Why You Should Exercise – Even If You Don’t Feel Like It

I get it – it’s hot, school’s about to start under who-knows-what conditions, and we’re all really sick of COVID-19 with not much end in sight. And honestly, you just don’t feel like exercising. Deep down, you know you “should” (the dreaded “s” word). Now more than ever, I encourage you to get up and move. And there’s even research to back me up.

According to a paper [1] published in the journal Emotion, people who “dreaded” exercising, and even said they expected it to make them feel worse, still ended up feeling substantially better after just a short session, despite their dire predictions.

To test the connection between exercise and mood, Iowa State researchers created three experiments. In the first, they asked new students to either take a walking tour of campus or watch a video of the same campus tour; the second experiment asked students to take a “boring” indoor tour or watch a video of the same tour; while the third setup had students watch a tour video while either sitting, standing, or walking on an indoor treadmill. To really make it sound awful, the researchers told the students they’d have to write a two-page paper about whichever tour experience they had. Ugh.

The students who watched a video tour reported feeling worse afterward, as you might expect. But all the walking students, regardless of which environment they walked in (outdoors, indoors, or treadmill), reported feeling not only happier but also more jovial, invigorated, positive, alert, attentive, and self-assured. The researchers concluded that “people may underestimate the extent to which just getting off their couch and going for a walk will benefit their mood as they focus on momentarily perceived barriers rather than eventual mood benefits.” While this paper focused solely on the positive effects of walking, other extensive research has shown that any type of exercise has significant mood-boosting powers. To really maximize the health benefits, exercise outside whenever you can.

But what about “motivation?” Don’t you need it in order to make yourself want to exercise? Actually, it’s the other way around! Motivation ~follows~ action. Just the simple act of getting up and starting generates chemical changes in the brain that promote motivation to continue.

Try this experiment: Make a “10-minute agreement” with yourself when there’s something – like exercise – that you’re not feeling in the mood to do. Promise yourself that you only have to do that activity for 10 minutes. After that, if you want to quit, you can. But you’ll be surprised at just how often you’ll want to keep going. Maybe set another 10-minute agreement after the first one, and continue from there.

For more about motivation, check out some of my other articles:

Want to learn even more about boosting your mood through fitness? Contact me and let’s have a conversation about ways to fit fitness into your life.

Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES is a virtual Fitness and Nutrition Coach, specializing in helping busy people become stronger, healthier and happier. As a Certified Brain Fitness Coach, she incorporates brain health into her practice, helping clients from all around the U.S. to move better, feel better, and live better. Learn more about her and follow her blog at

[1] Miller JC, Krizan Z. Walking facilitates positive affect (even when expecting the opposite). Emotion. 2016;16(5):775-785. doi:10.1037/a0040270

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