Is Your Motivation to Exercise Influenced by Genetics?

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Is Your Motivation to Exercise Influenced by Genetics?

Date of Content: January 16, 2024
Written by: Harvey Talento
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


Understanding the Essence of Motivation to Exercise

Exercise is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. However, motivating oneself to exercise regularly can be challenging. Knowing why people choose to be physically active is important because staying active helps prevent diseases and improves our overall quality of life.

Motivation To Exercise

Overcoming Barriers

One of the first steps to understanding the motivation for exercise is recognizing the common barriers to physical activity and creating strategies to overcome them. These barriers can include lack of time, lack of energy, fear of injury, lack of skill, and high costs. By identifying these barriers and finding ways to overcome them, we can more easily make physical activity a part of our daily lives.

The Role of Self-Determination Theory

The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) provides a useful framework for understanding motivation for exercise. According to SDT, three central questions need to be addressed:

  • Does the quality of motivation regulating exercise behavior matter?
  • How important are basic psychological needs within exercise contexts?
  • Can contextual variables be manipulated to create adaptive environments for exercise?

The answers to these questions can help one understand how to motivate oneself to exercise regularly.

Common Challenges to Exercise Motivation

Motivation is a key factor in maintaining a regular exercise routine. However, several common challenges can hinder motivation. Understanding these challenges can help us develop strategies to overcome them.

  • Lack of Time

One of the most common barriers to exercise is the perceived lack of time. Balancing work, family obligations, and other responsibilities can make it difficult to find time for physical activity. However, strategies such as identifying available time slots, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine, and taking advantage of work physical activity facilities can help overcome this barrier.

  • Lack of Social Support

Social support plays a crucial role in exercise motivation. If friends and family do not share your interest in physical activity, it can be challenging to stay motivated. Inviting friends and family to exercise with you, planning social activities involving exercise, and joining exercise groups or classes can help address this challenge.

  • Lack of Energy

Feeling too tired or lacking energy is another common challenge. It’s important to remember that physical activity can increase energy levels. Scheduling physical activity for times in the day when you feel most energetic can help overcome this barrier.

  • Fear of Injury

The fear of getting injured can also deter people from exercising. Learning how to warm up and cool down properly, and choosing activities suitable for your age, fitness level, skill level, and health status can help mitigate this fear.

  • Lack of Skill

If you feel you lack the skills necessary for certain types of physical activity, it can be demotivating. Starting with activities that don’t require new skills, such as walking or jogging, or taking a class to develop new skills can help overcome this barrier.

  • High Costs and Lack of Facilities

The cost of gym memberships or exercise equipment can be a deterrent for some. However, many forms of physical activity require minimal facilities or equipment, such as walking, jogging, or calisthenics.

Understanding these common challenges to exercise motivation is the first step towards overcoming them. By developing strategies to address these challenges, we can stay motivated to maintain a regular exercise routine.

Genetics of Motivation to Exercise

Starting a journey to a healthier lifestyle often depends on various things, including our genes. Our genes, like a set of instructions, can influence how motivated we are to exercise. The following are some of the specific genes that may affect our desire to exercise. Understanding this may uncover the interesting links between our genes and the choices we make to be more active.


People with a specific genetic variation (rs6265) in the BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) gene tend to exercise more consistently. This variation is linked to increased positive mood and decreased perceived effort during exercise. In a treadmill session, individuals with this genetic variation reported higher intrinsic motivation and were more likely to keep exercising when given the choice to stop. This suggests that our genes might influence how we perceive the rewards of exercise, offering insights for personalized interventions based on genetic factors.

NOS3 Gene

Another gene, NOS3 (Endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase), with a specific variation called +894 G>T (rs1799983), influences how people engage in physical activities and respond to resistance training. Men and women with certain variations of this gene tend to spend more time in vigorous and light-intensity activities. Moreover, they show better muscle strength gains during resistance training. This highlights the importance of understanding how genetic differences can affect our physical activities and responses to exercise.

Understanding how our genes affect our desire to exercise is important. It shows that each person’s fitness journey is different. As we aim to be more active, knowing how our genes play a role can help us find the right approach.

