What motivates you to exercise? New research examines what gets people moving

The University of Waterloo has found fear of illness and death is what gets people exercising rather than positive effects

Man going for a run after getting motivated
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What gets us out of our chairs and into our workout gear? The answer is different for everyone. Some people love the feeling of the runner's high, whereas others join sports teams or fitness classes and love the sense of community. Others are worried about what might happen if they don't exercise. 

Scientists have just found a new insight into what gets you lacing up your best workout shoes. The research, published by the University of Waterloo, examined fitness apps to find out what encouraged people to exercise. The 669 research participants were asked to indicate how persuasive these five types of messages were in terms of motivating them to work out at home with a fitness app. 

Obesity, the social stigma and the financial cost of not working out all proved to be ineffective motivators. The increased likelihood of illness and death were the factors that led most of the participants to work out more. 

Woman stretching after exercise outdoors

(Image credit: Avi Richards/Unsplash)

Kiemute Oyibo, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, said: "I did not expect only illness- and death-related messages to be significant and motivational. Not only were illness- and death-related messages motivational, they had a significant relationship with self-regulatory belief and outcome expectation, and there was no significant difference between males and females."

It turns out in this study, exercise was motivated by the stick, rather than the carrot. Which is a shame, because although the decreased likelihood of early death is the chief benefit of exercise, there are huge amounts of short-term benefits to enjoy such as the release of dopamine and other "happy hormones" in the brain.

Increased fitness, improved range of motion, looking better, an increased appetite, literally reversing aging by slowing down muscular atrophy... all phenomenal benefits of exercise. Why associate exercise with negative emotions like fear of illness and death, when there's so many positives to focus on?

Need any more reasons to start? The below workout is a dance-focused HIIT workout from Cat Taylor, a trainer and expert in positive psychology. This will certainly improve your mood on a Monday morning.

Watch Cat Taylor's dance workout here:

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.