Here’s Why You’re Not Motivated To Work Out, Despite Your Best Intentions, According To Science

You swore it would never happen again, but here you are: sprawled out in bed, watching The Office, even though you’d promised yourself when you woke up that you’d definitely hit the gym after work. Some days, all the motivational Pinterest quotes in the world still aren’t enough to make you feel like you genuinely want to work out. And, look, on days like that, there’s no need to be hard on yourself. But it might make you feel better to know that the reason why you’re not motivated to work out, according to the results of a new study, may have nothing at all to do with your mindset or dedication, but rather, some stuff happening in your brain that, TBH, you have no control over.

The study, which was carried out by researchers from the University of British Columbia, found that, despite our best intentions, we human beings are, sadly, becoming more and more inactive over time, according to ScienceDaily. And while you might be quick to chalk that up to not having enough willpower or failing to motivate yourself enough, this study suggests that the human brain might innately be more attracted to a sedentary lifestyle. Matthieu Boisgontier, senior author of the study, said in a statement,

Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators. The failure of public policies to counteract the pandemic of physical inactivity may be due to brain processes that have been developed and reinforced across evolution. Giphy

In order to figure out why it can be so hard to choose the gym over the couch, Boisgontier and his colleagues recruited 29 young adults to participate in an experiment while electrodes recorded their brain activity. The researchers sat the participants in front of a computer and flashed images, one at a time, depicting either physical activity or inactivity. The subjects were told to move an avatar toward pictures featuring physical activity, and away from photos of inactivity, as quickly as they possibly could. Then, the subjects repeated the same process, except they moved the avatar away from depictions of physical activity, and toward photos of inactivity.

According to the study’s results, which have been published in the scientific journal Neuropsychologia, the researchers found that the subjects were, for the most part, much faster at moving toward the active depictions and away from the inactive ones, but here’s the kicker: Apparently, the electrodes showed that moving the avatar away from inactive photos required the subjects’ brains to work a lot harder. In other words, avoiding your Netflix marathons requires a whole lot of mental effort, and, IMO, those lazy vibes make so much more sense now. Boisgontier explained his team’s findings in a statement,

We knew from previous studies that people are faster at avoiding sedentary behaviours and moving toward active behaviours. The exciting novelty of our study is that it shows this faster avoidance of physical inactivity comes at a cost — and that is an increased involvement of brain resources. These results suggest that our brain is innately attracted to sedentary behaviours.

Now, I know the results of this study probably aren’t very comforting at first glance. Because, like, apparently, all your brain wants you to do is be as lazy as humanly possible, fitness goals be damned. But here’s the thing: You don’t always have to be a slave to your brain. The beauty of being a human being is that you’re a complex person — your brain can spit out certain thoughts, but you don’t always have to act on them, or even listen to them. At the very least, this study brings awareness to the way your brain works behind the scenes, and as a result, you can let yourself off the hook a little when, for one reason or another, you’re just not feelin’ a workout.


Allen Michael, a spokesperson and editor for the online workout guide Simple Fitness Hub, knows the struggle of staying motivated himself, but he tells Elite Daily that there are two easy ways to feel inspired and override that tricky, innate attraction to laziness.

First, he says, try finding a partner who’s down to get sweaty with you. “Studies have shown that working out with a partner increases exercise frequency, and it’s more fun as well,” he tells me over email. According to Michael, it’s easy to fall out of your workout routine when you’re the only one vouching for yourself, but when you add a partner to the picture, you also add accountability. “You can share your workout goals, and hold each other accountable to staying on-target week in and week out,” he explains.

Honestly, though, partner or no partner, some days you just don’t feel like making the effort to go all the way to the gym. “Not only does the gym cost money every month,” Michael says, “but you have to factor in the time to get there and back.” Plus, he says, there’s the issue of waiting around to use a machine if it’s especially crowded at the gym. If you don’t feel like dealing with any of those roadblocks, Michael recommends maintaining your motivation by working out at home. That way, he explains, you’ll feel accomplished, satisfied, and you’ll get to face-plant into your bed immediately after you’re done. That’s what I like to call balance at its finest.

By now, we all know that exercise is good for the body. It relieves stress, prevents chronic disease, improves memory . . . you know the drill. But when you just can’t with the thought of physical activity, what should you do?

