Why You Hate Exercise (And What You Can Do About It)

Why You Hate Exercise (And What You Can Do About It)

When your body is in pain trying to adjust to a new exercise routine, it’s hard to really enjoy the process. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at what it is that makes us hate exercise and what we can do about it.

Picture: normanack/Flickr

Like many things, exercise is all about perspective. If you’re starting a new exercise regimen, you might hate it simply because you’re pushing yourself way too hard without realising it:

From couch potatoes to Olympic athletes, everyone has a physical capacity for exertion, beyond which the body becomes stressed and begins to feel bad. How much stems from genetic factors-things like lung capacity, oxygen transport and the rate at which oxygen is used in the muscle cells-is still a subject of scholarly debate… But many sedentary people push beyond their intrinsic range when they try to exercise too quickly or intensely, which can make them hate the activity and want to stop.

The stress comes when you reach your “ventilatory threshold”. When you breathe, you expel carbon dioxide equal to the amont of oxygen you take in, when you’re working hard, you expel more carbon dioxide and the body finds that stressful. Essentially, the harder you work, the less oxygen you’re getting and the worse you feel. For sedentary people, you might reach this threshold within as little as a minute. To track this, it’s all about finding your exercise sweet spot and accepting it might be a little low when you’re starting out.

It’s not just your body’s ventilatory threshold though. It’s also about how you interpet pain and exertion:

How people interpret some of the physical sensations of exertion or fatigue, such as buildup of lactic acid in muscle or increases in body temperature, can also influence whether they stick with an exercise routine. Some people tend to read such physical cues as a sign of a good workout or progress, whereas many sedentary people just find them uncomfortable or painful, say researchers.

Essentially, when you feel terrible, you’re less likely to stick with your new routine. After all, we’re trained to do the exact opposite of what makes us feel bad. In both cases, it’s all about finding the perfect balance of a routine you’ll stick to. The reason people don’t like exercise is because they push past their limits and that makes them feel terrible.

If you’re lifestyle is mostly sedentary, start small with lighter exercises and work your way up from there (if walking is too tough, try water exercises or recumbent biking). It will take a while, but you’ll eventually increase both your ventilatory threshold, and you’ll understand sensations like fatigue better so you know when to quit.

Finding the routine that works for you is also about accepting where you are physically. For example, if you were an expert track and field runner in high school, you’ll likely be disappointed in yourself when you hit the road again as an adult and can’t make it to the end of the street. Instead, find another sport you’re interested in that’s a little less intense and start there.

You can also try lighter full body workouts with nothing but your body, or our own Lifehacker workout. It’s also worth noting that when you’re first starting out it might take a while before you feel yourself making progress. Once you get into the habit of exercising, keep yourself interested by overcoming plateaus or trying interval training.

It’s all about knowing your limits and balancing how hard you’re pushing yourself with your own thresholds. It’s not always good to push hard when you’re starting out, because that might be the exact thing that makes you quit.

Hard-Wired to Hate Exercise? [Wall Street Journal]


  • Well I don’t hate exercise at all. I love those forms of exercise I choose to do and I love the way they make me feel.

    But… the thing I hate – and which kills some forms of otherwise pleasurable exercise – is the hassle around exercise. It’s got nothing to do with pain of exertion or being out of form.

    Swimming is the big one for me. Nothing is more therapeutic than swimming laps – whole body exercise, rhythmic breathing, no impact and you don’t get sweaty, not to mention the “meditative” aspect of it, especially if you can find a time when there are few other swimmers in the pool. Perfect, huh? Until you factor in: pool change rooms (ugh), chlorine (ugh), making yourself look and feel presentable afterwards (sigh). All those things are pretty superficial, I admit, but they are annoying and unpleasant enough to undermine, for me, the undoubted pleasures and benefits of swimming. Result: although I adore swimming and was a squad swimmer as a kid, the only time during my adulthood that I’ve been able to make it stick as a regular form of exercise was for a couple of years when I lived walking distance from work and there was a public pool on the route, so I could stop off on my walk home.

    • Agreed, sometimes it’s so not worth the hassle with some exercise. Watersports are the worse sometimes! I dislike cleaning my car out of sand, but it doesn’t stop me most of the time, just the occasional time when I’ll go “maybe another time”

      Recently bought a new bike, that totally rocks for exercise. Been riding every day since, rain or shine!

  • I have to say, the mere thought of exercise makes me want to curl up in bed. I don’t even try anymore after a bad experience with a personal trainer. Blagh.

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