Why Aren't You Motivated to Exercise?

Man relaxing on sofa holding remote controls

Adrian Nakic / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Being physically active helps us stay healthy and, if we have a few extra pounds, can also make it easier to lose weight. Yet, knowing this doesn't always help us get off the couch and get onto the treadmill or pick up some weights instead.

If you have every intention to exercise but working out seems to stay at the bottom of your to-do list, you may be wondering why. The answer to this question is different for everyone because there are many potential reasons behind why people find it hard to get motivated to work out.

Barriers to Exercise Motivation

We're all familiar with the most common reasons we don't exercise—we're too busy, too tired, it's too boring, and on and on. Though this is what we tell ourselves, the real reasons we aren't motivated to work out may be a bit deeper.

Exercise Is Unfamiliar

For some people, structured exercise is something they've never had to do before. As a result, it becomes easier to set it by the wayside rather than figure out how to start an exercise program.

This is especially true if your schedule is typically packed, leaving you very little energy to learn a new workout routine. You feel like you lack the mental or physical capacity to add one more item to your to-do list, particularly when that item is something totally new to you.

Exercise Doesn't Fit in With Your Sedentary Lifestyle

Today's world doesn't require as much movement. Many people spend their days working in front of the computer. Nights are spent watching television, catching up on social media, or playing online games. We don't have to be active to get things done.

If this describes your life, it's possible that being sedentary has turned into your comfort zone. This can make it harder to get into an exercise habit.

Exercise Is Considered a Luxury

Some people realize that exercise is necessary for good health, quality of life, and weight management but it becomes an activity they say they'll do once they have a less-full schedule. In this way, it is considered more of a luxury than something they "have to" do.

The issue with this way of thinking is that exercise is important for optimal mental and physical health. Not getting enough regular exercise can result in:

  • An increased risk of major medical issues, such as hypertension and insulin resistance
  • A decrease in muscle size and strength (called atrophy), which can reduce your ability to engage in everyday activities
  • Increased incidence of low back pain, as well as increases in back pain severity and disability
  • Poorer mental health, partly because exercise helps improve anxiety, depression, and stress

Whether it's a pill, a diet, a gadget, or plastic surgery, it's easy to sometimes think we can get all the benefits of exercise without actually having to do it.

Exercise Is Viewed as Hard

Another reason you may not be motivated to exercise is because you view it as being difficult. You've seen images of people struggling to make it through their workout and you don't want to have those types of struggles yourself.

Your motivation to work out can be even lower if, in addition to being hard, you view exercise as boring. You picture yourself riding a stationary bike to nowhere, causing your eyes to roll back into your head.

Seeing exercise as something negative—boring, pointless, difficult, repetitious, etc.—isn't likely to inspire you to get to the gym. If anything, it is more likely to inspire you to avoid it!

Negative Consequences Aren't Immediate

For a lot of things in life, there are immediate consequences if we don't do what we're supposed to do. Don't turn at the bend in the road and you'll drive into the ditch. But what happens if you don't exercise? Usually, nothing. At least, not right away.

Even knowing the possible long-term consequences of not exercising (such as weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) may not be enough to get us going, because it's tough to worry about something that hasn't happened, or may never happen.

If any of these ideas strike a chord with you, you may be wondering if it's even possible to find the motivation to exercise. The answer is yes, it is.

The good news is that even just a small change in how you think about exercising can make a big difference when it comes to increasing your motivation.

Find Your Motivation to Work Out

Exercise may be all about moving the body, but the first step is to move your mind. Getting past your mental roadblocks can open the door for new ideas, new attitudes, and a renewed motivation to work out.

Acknowledge Where You Are

In the past, we had more reasons to move. People had to cut their own grass, wash dishes by hand, and walk to school. While we have help with many of these tasks today, it's beneficial to remember that these modern-day conveniences can contribute to our health problems if we let them take over.

