The world seems fairly evenly split into two groups of people: those who love exercising, and those who hate exercising. The first group is almost cultishly enthusiastic about it: the sweat, the tiredness, feeling “the burn,” the endorphin high afterwards. It’s all awesome to them. The second group can’t stand the process and the rewards don’t seem to pay off for them. If you fall into the second group, there’s a decent chance you’ve felt guilty about it or had your exercise-crazy friends tell you to just “get over it” or had a doctor imply you’re lazy. The fact is, there might be more at play than just your willpower. The reason you hate exercise could be because you were hardwired to.
There are three factors that could be contributing to your exercise aversion:
Factor #1: Genetics
It’s biology 101, but each person has their own unique genetic makeup, making no two people identical. Your genes might be partly responsible for making exercise your least favorite activity. How your body feels during a workout, how well your body is able to manage itself during a workout (things like oxygen transportation and lung capacity), and even how you’re predispositioned to respond mentally to the challenge all come down to your genetic makeup. Some studies indicate up to 50% of your like or dislike for exercise comes down to your DNA1.
Factor #2: Ventilatory threshold
When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Under normal circumstances, this ratio is even. When you exert your body through exercise, the ratio changes and you begin to exhale more carbon dioxide than you inhale oxygen. Your “ventilatory threshold” is the point at which you reach the moment of tipping the scale.
“For most individuals, the ventilatory threshold is around 50% to 60% of the way to their maximum capacity, though there is tremendous individual variation. For elite athletes, the threshold may be as high as 80%, while sedentary people may hit it at 35%.2”
Exceeding your ventilatory threshold is when exercise becomes unbearable. If you have a particularly low threshold, you might pass it by doing simple tasks like walking up the stairs.
Factor #3: How you react to the physical signs of exercising
The entire premise of exercise revolves around pushing physical limits in order to increase capacity. The way you interpret that experience of pushing your limits greatly influences whether you love or hate working out. Some people feel the pain and fatigue and see it as the sign of a great workout. Others feel the exact same level of pain and fatigue and only experience high levels of discomfort.
So what’s a person to do? Obviously, just not working out the rest of your life isn’t a healthy option. The good news is, there are a few health hacks to help you break the cycle of hating exercise:
Find something you’re good at and enjoy doing. Feelings of incompetence are powerful deterrents in any situation, especially in things we don’t enjoy in the first place. Were you good at dance as a kid? Did you love softball in high school? No matter what it was, if you had a positive experience with a form of exercise (even if it was jump rope!) maximize that positivity and engage that passion. The same is true about where you work out, too. If you can’t stand the gym, work out at home. If you need accountability, sign up with a gym. There are no right answers; know what will work for you, and do it!
Connect with a group of people doing the same thing. Research proves over and over that when people add a social aspect to exercising, everybody enjoys it more. Finding a group passionate about your favorite form of exercise creates an immediate bond of camaraderie, and establishes a basic level of accountability when your new friends expect you to show up again next week.
Train up to it. If your ventilatory threshold is on the low side, you’ll have to train up to more physical activity. The good news is that your threshold can be increased, as can your overall capacity. The key to making this happen is having a positive experience as you push your limits… Thus making it really important for you to find an activity you enjoy and people you can connect with while doing it.
Your genetics may have predispositioned you to hate exercise, but they don’t have to win the day and defeat your goals of becoming a healthier person. The first thing you can do is drop the guilt you associated with working out because people thought you were lazy or unmotivated. The next thing you can do is realize that while you may never love working out as much as your marathon running, Iron man winning best friend, you can find a way to work with what you’ve got and still lead a healthy, active lifestyle in a way that works for you.