What makes people want to stop exercising?

People stop exercising for many reasons. One of the top reasons people stop exercising is because they have unrealistic goals they are trying to obtain and consistently fall short (because they are unrealistic). Other reasons people stop exercising are because it is not fun, or they have hit a plateau and are failing to see any of the benefits. Make sure your goals are realistic and fun, and change them up on occasion so that you don't plateau.

Female CEO Frowning

I think people stop exercising because they lose track of their awareness.  We need to be aware of how our bodies operate to truly stay healthy.  I always say – if it’s on your hips – it passed your lips.  If you understand that everything you put in your mouth has to be burned off if you don’t want it hanging over the top of your jeans, then you will make exercise a part of your everyday life.  You don’t even have to go to the gym; you literally can make activity a part of your life.  You can do things like playing tag with your kids or take them to the park and while you are there, do some pushups on the slide.  If you sit at a desk all day long, be sure to get up every hour and move.  You can talk on the phone standing up, which burns about an extra 30 calories, or start a lunch time walking group.  At night when you are relaxing, don’t just sit on the couch and let your dinner accumulate around your thighs- get up and do some pushups and squats!  If you are creative, exercise becomes a part of your life and you won’t want to stop exercising because you will have embedded real movement into your real life.

Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine
One of the keys to understanding why people stop exercising is to ask why they started exercising in the first place. Research has clearly shown that whether a person starts to exercise for extrinsic or intrinsic will affect a number of critical exercise-related outcomes including whether they stick with a program. Findings have shown that a person who start exercising for extrinsic reasons such as a desire to improve physical attractive, lose or maintain weight, develop a fit and athletic image exercise less and drop-out in higher numbers than people who start exercising for more intrinsic reasons such as for fun, to reduce stress, and to improve health and fitness. Why is this? One reason is failure to achieve expectations. No matter how hard you try there are certain limits to the changes you can physiologically achieve to your body. As soon as you stop seeing and feeling the changes to your body you are likely to become disappointed and seriously question the value of the effort you are putting into the exercise program. This is because exercise was simply a means to an end, in this case unrealistic changes to your body, rather than a behavior that truly connects with who you are as a person. There is no problem if you start exercising for extrinsic reasons but the key to long-term success is to shift your reason for exercising to something that you value intrinsically as soon as possible.        
I completely agree with the all of the above and I would like to add an additional reason why people stop and it is their beliefs.

What do I mean?

Plateaus happen to anyone involved in fitness and it takes something deep down and good coaching in order for someone to through those tough plateau points.  I tell all my clients that the first step in fitness is to "Be Ready" and that is a deep down core belief that they will be willing to do whatever it takes to persevere and get through the tough times.  It is more than saying you are ready because when push comes to shove the true answer of whether someone is ready or not will be answered.

What a person thinks of themselves and how they view themselves is a very important factor in determining their fitness longevity.  If someone changes how they look at life and what they believe themselves to be will be the biggest contributing factor in quitting or continuing.  So, I believe it is very important to look at past behaviors of when they have quit other things and look for patterns and also build up their belief of self and what they can accomplish. 
There are many reasons why people quit exercising however, one of the biggest reasons is not having your head in the game.  You've got to work on your inner self first then the outer self will catch up.

As with what's behind true happiness and joy.  Motivation for long lasting exercise habits and good nutrition are all inside jobs. 

Try adding the following ingredients and watch your mind, body and soul thrive and flourish in ways that you've never imagined. 

3 ingredients for lasting "Health and Wellness"
  1. Be happy and grateful for where you are and what you have now. Not when you lose 20 lbs or 5 inches off your waistline.
  2. Love and respect yourself. Practice self-love and care for yourself enough to maintain your body with good wholesome food choices and regular exercise.
  3. Care for YOU first. Time to be selfish. If you don't put your own oxygen mask on first you'll eventually run out of air and not be any good to anyone else. More often than not everyone and everything is more important than YOU. Change that. Schedule you time first and watch your body and health improve dramatically.

People stop exercising because they've gotten to week 5 in a brand new exercise program and they:

  1. Do not feel better or
  2. Have not gotten the results they wanted.

Both of these are subjective and based on a person’s perspective and as we know perspective is reality.

