Why Don’t We Exercise More?

Why don't we get more exercise

Decreased risk of heart disease. Improved mood. Weight loss and maintenance. Treatment of depression. Decreased risk of diabetes. Lower anxiety. Increased bone density. Higher social interaction. Increased energy. Improved posture and movement. Treatment of lower back pain.

And that’s just the short list.

You don’t have to be a genius to recognize what all of those things have in common (the fact that you’re reading a fitness blog probably helps).

Every item listed there is correlated to exercise. That’s not to say that physical activity alone will lead you to a stress free, disease free, care free life, but there’s some really strong evidence that it’s going to help improve a lot of things.

Of course, we all know this. We’ve known it for years. Exercise is one of the absolute best things we can do for ourselves. There’s a common quote in the health research realm stating, “If physical activity came in pill form, it would be the most prescribed drug in history.”

So if all of this is true, if physical activity is so good for us, why don’t we exercise more? Why isn’t everyone on the planet buying into the wonder drug?

Well it’s complicated, but I’ve got some theories.

Exercise is difficult

Who lobbed that bullet point in my direction? This one’s easy. Why don’t we exercise more? Because it’s hard, that’s why.

Remember that quote from before, “IF physical activity came in pill form…”? Well it doesn’t. Instead, it requires a whole lot of effort on our part – both physical and mental.

As humans, we don’t like to do things the hard way. We like to take the easiest, most efficient path, and this is not a bad thing! It’s at least part of the reason we have all the incredible technology that we use every day to make our lives easier.

Unfortunately there really isn’t any way around the physical exertion requirement of exercise. In fact, that’s kind of it’s thing. And that makes us avoid it.

But there’s still hope! While your exercise will never be easy (and it shouldn’t), it will get easiER-ish. You’ll get better at it, trust me. Stick with it, stay consistent, find an activity that you enjoy, and soon you won’t be thinking about how absolutely miserable it sounds to get out of bed and do it.

“If physical activity came in pill form, it would be the most prescribed drug in history.”
Other things take priority over exercise

Let’s face it, as much as we want to get fit, strong, fast, and in shape, other priorities always seem to prevent that from happening. Don’t they?

I’ve tackled this topic before, and believe me – it is a priority issue, not an “I don’t have time” issue.

Jobs, family, household responsibilities, leisure time. All of these things get in the way of our plans to exercise more. Is that wrong? Not necessarily, but I would argue that your health and well-being are just as important as all of the other priorities I listed.

Of course there are reasons why we prioritize other activities over exercise. These reasons are sometimes legitimate barriers, but are more often simple excuses. They include the aforementioned “exercise is hard” argument, along with others like “I don’t have time” (already busted that one), “I’m too tired” (so am I), and “I don’t like it” (yeah, because it’s hard).

No matter what your reasons are – legitimate or fabricated – it doesn’t change the fact that despite us knowing how good physical activity is for us, we don’t do enough of it.

Let’s dig a little deeper though. WHY? Really really why? Ignoring all the excuses, the difficulties, the priorities, why can’t we put in a little effort for something so beneficial? I believe the way that we experience those benefits is part of the problem.

Benefits of exercise are not always immediately noticeable

There are certain effects of exercise that you experience immediately after or even during the activity. The rush of good feelings you have after a hard workout is a result of a cocktail of chemicals swirling through your brain and body (yes, endorphins are the popular buzz term, but there’s a whole mess of other stuff going on too).

In addition to the physiological effects, it feels GOOD to exercise because it gives us confidence and it makes us feel accomplished. It also distracts us from depressing thoughts or anxiety inducing events. These are all relatively short term effects.

The other stuff, however – the fat loss, the increased muscle tone, the long term changes in your body shape – those take time. A lot of time. We can’t see these effects right away and we don’t like that.

And the REALLY good stuff – the decreased risk of diseases, the maintenance of brain function, the improved ability to perform activities of daily living – those either take a REALLY long time, or they’re ongoing effects that you don’t even notice.

Think of it this way, you never wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have heart disease today, thank goodness I went for a run yesterday.” The benefits aren’t something we notice because the benefits are what should be the NORM. We only recognize a bad outcome when it actually occurs, not when it’s constantly being prevented, which is exactly what exercise excels at.

All of this means that it’s very difficult for us to SEE the effects of physical activity. Instead, we have to trust that the effort we’re putting into all this exercise is paying off. We have to buy into a mindset that this will be very, very good for us down the road, even if we can’t immediately see why.

“We only recognize a bad outcome when it actually occurs, not when it’s constantly being prevented, which is exactly what exercise excels at.”
Exercise is a relatively new phenomenon

The last point I want to make has more to do with our role in our current society than it does our priorities, expectations, or anything else.

Yes, we don’t like to exercise. It’s difficult, there are other things we’d rather be doing, and the benefits aren’t immediate enough or tangible enough for us to justify it. It sounds awful when you put it that way!

But this doesn’t make us worthless human beings. We’re just not really used to this kind of thing.

In the entire course of human history, physical activity has always played a large role. Exercise has not.

If that sounds confusing, allow me to clarify. Though often used interchangeably, these two terms are not defined the same way. Physical activity is essentially the act of moving your body. Exercise is physical activity that is planned and intentional.

Humans have always moved. We have always been physically active. But when we stopped doing that – due to a variety of factors that could cover another whole article – exercise became necessary. Today we exercise because we don’t get the amount of physical movement we need from our daily activities. Exercise is a way of making up for something we have lost.

Think about this: If you go for a walk every day as your main form of exercise, you are literally SIMULATING the amount and type of movement that you would have normally performed just a century ago. How positively ingenious AND ridiculous! Humans are nothing if not adaptable.

So the last way to answer the question “why don’t we exercise more?”: Well, we never really had to.


These are my thoughts, and you may subscribe to other theories, but the facts remain the same: physical activity is incomparably beneficial to our health and well-being on every domain. All the while, most people do not reach the recommendations for physical activity and many don’t participate in any physical activity AT ALL.

But as an individual, you don’t need to worry about statistics. You have the ability to take care of yourself. Even if it’s hard, even if you don’t like it, and even if it means missing a drink out with friends once in a while. Make the time for exercise now and reap the benefits of it all the way home.


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