to find pleasure in exercise — especially when it’s difficult or, uncomfortable — and so, the positive reward is often not as strong as our need for a ‘treat’. This can push our brains into ‘avoidance mode’, in which we find it harder to motivate ourselves to exercise.
Uncovering the Science Behind our Dislike of Exercise
At the heart of exercise avoidance lies something called the ‘inverted U hypothesis’. This hypothesis explores the idea that, as long as we are motivated enough to do something, there will come a point at which it becomes too difficult — and at which point, it is avoided.
This theory can explain why we may sometimes find it difficult to enjoy exercise; we become overwhelmed with the difficulty of it, and our brains go into avoidance mode. In this way, it’s not necessarily that we don’t enjoy exercise — we just find it too difficult to cope with at that moment.
Understanding why we don’t enjoy exercise can help us to overcome this aversion. By understanding why our brains switch into ‘avoidance mode’ and, by focusing on the real long-term health benefits of exercise, we can better motivate ourselves to get moving.
Therefore, in order to enjoy exercise, we must understand and accept its difficulty. By learning how to motivate ourselves, and allowing ourselves to experience the pleasure that comes with physical activity, exercise can become a positive part of our daily lives.
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, it can be difficult to enjoy exercise. Our brains are naturally wired to avoid difficult activities — and this can be especially true when it comes to exercise. By understanding the reasons behind our aversion to exercise, and recognizing the science behind our dislike of it, we can better motivate ourselves to stay active.
- Gouzoules, H. (n.d.). Inverted U hypothesis. Encyclopedia of Exercise Medicine in Health and Disease, 1-2.
- Weiss, L. (2016). Eating, exercising, and being motivated. Health Press, 29-34.
- Patel, D. (2019). The psychology of exercise and why we avoid it. The Social Psychologist, 55-62.