Strategies to Boost Exercise Motivation

Getting into fitness isn’t just about moving; it’s about having a plan. Below are simple strategies to boost your exercise routine. Whether you’re just starting or already active, these ideas can make your workouts more enjoyable and effective.

Engage with Distractions

For those new to exercise, incorporating distractions can significantly enhance the overall workout experience. Researchers from San Diego State University discovered that novice exercisers tend to exercise for longer when given a distraction, such as listening to music or engaging in a friendly conversation. On the contrary, individuals with more exercise experience often find better performance outcomes when they focus internally on their bodies during exercise, highlighting the importance of adapting strategies based on individual fitness levels.

Personal Progress Metrics

A key strategy for maintaining exercise motivation is to track personal progress metrics. It is essential to compare and measure progress solely against one’s former self. This approach ensures a focus on individual improvement without making comparisons to friends, movie stars, or elite athletes. By setting personal benchmarks and recognizing individual achievements, exercisers can foster a sense of accomplishment and motivation.

Adapt with Varied Approaches

Adapting to the varying demands of exercise is crucial, especially during challenging moments. One effective strategy is to experiment with different approaches, such as introducing distractions or focusing internally. Both novice and experienced exercisers can benefit from dissociation, where distractions like music or conversations help in overcoming discomfort. Simultaneously, associating by visualizing muscles working and getting stronger can contribute to a focused mindset during tough sessions.

Natural Environments for Mental Wellness

Exercise in natural settings, such as parks or beaches, has been linked to enhanced mental well-being compared to indoor environments. Embracing the ‘biophilia’ theory, which suggests an innate human connection with the outdoors, can provide additional motivation for outdoor activities. The positive mental impact of exercising in natural environments adds another layer to the overall health benefits of staying active.

Maximize Outdoor Exercise Benefits

Outdoor exercise has unique benefits that can contribute to enhanced pleasure and well-being. According to studies, outdoor runners may experience a more significant rise in pleasure-seeking endorphins compared to treadmill runners. Additionally, outdoor environments, especially those near water or at high elevations, contain more negative ions, thought to energize and promote a positive mood. This knowledge can serve as motivation to opt for outdoor activities, harnessing the potential mental and physical advantages.

Diversify with Outdoor Workouts

Introducing variety into exercise routines by opting for outdoor activities offers multiple benefits. Swapping a treadmill run for a muddy trail run or transitioning from an exercise bike to mountain biking not only adds diversity to the workout but can also lead to burning more calories. The constantly changing terrain, natural environments, and potentially lower outdoor temperatures contribute to a more dynamic and potentially calorie-intensive exercise experience.

These strategies provide a practical approach to staying motivated and enjoying the advantages of regular exercise.

About the LifeDNA Fitness Report

Ready to unlock personalized insights into your exercise motivation? Get the LifeDNA Fitness Report today! This report provides valuable information about the unique traits that influence motivation to exercise, guiding you on a path tailored just for you. Take a step towards a healthier, more active lifestyle by discovering what motivates you. Your personalized fitness journey starts with understanding your unique traits. Don’t miss out—grab your LifeDNA Fitness Report today!


  • Exercise is vital for a healthy lifestyle, but maintaining motivation can be challenging. Knowing why people engage in physical activity is crucial for disease prevention and overall well-being.
  • Identifying and addressing common barriers to exercise, such as lack of time or fear of injury, is essential. Strategies to overcome these barriers help integrate physical activity into daily life.
  • Self-Determination Theory (SDT) offers a framework to understand exercise motivation, focusing on the quality of motivation, psychological needs, and contextual factors. Addressing these aspects aids in sustaining regular exercise.
  • Lack of time, social support, energy, fear of injury, lack of skill, and high costs are common challenges. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial for maintaining motivation.
  • Genes, such as BDNF and NOS3, can influence motivation for exercise. Understanding genetic variations provides insights into individual differences in exercise motivation and potential personalized interventions.
  • Engaging distractions, tracking personal progress metrics, adapting approaches, exercising in natural environments, and diversifying outdoor workouts are practical strategies to enhance exercise motivation and enjoyment.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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