Why Is It So Hard to Start Exercising?

Tired Woman After ExercisingThe expectation that exercise is onerous would probably be on top of the list of the reasons for not exercising regularly.

Haven’t you ever sat on your couch thinking that now would be a good idea to go for a walk or take out one of your favorite fitness dvds only to decline because you imagined how hard it would be to put on the exercise clothes and get going. Hard enough to get you slouch back in the couch – perhaps immersing yourself in an episode of Biggest Loser instead. 🙂

The problem is that the above scenario is wrong.

Usually, when you start exercising you actually realize that exercise is much more enjoyable than you predicted. If you think back and take stock, how many times have you actually returned from a walk in a worse mood than when you were in when you started?

Personally, I don’t remember any occasions like that. I always get back refreshed and energized.

I recently stumbled upon a research paper that explains this phenomenon. In a paper entitled the Invisible Benefits of Exercise, researchers came to the conclusion that people underestimate the actual enjoyment they get from exercise, partly because the beginning of exercise is more prominent in their minds that the whole duration of it. And the beginning is often the hardest part of exercising.

The researchers explained that the phenomenon in question is a reasoning bias – an affective forecasting bias –  to be exact. It means that people are generally poor at predicting how satisfying or enjoyable a particular activity – like exercise – actually is and what effect it has on their lives. That is why people are so convinced that winning in a lottery will transform their lives for the better – even if it doesn’t.

The reasoning bias is very persistent though.

If I take a break from my exercise routine for any reason I usually struggle a bit to get back into action, mainly because I’m convinced exercising will be r-e-a-l-l-y hard! The only reason it’s hard is because I’m making it hard for myself by thinking that way.

So the next time you sit on your couch and debate whether to go for a walk or not, remind yourself that your mind may be playing tricks on you. Exercise is not that hard.

P.S. There is one problem though: if  you choose a level of exercise that is too difficult for your current fitness level, you can practically guarantee a bad experience. Don’t fall into this trap if you’re thinking about starting exercise.


  1. Hi Satu! There is a bunch of other thoughts that drag people down too: 1) How do I look in my workout clothes; 2) I don’t know anyone in the gym who likes me; 3) I have no clue what exercises to do; 4) I hated phys. ed. so I’m going to hate the gym. Things like that. I write the Days of Our Gym post every week primarily so that people can know that there are plenty of nice people in gyms, fun stuff to do, and it’s not like phys. ed at all! We get to choose what we want to do! No domineering. And when a person is having fun, it sure doesn’t matter if you have the best workout clothes or not. I started with plain black shorts and a white t-shirt, and that worked just fine. As soon as I started having fun, it was pretty easy after that. 😀

    • Satu says:

      Hi Marion! You’re right about all the reasons you list. The reason #3 annoys me the most – if you’re not in school anymore, what does it matter what exercise was like in pys.ed. classes? You can make your won choices now. I do understand the bad feelings and expectations though – if wasn’t exactly fun running the Cooper test at age 14 when I was out of shape.

      I like reading Days of Our Gym posts because there is always interesting stuff taking place…And sometimes drama too 🙂

  2. Great post Satu and I completely agree – it’s rare to EVER feel worse after exercise. Even DOMS or muscle soreness which comes the next day or later can be kind of comforting.

    I’ve always tried to choose exercise I enjoy as I know that I will WANT to go, but that doesn’t work.

    Like you said – if you’ve not exercised for a while or had a break I find it harder to get back into. In fact I become quite phobic about getting back into it.

    But, the biggest challenge for me is when I want to stay at home on the couch or in bed, trying to remember how good I will feel after. Mostly I try to get around that by doing exercise I enjoy or something not-too-strenuous (like a short walk).


    • Satu says:

      Hi Deb! I think it’s a psychological block that makes it hard to start exercise after a break. I try to overcome that by saying to myself that I don’t need to start at the same level I left off – just begin by working out for 15 minutes or something.

      Luckily my breaks aren’t very long these days.

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