Whether or not you’re already physically active, if your giddyup ghosted, it might not have to do with your self-motivation—it may just be that your current bad habits are holding you back. Take a moment to check in with yourself to ensure you’re not hanging on to these three anti-exercise habits.

01. You’re sticking to the same routine(s).

Sure, sticking to a tried-and-true routine makes for more productive mornings. But doing the same workouts over and over is a recipe for a snooze fest.

A study by the University of Florida found that switching up your workouts is linked to a higher rate of adherence. You’re more likely to continue exercising, even if you are just starting a new fitness regimen. Ultimately, some variation is key to keeping things mentally interesting and exciting. It also makes it more of a (good) challenge.

Plus, a habit of mixing it up ensures that all your body parts get the equal playtime they deserve. And it can help prevent injury by ensuring some muscle groups don’t get overworked. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests alternating between difficulty levels and types throughout the week. For example, do restorative yoga one day, Zumba the next, and jogging the third. Rinse and repeat! (Just don’t forget to give yourself a rest day.)

02. You’re not drinking enough water.

Failing to fuel up on H2O is bad news—especially if you’re trying to keep up with regular exercise. Water makes up most of your body composition—at least a whopping 60 percent, in fact! Water is essential for our cells to do their thing on the daily. But since our body naturally loses water through breathing, sweating, and bathroom brakes, consistently drinking your recommended daily amount of water is vital.

According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dehydration can cause headaches and chronic fatigue. Mayo Clinic also lists dizziness, light-headedness, and confusion as symptoms of dehydration. The result is zero energy for even picking up the laundry—let alone your feet.

And if you work out on empty? Your exercise performance will take a nosedive. Not having enough water means less blood will flow to the moving muscles and your blood pressure will be a mess. It makes for an uncomfortably exhausting experience—not exactly motivation to get you going the next time.

Your best bet? Sip on water throughout the day, but drink 6 to 8 ounces of water about twenty minutes before exercising. There are plenty of ways to trick yourself into staying hydrated while you working out, too. Avoid sugary sports drinks along with coffee and energy drinks. These will just give you a post-workout caffeine crash. Instead, stick to simple H2O. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try infused water recipes with fruits, herbs and spices.

03. You’re skipping breakfast.

When you barely have time to brush your hair, making a morning meal seems inconvenient. Unfortunately, this habit might be your major road block to breaking a sweat.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating breakfast each morning increases physical activity. In other words, it gives you more energy! Think about it: your glucose levels decrease while you sleep. This is a result of the body’s natural process of using glucose for energy. Come morning, it’s up to you to replenish those “fasting” levels. This is where a healthy breakfast comes in.

Regularly eating breakfast gives you more consistent energy throughout the day. It prevents fatigue, headaches, and your motivation from vanishing down the drain. You’ll also be less likely to overeat later on, something that can otherwise lead to an energy crash.

No need to eat a three-course meal first thing, though. Keep it light and simple. If you’re pressed for time, look into healthy breakfasts that you can make in advance. Specifically, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests focusing on high-protein breakfasts—think hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter toast, and ricotta with fruit.

Be real with yourself. Start ditching these habits slowly and over time. It will increase your chances of reaching your fitness goals—and a lifetime of healthy living.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Lacking Workout Motivation? 12 No-Fail Comebacks for Every Excuse in the Book

Excuses. We’ve heard (and used) them all before. But whether you’re too tired, too busy, or too lazy, we’ve got a comeback for every excuse you can think of for skipping your workout. Check ’em out! (Then read these 15 Fitness Quotes That Will Inspire You to Hit the Gym.)

“I’m Too Tired to Work Out”

Comeback: Then get more sleep! Missing out on extra zzz’s may not only lead to weight gain, but you’re more likely to hit snooze and skip your morning workout. More sleep means you’ll be about to better power through your work day too. If all else fails, grab a cup of coffee before you hit the gym.

“I’m a Night Owl, and It’s Impossible to Get Up Extra Early Before Work”

Comeback: Tone in just 30 minutes over your lunch hour. If you can never seem to sneak away from your cubicle during the day, try packing your gym bag the night before and bringing it to work with you. If you go home to change, you might be tempted to stay on the couch. And better yet, if you change at work, it will be a lot more difficult to walk or drive past the gym if you’re already in your gear. #Guilt

“Everyone is Going Out for Drinks After Work”

Comeback: Suggest a gym date instead of drinks. It’s the new happy hour-and who doesn’t want to burn some calories while working up a sweat after a long day at the office? (Plus, you’ll have earned a cocktail by the time spin class is over!

