You Can Trick Your Brain Into Enjoying Exercise

Alyssa Atkinson

Even if you currently hate it.

Photo by Elisabeth Wales on Unsplash

When I was around nine years old, I went on my first real, structured run. It was in the summer. My parents were headed to the bike trail, and my sisters and I wanted to come along. 

I had been playing basketball for about four years, so I was used to exercising regularly, but certainly not in a highly structured way. 

We all changed into workout clothes, piled into our big white van, and drove over to the bike trail. While my parents ran, my sisters and I did a combination of walking and running together. 

At this point, I honestly hated running. It was difficult and boring, and I figured I would never enjoy the sport. I went to the bike trail a few more times that summer, mostly because my sisters and I did everything together. Still, I never truly enjoyed running the way that I would just four years later. 

So, what changed? Well, a few things actually, and they have everything to do with the mind. The following three methods are actionable ways to trick your brain into actually enjoying exercise. If you currently dread getting a workout in, give them a try. They might be exactly what you need to find joy in moving your body.

1. Exercise like this. 

If you exercise one time, hate it, and then give up, you won’t know whether or not you actually like doing it. Instead, make a goal of exercising regularly.

When I first started running, I didn’t enjoy it. However, after doing it consistently for a few weeks and getting in a little bit better shape, I grew to love it more and more. 

Psychology Today states:

“People who exercise regularly report that they come to rely on it and crave more. You could possibly join that club — once you get started.”

Your hatred of exercise might be tied to the fact that you don’t exercise regularly or haven’t done it for long enough. So, the first step to trick your brain into actually enjoying exercise is to do it consistently. 

I personally noticed a huge difference in how I felt when I went out for a run about two weeks after I had done it consistently. Obviously, this can vary from person to person, and I already had an athletic background when I started running.

Still, the fact remains that you have to give exercise a fair chance. Don't get discouraged at the beginning, and you will be far more likely to find joy in doing it.

2. Build it into your lifestyle. 

If exercise feels like a chore, you might just need to build it into your lifestyle more fluidly. This could mean meeting up with friends for a run, attending a workout class, or working out with someone in your family. 

When I joined cross-country in middle school, I made a lot of new friends, and I actually looked forward to going to practice. I loved chatting with them on easy runs and grinding through hard workouts with them by my side, because they pushed me to be my best self. 

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” 
— Helen Keller

Even now, when I feel unmotivated to work out, I make plans to do so with my little sister. We will head outside for a run together or do a core video on YouTube. This helps both of us stay accountable and focused on our goals, because we know we have each other's support to get us through the days where we need a little extra motivation.

When you team up with others to conquer a difficult task, such as a workout, you’ll find joy in spending time with those you care about, and you just might grow to look forward to meeting up with them to exercise. 

3. Never settle for this. 

I had friends in college who used to go to the campus gym after class, bike alone in the corner for 30 minutes, and hate every second of it. They were simply trying to tick off the exercise box for the day, and they truly didn’t enjoy their workout. 

While there is no denying that exercise is key for optimal health, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a form of movement you dread. 

Psychology Today states:

“Exercise is still essential for your overall health, so if you’re inclined to dislike it, the answer is to look harder for activities and circumstances that are pleasing to you. You may absolutely need to walk outside in sunshine rather than pedal in the corner of a windowless gym.”

There is a reason I rarely run on the treadmill at the gym — I don’t enjoy it. In fact, I find it to be quite torturous. Every time I hop on, the minutes tick by slowly as I’m forced to stare at the blank white wall in front of me. I much prefer running outside, because I’m immersed in nature. 

The atmosphere you surround yourself with as you exercise truly can affect the way you feel. You can trick your brain into finding more joy in movement if you don’t settle. If you hate running, walking, or biking at the gym, try exercising outside instead. The fresh air, beautiful views, and overall change in atmosphere truly can have a meaningful impact.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to exercise, one workout often isn’t enough to figure out what form of movement you actually enjoy. You can't determine your overall feelings towards exercise after working out for one, five, or even ten days.

When I first started running and lifting, I didn’t appreciate either of them in the way that I do now. By consistently performing these exercises day after day, I quickly grew to love them. 

Ultimately, there is no single workout or exercise that you must perform to be healthy. So, find the forms of movement that you truly enjoy, and stick to those. Just make sure to give each workout a real chance before writing it off as something you hate. 

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Ohio U XC/Track alum. I love to run. I blog about food, health, fitness, lifestyle, etc. Personal Blog - | Electrical and Computer Engineering Grad.

Raleigh, NC

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