Let’s look at this a different way because people's perspective can be change through information and education. For example when a person says they are 5 weeks into an exercise program and aren't feeling better what does that mean? For them it may mean they don't feel stronger and they can't go longer because that is all they know about the benefits of exercise. What if you had information that exercise can help you to sleep better and think more clearly? A little bit more information of the benefits of exercise then can actually lead to an increase in the depth of your perception around feeling better and may lead you to expand your understanding of what feeling better means.

There are many ways to look at results. Are your results realistic? If so and for example you were trying to lose 10lbs in 5 weeks and you only lost 9 does that dilute what your perceive as results? What if you looked at the results in another way? You may not have reached your goal of 10lbs but you did lose 9lbs and you are able to walk up stairs more easily and play with your kids for the first time in a long time.

People have the tendency to stop exercising because they aren’t sure how to change their perception or can’t be flexible and are unable to think about the small actualized positive things they have been able to attain and they lose motivation. 

Try to remember what you have accomplished (even if you think they are too small to recognize) versus what you haven't done. 

This is a great question.  Because of our own individual circumstances, there are ultimately many possible reasons that a person may want to stop exercising.  However in my own experience I’ve seen 2 common things that will discourage someone and cause them to consider stopping their exercise.

First, I see many people who are putting forth the time and effort to exercise but not seeing results.  They feel as though they are holding up their end of the “exercise bargain” (and they are) but their body’s are not, and frustration sets in because they don’t see something for all the work they are doing.  As I begin to work with them we typically discover the problem has been that the exercises were being performed incorrectly, or the level of the workout (intensity) was a bit low, or a combination of the two.  The good news is that the fix is easy in these cases.  Since the desire to exercise is already there it’s just a matter of teaching them how to do it correctly.  They then begin to see something for their work.  It’s exciting, and instead of wanting to stop they’re driven to continue.

Second, I see some individuals who come to a point in their lives where they want to see major changes very quickly.  They begin exercising all the time, as hard and as often as they can.  This kind of exercise regimen is next to impossible to maintain.  Their bodies wear down or they become injured, and exercise stops altogether.  This also leads to frustration because they feel they are unable to keep up with this false perception of what exercise is.  As I begin to work with them, we take it back a bit and redefine things.  Most importantly I encourage them to see exercise as part of a lifestyle, and not something you do for a short time and then stop.  Defined this way, we are able to develop a realistic workout schedule which provides the exercise they need as well as the rest and recovery that they also need.  Most are surprised (and relieved) to find that they can have both exercise as well as a life.
People want to stop exercising for a number of reasons. Sometimes people aren't getting the results they hoped for and as a result they feel exercise is not working for them. People often feel like they don't have time to exercise and this makes them want to stop or not even bother starting. Wanting to stop exercising can be the result of feeling like you don't know what you are doing. If you don't have fitness goals and a clear exercise plan in place you may find you have much less motivation to keep exercising. No matter what the reason is for wanting to stop exercising it can take a lot of motivation to keep going. Finding a personal trainer can be a great way to help you get clear about your goals and what you need to do to reach them. Finding a workout partner that you can be accountable to can be another way to help you stay on track. No matter what, it's important to remember that every little bit of movement counts towards better health and fitness and you should never give up.
There are many reasons why people stop exercising. Reasons can range from lack of interest, loss of motivation, lack of support or even lack of knowledge of how to get results. Whatever the reason is there are always ways out there to help you overcome these obstacles to keep you on track and get you to the goals you want. So if you are having a hard time reaching those goals for whatever your reason is find ways to overcome them with the support of your friends, family or professional fitness expert. No goal is too great to reach. Remember everyone has setbacks in life it is how we overcome these set backs that separates us from everyone else.
Yusuf Boyd, NASM Elite Trainer
Athletic Training

One of the main issues individuals face in maintaining an exercise program is motivation. Not having short, attainable goals and the knowledge of how to progress towards achieving those goals is a key factor. When beginning an exercise program ensure that you have consulted with a professional. They can offer tips and advice on your approach. There are many other factors that lead one to not sticking with their health/wellness program but one specifically sticks out and it is support from family and friends. Surround yourself with individuals who exercise. You will benefit from their encouragement and support of you accomplishing your goals. Incorporating your loved ones into activities will also help.

Be sure to make small, attainable goals and have a good support structure. These things will help you achieve your goals.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.