5 Totally Valid Reasons You Shouldn’t Exercise

It may come as a surprise, but exercise is not the answer to everything. Here are five reasons to hold off on breaking a sweat.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re scratching your head thinking that as a fitness writer I am supposed to be writing about the reasons you should exercise. Fair enough, but honestly, that story is so played out. You already know the reasons you should exercise. The fact that exercise is good for us and that we should do it is news to exactly no one.

But what about the reasons you shouldn’t exercise? To be sure, there are valid reasons not to and here are five of them.

1. You’re Injured

I’ve seen people show up to boxing class with their arm in a sling. I’ve seen people try to run who are limping so terribly they look like they are going to break their leg at any moment.

Before you reach for those dumbells, make sure you are exercising for the right reasons

Many of us were taught that “no pain no gain” is how we get ahead. Culturally, we applaud the tough athlete who plays his way through pain. But I think that mantra is stupid. Pain is an important piece of information, and unless your life depends on it, there are two things you should never do when it comes to pain – ignore it or push though it.

Pain is your body saying, “Stop, and look at me.” Next time pain comes your way during a bout of exercise, do the right thing – stop and pay attention to the signals.

The good news is there are two silver linings with injury:

  1. Learning from your setback.
  2. Having the opportunity to shift gears and explore a new option.

After my rotator cuff surgery I couldn’t lift or box for almost a year, and instead found a love of road biking. Rather than pushing through pain, I found a different and equally gratifying way to move my body.

2. You Are Running From Your Problems

Abs won’t save your marriage and 10% body fat wont keep you from getting fired if you aren’t performing at your job. I am all for health and wellness coming darn near the top of life’s priority list, but fitness isn’t more important than your family, loved ones, and job.

Of course, there is a balance to the equation. In 2008, federal guidelines established that 150 minutes a week of moderately intense exercise showed “substantial health benefits.” Furthermore, those who participated in 150 minutes per week of exercise (compared to those who didn’t) had a 20% lower change of dying prematurely. But, if someone tripled that minimum level, then their risk of dying only dropped an additional 4%.

“If your life is out of balance, rather than spend countless hours at the gym, try focusing on just twenty minutes of exercise and you’ll still derive the majority of the health benefits.”

Gretchen Reynolds, in her book The First 20 Minutes, suggested that the vast majority of benefits from exercise come from the first twenty minutes it’s performed. I’m not saying you should only exercise twenty minutes a day. If you enjoy exercise and your lifestyle allows for it, then exercise three hours a day. But if your life is out of balance, rather than spend countless hours at the gym, try focusing on just twenty minutes of exercise and you’ll still derive the majority of the health benefits.

reasons to exercise, reasons to not exercise, exercise motivation, psychology

It’s hard to be physically fit before you get yourself mentally fit.

3. You Exercise to Lose Weight

If I only had a nickel for every time people told me they weren’t seeing the results they wanted from exercise. What they almost always mean is they aren’t losing weight.

If only us fitness professionals would tell those who are overweight the real skinny. Despite what The Biggest Loser tells you, fitness isn’t about losing weight. It’s about getting well and getting fit. End of story.

Fitness is improving the amount of push ups you can do in a minute. It’s running faster or lifting more. A fitness result might also be lowering your cholesterol or blood pressure. But losing weight is about you and your physiological and emotional relationship with food.

“While the human body is meant to move and everyone should find time to move it daily, exercise may or may not be the way to do that. Instead of using the word ‘exercise,’ try substituting the word ‘activity’ or ‘movement.'”

There’s an old adage that says you can’t outrun a bad diet, and science corroborates this. Exercise as a diet is a poor choice. According to Timothy Caulfield, who wrote a book summarizing the relationship between diet and exercise, “The data simply does not support the use of exercise as a primary tool for getting thin.”

Here’s a tip: lose the weight, and then start exercising. Speaking from personal experience, it’s not nearly as gratifying to move a heavier and inefficient body as it is to exercise a lighter and more nimble one. You also decrease the likelihood of impact-related injury and arthritis by waiting until you’ve lost the weight to hit the gym.

Furthermore, while studies show exercise is a poor way to lose weight, it is shown to be an important component of keeping weight off. According to the National Weight Control Registry, some 90% of participants who kept successfully maintained weight loss exercised on average for one hour per day.

4. You’re in the Wrong Tribe or Don’t Have One

There tend to be two types of exercisers – lone wolves and pack animals. Both can be problematic if you don’t surround yourself with the right people. While exercise is a personal journey and there’s certainly nothing wrong with going on a nice trail run or bike ride on your own, life does come down to people. Support matters, and if you’re hanging around the wrong people or not hanging out with any, you’re most likely not getting the support you need.

running, alone, lone wolf

Although you may be a lone wolf, having others to support you is important.

According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, people who exercise with a partner or a group are “more likely to stay on track.” Additionally, new science suggests that for some people group exercise may trigger the same pleasant chemical response associated with things like laughter and dancing.

5. You Hate Exercise

Life is full of things we don’t like at all times – going to work, paying taxes, and doctors appointments. Doesn’t exercise also belong on the list of things we just need to suck it up and do? No, it doesn’t.

While the human body is meant to move and everyone should find time to move it daily, exercise may or may not be the way to do that. Instead of using the word “exercise,” try substituting the word “activity” or “movement.” And if you hate going to the gym, then find a different way to move – walk, hike, or play Ultimate Frisbee.

One caveat about “liking” versus “disliking” exercise – some of the best things in life are acquired tastes. For many, exercise is one of these things. Being uncomfortable is perhaps not natural, but it is a requirement for just about every advancement known to mankind.

When to Take a Break

All my clients who had lasting results did so with a balanced approach to fitness. If they were trying to lose weight, they recognized that food was the primary facet of that journey. They also realized that while they did the work, support was a necessary element of getting them through. And the people that achieved lasting results also actually enjoyed the process.

Working out is a part of life for many and I happen to love it. Part of my purpose is to share that passion and help others on their journey to optimum health and fitness. But if you exercise merely as a means to an end, if you’re injured, if your life is out of balance, and if you hate exercise, do yourself a favor and take a break.


1. Reynolds, Gretchen. The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. Plume, 2013

2. Caulfield,Timothy. The Cure For Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness. Beacon Press, 2012

3. Hutchison, Alex. “Is Group Exercise Better Than Working Out Solo” The Globe And Mail, Last Updated, Thursday July 31, 2014

4. Lee, I-Min et al. “Physical Activity and Weight Gain Prevention.” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 303.12 (2010): 1173–1179. PMC. Web. 15 June 2015.

5. Lipton, Lee. “Case Studies In Writing The Exercise Prescription” JAAPA: The Journal of The American Academy Of Physicians Assistants. February 2005

6. NWCR Facts The National Weight Control Registry

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

Leave a Comment

Do Not Sell My Personal Information