Fitness Articles

The Worst Reasons to Work Out

Stay Motivated by Exercising for the Right Reasons

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We all have our own reasons for working out. And while all reasons have merit (and there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good about the reflection you see in the mirror), some reasons for hitting the gym are definitely better and more motivating than others.

In fact, the goals you set and the reasons why you work out help set the tone for your entire lifestyle and can even play a role in your long-term health and success. Of course, it is recommended that you choose empowering and uplifting reasons to lose weight and work out.

Here are five common reasons people exercise that might seem positive at first glance but can actually be unhealthy or destructive. If you fall into one (or more) of these categories, don't despair! We have included better reasons to work out that will help you flip your thoughts into a more motivating direction.

The 5 Worst Reasons to Work Out

Because you feel fat. Do you hit the gym hard the morning after a night of unhealthy eating to help you undo the previous night's damage? While a good bout of exercise can get you back on track, what you don't want to do is punish yourself with exercise. Working out shouldn't feel like torture or used as a way to right your wrongs when it comes to food. When you do that, you're completely missing how awesome exercise is for your health and well-being—and you could be on a slippery slope that leads to more serious food and fitness issues (such as exercise bulimia).
Better reason: Exercise to feel strong and energetic. Instead of punishing yourself by overdoing your workouts, focus on how great exercise makes you feel. From feeling strong and energetic to perking up your mood and improving your health, moving your body is more than a way to burn calories—it helps you take care of yourself inside and out!
To eat whatever you want. If your sole motivation to work out is to help make up for your regular fast food or dessert habit, it's time to re-examine your priorities. Sure, working out can allow you to offset the calories of indulging in more food, but it's much easier to overeat calories than it is to burn them off. In fact, it takes about an hour of jogging to burn off just one Big Mac (and that doesn't include the fries and soda). Not to mention that exercise can't always undo the negative health effects of a poor diet. Sweets and other junk foods don't give you all the vitamins and minerals you need to reach your fitness goals, either.
Better reason: Exercise to indulge occasionally in your favorite treats. Instead of exercising to eat whatever you want, think of it as a way to support your healthy lifestyle by boosting your health and happiness—not trying to outsmart a bad diet. You'll still be able to enjoy a treat now and again without worrying so much about the extra calories, but the key is to make those treats occasional—not the norm.
To run away from your problems. We all come across problems and stress in our lives, and exercise can be a good stress reducer. But if you're using exercise as a way to escape and run away from all of your problems, you may be asking for trouble. Exercise alone won't solve everything; you must deal with life's stuggles directly.
Better reason: Exercise to be better equipped to handle problems as they arise. Instead of running away from your problems, use your work out time to clear your head for a while or use the time to think through any issues you may be facing. Sometimes, when you're engaged in physical activity, a new solution or idea will come to you that you can then implement in your life to resolve issues. But remember to use exercise as an outlet for improving your life—not a way to stick your head in the sand to avoid your thoughts and feelings.
To energize when you're lacking sleep. Exercise is known as a natural energy booster, but if you're using workouts as a way to get going when you're not getting enough sleep in the first place, you could be doing your body more harm than good. Without proper rest, you could experience the effects of overtraining, which can break down your muscles and make you weaker. Not to mention that too many sleepless nights have many adverse health effects; from weight gain to an elevated risk of heart disease. Add strenuous exercise on top of poor sleeping habits, and your body could view your workouts as yet another stressor.
Better reason: Exercise to improve your overall health, including the quality of your sleep. It's so important to respect your body and give yourself the rest it needs. Instead of amping yourself up with exercise, work out because you want to improve your overall health, happiness, and sleep. Research shows that exercise can improve sleep patterns, so start focusing on the positives instead of using exercise as a quick fix to get through your day. If you have to make a tough choice between sleeping a few extra hours or exercising, choose sleep most of the time so you can meet your body's daily 7-8 hour quota; choose the gym over adequate sleep too often, and your body may not benefit in the way you hope!
To get skinny. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, and exercise can help you get there. But if you view exercise as nothing more than a means to fit into a certain size, you could be sabotaging yourself. Regardless of body size or weight, working out is a must for everyone! If you view exercise as a temporary fix, a chore to achieve your dream body, or if you're exercising in extreme amounts or intensities in order to "get skinny", you must change your mentality. These are unhealthy reasons to exercise that are simply not sustainable. If you choose to go this route, the only thing you'll end up with is a major motivation problem.
Better reason: Exercise—at any weight—because it's good for you. Exercise isn't just for people who need to lose weight—even "skinny" people need to work out for their health and well-being! So, instead of focusing your workouts on looking a certain way or being a certain size, refocus on finding workouts that you enjoy—you will then stick with them for the long haul. This goes for intensity, too. If you can't keep up with long workouts five days every week, switch to something that you can maintain as part of your healthy lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with working out to feel more confident about your body—but it's not the only reason to do it. Come up with a list of exercise benefits that matter to you, and think of them when your motivation is low—or when your body isn't responding the way you'd like. Because even then, you will still benefit and reach other fitness goals.
Working out for the right reasons will not only help your body reach optimal health, but your emotional health will benefit too. So, the next time you head to the gym because you "feel fat" or want to undo some hefty eating, think about the real reason you're working out—to improve the quality and longevity of your life!