“I’m Too Hungover to Work Out”

Comeback: Bummer. We don’t encourage drinking until you get a hangover, but in the event that you don’t feel 100 percent the morning after your best friend’s bachelorette party (yea, we’ve all been there), drink lots of water and get movin’-light cardio is part of our one-day cleanse hangover cure. Just remember: Working out while dehydrated (i.e. hungover) can cause serious complications, so again, your best bet is to drink lots of water. Like, all the water.

“I Never Know What to Do, and I End Up Looking Silly or Wasting Time”

Comeback: Who cares what you look like? You made it to the gym! Still can’t get over your insecurities? That’s okay too-gyms and studios aren’t for everyone. You can do some awesome and productive workouts at home or in a nearby park. And you don’t even need to own weights.

To combat wasted time whether it’s at the gym or at home, prepare yourself with a plan. Don’t know what you’re training for? Here are four moves to accomplish any fitness goal. Some sweet new workout clothes never hurt anyone either.

“I’m Out of Town, and I’m Out of Town Basically Every Weekend”

Comeback: You don’t have to pause your weekly routine just because you’re living out of a suitcase. Try this hotel room workout or do a treadmill workout at the gym. Jumping rope is also a great way to squeeze in some cardio, and the tool is light and small enough to fit in your suitcase.

No workout facilities where you’re staying? Use a pedometer or step-counting app and take a walk on the beach or just explore the new city you’re in, and aim for around 10,000 steps throughout the day. Bike tours are another way to burn calories and sightsee at the same time.

“Gym Memberships Are Too Expensive”

Comeback: Kayla Itsines-the Instagram sensation. She proves you don’t need a gym to get fit wherever you are-for free! If that’s not enough, running is free and so are these free fitness classes. There are also 100,000 apps, as of December 2014, dedicated to your health and fitness goals. We like Nike+ Training Club for its workouts for all fitness levels, Sworkit for it’s high-intensity body workouts you can make as short as five minutes, and Spotify for it’s new running feature that finds your tempo and plays music to match. But mostly, Kayla.

“I Lit-er-al-ly Do Not Have One Free Minute In My Day”

Comeback: Yes, you do! Schedule your workout. You make time to do other things in your day, right? Treat exercise like an important meeting. If you can’t make it, reschedule for a different time of day, but don’t cancel. We’ll admit, there are days when we wish we had a 25th hour. So if it’s just one of those days, try this 7-minute workout routine. (We take back what we said earlier about sleeping-you can go to bed seven minutes later if it means squeezing in a quick sweat session.)

“It’s Too Hot/Cold/Rainy/Windy/Dark/Light/Tuesday”

Comeback: If it’s too hot, do your toughest workouts indoors or early in the morning before the day reaches peak temps. Workouts in the water like swimming, water aerobics, and stand up paddleboarding will also keep you cool. And remember: Always wear sunscreen and drink lots of water!

If it’s too cold/rainy/windy… find an indoor track or take a spin class to get in some cardio. And don’t underestimate the power of a rowing workout.

“I’m Still Sore from Last Week’s Workout”

Comeback: Taking a rest day (or week in this case) doesn’t mean sitting on the couch. Active rest days of yoga, walking, and stretching will help you reap the benefits of your workout. In the event that you’ve overtrained, try these six ways to relieve sore muscles. Stretching immediately after your work out will also help.

“I’m Hungry”

Comeback: Eat something! Celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels says your body needs sugar to exert energy and energy to perform at a high level. That doesn’t mean sitting down to a turkey dinner. Try a healthy snack such as a medium banana, oatmeal, or non-fat Greek yogurt 30 to 45 minutes before you start exercising.

“I Just Can’t Seem to Find the Motivation”

Comeback: Working out is good for your health-both physical and mental. It’s been touted as a cure for just about everything. Instagram and Pinterest are awesome motivators, as is setting goals for yourself. Maybe it’s running your first 5K or finally nailing that handstand scorpion pose in yoga. Either way, you’ll feel like a badass when you reach your goal, and who doesn’t want that?

  • By Emily Plucinak

Lack of motivation to workout

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