There are many reasons to dislike exercise. Some you might expect, like the effort involved or feeling uncomfortable at the gym. But the roles played by your genes and brain chemicals might surprise you.
Although most people would like to be fit, less than a quarter of adults in the United States meet the recommendations for physical activity. So, if you’re struggling with exercise, you’re not alone.
Finding an activity you enjoy is key, and exercising with a friend or in a group can provide extra encouragement.
It’s also important to set realistic, personal goals. If it’s an option, a personal trainer can help with this.
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Reasons for hating exercise
You may dislike the feeling of exertion or your experience at the gym. And your genes, body chemistry, confidence, and social environment can all play a role, too.
We asked members of the ZOE community for their reasons, and we’ve included some of their insights throughout the article.
1. Hating the gym
Many of us associate exercise with the gym, and there are many reasons not to enjoy it.
You might feel intimidated or judged. The noise and smells can be unsettling, as can a lack of privacy in the locker room.
Gyms can be expensive, too. If you already find it hard to be there, the cost can be especially off-putting.
When you don’t like exercise, it may be strange to hear that some people get a “high” from their workouts.
Many people attribute this high to the release of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) called endorphins, which your body releases when you exercise.
While endorphins can reduce muscle soreness from exercise, it’s unlikely that they boost your mood — they’re unable to cross from your blood into your brain properly.
Instead, the high could stem from neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids. These can boost your mood if your body produces enough.
In the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast on healthy habits, Michael Mosley describes an experiment: Going for a run led to a huge boost in endocannabinoid levels and mood for some people but no change for others.
So, if you’ve been exercising and you’re still waiting for that high, it may be better to focus on the satisfaction of finishing your session and the health benefits that come with it.
3. Nausea when exercising
Exercise can lead to nausea and other gut symptoms for some people. This exercise-induced nausea can affect professional athletes and rookies alike.
It’s most likely to accompany strenuous exercise, as blood flow to your central organs decreases during this type of activity.
If you’re experiencing this, it may help to drink more water before exercising or try something less strenuous.
One study compared groups of adolescent siblings, including twins, to check the role of genes in attitudes to exercise.
The participants each completed exercise sessions of different intensities. They then described how they felt during and after the exercise, and how difficult it was.
The researchers estimated that genetic factors accounted for 12–37% of how participants felt about exercise and 29–35% of how hard they found it.
So, if you hate exercise and find it difficult, there’s a chance that it could stem from your genes.
5. Social and cultural reasons
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S., Hispanic people are slightly more likely to be physically inactive than Black people. Both populations are significantly more likely to be inactive than white people.
The reasons behind this are likely complex, but they could involve a lack of access to safe, convenient places to exercise.
For anyone, if working out is less of a priority in your community, you may be less likely to see it in a positive light.
Research suggests that this may be the case for women, in particular.
6. Not knowing what to do
Some forms of exercise are complicated. If you’re not familiar with how to do a new activity, trying it might be intimidating.
Having to rely on written instructions or videos can make things more difficult, too, especially if no one is offering support or advice.
“Books with diagrams and many of the video courses don’t give you confidence that you’re doing it right,” says Richard, a member of the ZOE community. “And the older you are, the higher the risk of injury and the longer the time to recovery.”
7. Being unable to do certain exercises
If you become unable to do an activity you once loved, it can have a big impact on how you view exercise in general.
Celia used to really enjoy running most mornings and was considering a half marathon. But a period of illness followed by the pandemic meant that staying indoors became the priority.
“I bought a really good treadmill but found it so tedious that I quickly lost interest. I loved running in the elements, not in the garage.”
There are various reasons to hate exercise. It might be biological — you might produce fewer endocannabinoids than others, or exercise might make you feel sick.
The reasons can also be social. You might not have access to safe, convenient places to exercise. Or you might have been encouraged to prioritize other things.
And for some people, being unable to do certain activities can reduce the appeal of exercise.
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How to find motivation
If you hate exercise, it may be that you haven’t found the right type or approach.
Here are some tips for a better experience:
Find what you like doing: Exercise comes in many forms, from lifting weights to going for a walk, to playing a sport. If you can find something you enjoy, you’ll be far more likely to stick with it.