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Member Comments

  • Some subtle differences here, each one a valuable insight. Thanks.
  • I think there are no bad reasons to exercise, and this opinionated "article" won't change my mind. I workout because I am tired of being fat, I hate what I saw in the mirror, and diet alone was not enough. I have never enjoyed exercise... why do I you think I got fat? ha ha. If reading, practicing magic tricks, and playing harmonica could help me lose weight I would gladly throw away my workout clothes. It is stupid articles like this that keep so many people from getting fit. Whatever motivates you - use it!
  • I workout for EXACTLY these 5 reasons--And I WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO! There is not such thing as "BAD REASON" to exercise!!! Whatever gets you off your butt & moving is a GREAT reason! :)
  • Worst article ever
  • My reasons for exercise were exactly what was said in this article. To stay healthy, looking good, feel positive, and eat my favorite food (red meat- not junk) without feeling guilty. Some time on scheduled gym day I felt really tired, but I went to the gym and turned out to have one of the best workout. My gym workout actually saved my life. I was layoff many times during Christmas and would feel really depressed. I went to gym everyday and stay healthy, it gave me energy to a new life. To me a bad day in the gym was better than a day off. There was no negative day for exercise.
  • QUIXOTICLIKE
    I think the risk of exercising for the "wrong" reason is that some people may be inclined to overdo it, which could lead to burn-out or injuries. It's great to be motivated, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
  • SHAHAI16
    I think any reason to exercise is a good one, even if it begins for selfish reasons. My boyfriend has gotten in better shape from going to the gym with me, but he admitted his main motivation is being able to eat what he wants and not get fat lol. Getting healthier was basically a bonus for him. I should mention he's actually trying to gain weight (muscle) but he eats fast food almost everyday and is still underweight because he can't eat much at one time. I can't lose weight, but am also more fit than I used to be.
  • AZURE-SKY
    I can see the author's point, but I don't think it needs to be published, since it's simply her opinion. IMHO, any reason a person has that gets them to exercise is a good one. Any motivation to get off the couch and turn off the TV to get moving is good.

    I really don't like focusing on the negative, and telling people why they shouldn't exercise is a big negative for me - and it's DEMOTIVATING!!!!

    There are some days that I don't want to exercise, but I force myself to do it. So, I don't need another person telling me that I am exercising for the wrong reasons.
  • BIG_LOSER_DAWN
    I say so what if I started to exercise for the wrong reason, at least I am exercising and may change my reasons to better ones as I feel better and look better.
  • Didn't find this very motivating, but then not sure that was the point. I work out b/c it gets my mind off other things. I exercise to find some time alone to process. I exercise to lose weight. When playing the guitar burns as much calories as traditional exercise, I'll do it for other reasons.
  • I do wish people would stop saying "find an activity you like and do it". The activities I like are reading, playing the piano and singing. I don't enjoy exercising. I do it because I have to and I loathe every minute of it.
  • I would counter that there's no such thing as a bad reason to exercise.
  • While I agree that these shouldn't be long term reasons to exercise - in the begining any reason that gets you started is worth it!
  • Wow, I think I'm guilty of pretty much all of those ...
  • Well, there go all my reasons to work out.

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

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