Acknowledging where you are, as well as your responsibility to tend to your fitness regularly, helps keep things more in balance. It also brings you one step closer to changing how you live because you recognize where you have room to improve.

Accept Exercise as a Must

If you want to get healthy, exercise is non-negotiable. No pill, diet, or surgical procedure can take the place of being active. So, instead of viewing exercise as a choice, commit to making it a regular part of your day, like making your bed and brushing your teeth.

Making peace with the idea of exercise being as mandatory as taking out the trash often makes it a little easier to do. It doesn't have to happen in a gym or take up hours of your time, either. You can work out at home. You can also do mini exercise sessions to better fit them into your schedule.

Knowing you can create your own exercise experience may help you get up and get moving.

Give Your Workouts Meaning

For some people, exercise is a means to an end. It's a way to lose weight or to get a more toned body. Future goals are nice but there's another part to the equation that, when missing, makes exercise hard to stick to long-term: purpose.

In other words, your workouts need to have value, regardless of whether you ever reach your fitness goal. Working for the future isn't enough to keep us driven and motivated. We need it to mean something now.

Think about what exercise means to you, besides a way to lose weight or gain muscle. What value does it offer outside of your fitness goals?

Your purpose may include using exercise as a way to reduce stress and keep your energy up. Or exercise might be the only time you get to yourself each day. Find your own value and meaning and you'll find your motivation.

Do What Feels Best for You

When it comes to exercising, it's important to find your own path. Too often, the mainstream idea of exercise involves joining health clubs, working out on cardio machines, and taking fitness classes. But what if the thought of doing those things makes you cringe?

Here's some good news—you have the freedom to do whatever activities you like. If you hate the gym, you don't have to join one to get fit. If you hate the repetition and boredom of treadmills, you can try more interactive things like basketball or spin class.

There are countless ways to exercise, so don't be afraid to think outside of the box. There's boxing, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), hiking, mountain biking, and dancing. Find out what you like and forget the rules.

Incorporate Exercise Into Everyday Life

While you're considering your exercise barriers, why not begin to work towards a more active lifestyle? You don't have to turn your whole life upside down. Instead, take small steps to start living a healthier lifestyle.

Work more physical activity into your everyday routine. If you like to keep things simple, you could take several walks throughout the day or add some laps the next time you shop at the mall. Once you're ready, incorporate focused exercise sessions to increase your heart rate and build muscle.

A Word From Verywell

It isn't always easy to get and stay motivated to exercise, but once we figure out what is stopping us and how to overcome it, it becomes easier to make working out a habit. Picking the right activity may even make you look forward to exercise.

We now have streaming fitness videos, podcasts, fitness video games, and a variety of health clubs and gyms to fit every need and budget. There's something out there for all of us. It's just a matter of looking around and picking an activity (and location) that interests you.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Teixeira PJ, Carraça EV, Markland D, Silva MN, Ryan RM. Exercise, physical activity, and self-determination theory: A systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012;9:78. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-78

  2. Leon-Latre M, Moreno-Franco B, Andres-Estevan E, et al. Sedentary lifestyle and its relation to cardiovascular risk factors, insulin resistance and inflammatory profile. Revista Espanola de Cardiologia. 2014;67(6):449-55. doi:10.1016/j.rec.2013.10.015

  3. Watson N, Ji X, Yasuhara T, et al. No pain, no gain: Lack of exercise obstructs neurogenesis. Cell Transplantation. 2015;24(4):591-7. doi:10.3727/096368915X687723

  4. Shiri R, Coggon D, Falah-Hassani K. Exercise for the prevention of low back pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(5):1093-1101. doi:10/10/93/aje/kwx337

  5. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017;106:46-56. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003

  6. Lachman ME, Lipsitz L, Lubben J, Castaneda-Sceppa C, Jette AM. When adults don't exercise: Behavioral strategies to increase physical activity in sedentary middle-aged and older adults. Innov Aging. 2018;2(1):igy007. doi:10.1093/geroni/igy007