The Psychology Behind Why We Quit Exercise

Author: Genevieve ‘Jenny’ Pate, ARNP – Transform Your Health

More than ever before, there is a greater trend by many Americans to improve their lifestyle habits and take charge of their health, however one perplexing question still remains: If exercise makes us feel so good, why is it so hard to do it?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, some 25 percent of the U.S. population still reports zero leisure-time physical activity.

Emphasis on the desired physical effects of exercise may contribute to our apathy toward physical activity (Woods, 2011). Physicians frequently tell their patients to work out to lose weight, lower cholesterol or prevent diabetes. Unfortunately, it takes months before any physical results of hard work in the gym are apparent. Many people become discouraged and skip the workout at the very time it is generating the greatest payoff, preventing them from noticing how much better they feel when participating in exercise. Feeling too tired to initiate the early morning work-out, or too drained to exercise after work, indicates precisely the time when it is needed most.  During these times you get the most payoff; exercise, even a small amount increases endorphins, relieves stress, makes you feel better and even more energized.


Unrealistic expectations, for ourselves and expectations expressed by others, in the form of “encouragement”, puts undue pressure on us, on the act of exercising and on the results. Exercise should be a slow quiet process, part of our everyday routine.


Between work, family and personal time, it’s easy to run out of hours in the day. Using lack of time or a busy schedule as an excuse, is just that…an excuse. We are the makers of our destiny. It’s up to us to determine how we spend our time. If the mindset is that there’s no time for exercise, well, of course there won’t be. Squash all potential excuses immediately. Think back to how you spent the last week or month. How often were you doing something you really didn’t want to do? How much of your time was spent on activities that you deem more important than fitness, such as spending time with family or catching up with an old friend?

Too much too fast….

Starting out with too much gusto in a new exercise program may be one of the reasons people start to dislike physical activity. When you exercise above the respiratory threshold — that is, above the point when it gets hard to talk — it may postpone exercise’s immediate mood boost by about 30 minutes. For novices, that delay could turn you off of aerobic exercise for good. If your big fitness pledge is to hit the gym five times a week when you’ve had little to no prior experience working out, you’re most likely going to fail. Start small and work your way up. Instead of committing to five gym visits a week, start with two visits. On those first few visits, don’t stay that long. The immediate goal is to leave while you’re still craving more. You can use this as motivation fuel for your next visit, and continue building the habit to the point where you can’t wait to get your next workout in.

While it can be helpful to have a precise goal behind your efforts, such as weight loss or stress relief, the motivation should be organic to who you are and what you truly want. Listen to yourself and what you want. The treadmill is not for everyone, so maybe find an outdoor activity, like walking in a park or around the neighborhood, or play high-cardio sports like kicking around a soccer ball, riding a bicycle, swimming or tennis.

The body is a complex system and there isn’t any one way to work out. Running, swimming, biking, weightlifting, aerobics, dancing, yoga, and even walking can have great effects over a period of time. Find what you enjoy and tweak your workouts to reflect that. Remember that music is a great tool to set your mind free of negative thoughts that may sabotage your efforts; so, put together a great playlist of your favorite songs and take it with you on your workout. Walking with music is a great way to start if you have been sedentary for a while.

Intrinsic motivation stems from the knowledge of what we are doing (Weir, 2011). It is important to continually remind ourselves of why we are exercising and to focus on the long-term health benefits. Motivation for long lasting exercise habits and good nutrition are all inside jobs. Try adding the following ingredients and watch your mind, body and soul thrive and flourish in ways that you’ve never imagined.

♥Be happy and grateful for where you are and what you have now. Not when you lose 20 lbs. or 5 inches off your waistline.

♥Love and respect yourself. Practice self-love and care for yourself enough to maintain your body with good wholesome food choices and regular exercise.

♥Care for YOU first. Time to be selfish. If you don’t put your own oxygen mask on first you’ll eventually run out of air and not be any good to anyone else. More often than not everyone and everything is more important than YOU. Change that. Schedule you time first and watch your body and health improve dramatically.

There’s no exact way to stay fit, it’s all about understanding your excuses and preconceived barriers to fitness and squashing them in their tracks. Of course, if it were easy, everyone would be the fittest versions of themselves, but the key to staying committed to fitness, (mind, body and spirit) is finding your sweet spot and what will motivate YOU to continue.



Weir, K. (2011) The exercise effect. American psychological Association. Vol 42, 11,



Woods, K. (2016). Womens Running. Retrieved from:


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