Exercise with others: Working out with a friend could give you the confidence to try new activities and help you stay consistent. Exercising in a group can add a social element that makes it more fun and less like hard work.
If you have the means, consider a personal trainer: A qualified trainer can provide moral support, create a routine that suits your ability and goals, and make sure you’re exercising correctly. Apps and online videos can also help.
Have realistic expectations: Even a small amount of regular exercise can improve your health and fitness. But it may take time to see results. Be kind to yourself and keep going.
Aim for something sustainable: Choose a time of day, location, and type of exercise that you’re most likely to stick with. If you get bored easily, add some variety. Set long- and short-term goals so you can chart your progress.
Alistair, a former personal trainer, worked with many people who disliked exercise for different reasons.
“Most people do have an exercise that they like or might like. They just don't know what it is yet, or they do it and don't think of it as exercise.”
Why do people love exercise?
Even if you don’t get a runner’s high, the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise can make you feel good on a daily basis.
You may have more energy, a better mood, a sharper mind, and improved sleep.
You’ll eventually see the results of your efforts. This could mean:
lifting bigger weights
walking or running farther or for longer
getting better at a sport
finding everyday tasks easier
improving health measures, like blood pressure or cholesterol levels
Ruth used to hate exercise due to her experiences at school and with team sports, which left her feeling inadequate. Then, she discovered fun exercise classes that made her feel good afterward.
Now she enjoys getting noticeably stronger and fitter, as well as the social side — she can meet friends at the gym or take long walks with them.
There are many longer-term health benefits of regular exercise, too. It can reduce your risk of chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It could also boost your gut health.
Overall, regular exercise can lead to a better quality of life as you age.
Of course, there are other motivations for exercising. The media, including social media, promotes certain ideals and expectations of our bodies, and we can struggle to live up to them.
But fitness doesn’t mean being ripped, super skinny, or going to the gym every day. It’s about feeling better, feeling healthier, and improving on where you were before.
How much physical activity do we need?
The physical activity recommendations for adults in the U.S. are 150–300 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise each week, or 75–150 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise a week, spread across several days.
It’s also recommended to do strength training, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups, on at least 2 days a week.
Recommendations in the United Kingdom are very similar.
If this sounds like a lot, think of it as a goal to work toward. In the meantime, any exercise is better than none, and the greatest benefits come when you go from doing no exercise to doing some.
It’s worth noting that exercise is just one part of a healthy life. What we eat is also important.
At ZOE, we run the largest nutrition science study in the world. We know that everyone has their own unique responses to different foods, so a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition doesn’t work.
Our at-home test measures your gut health along with how your blood fat and blood sugar levels respond to food. With this information, our personalized nutrition program can recommend the best foods for you and your health goals.
Learn more about how it works by taking our free quiz.
People who hate exercise may dislike the feeling of exertion or the gym environment. Your genes, biology, and social setting can also factor in.
If you’re struggling, finding the right type of exercise for you and getting support from others can make a huge difference.
There are plenty of good reasons to aim for regular exercise, from the short- and long-term health benefits to the sense of achievement as you see progress.
Make your goals realistic and achievable — doing any exercise is so much better for you than doing none.
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Adult physical activity prevalence maps. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/data/inactivity-prevalence-maps/index.html
Aerobic fitness is associated with cerebral μ-opioid receptor activation in healthy humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. (2022). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35195103/
Exercise-induced vomiting. Przeglad Gastroenterologiczny. (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027831/
Heritability of the affective response to exercise and its correlation to exercise behavior. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. (2017). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1469029216303119
Physical activity among adults aged 18 and over: United States, 2020. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db443.htm
Physical activity: Applying All Our Health. (2021). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-applying-all-our-health/physical-activity-applying-all-our-health
Physical activity guidelines for Americans. (2021). https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines/current-guidelines
Physical inactivity is more common among racial and ethnic minorities in most states. (2020). https://blogs.cdc.gov/healthequity/2020/04/01/physical-inactivity/
Physiology, opioid receptor. StatPearls. (2023). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546642/
Racial/ethnic differences in midlife women’s attitudes toward physical activity. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741674/
The endocannabinoid system and physical exercise. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. (2023). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9916354/