Working Out For The Wrong Reasons

According to the American Heart Association, the average adult should be getting in just over two hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. At 150 minutes total, that breaks down to roughly five 30-minute workout sessions each week.

According to the most recent information from the CDC, less than 52 percent of Americans met those guidelines in 2017, and more than a third were considered obese.

To understand what motivates Americans to work out, and how cheat meals and indulgent foods encourage (or deter) people from exercising, we surveyed over 1,000 Americans about their active lifestyles. Continue reading to see what we learned about the foods that might inspire people to work out – and how those meals could impact their self-esteem, sex life, and career.

Finding the Strength to Work Out

If you think finding the motivation to exercise some days can be difficult – you’re not alone. Setting the alarm early enough to get a workout in before heading to work or giving up part of your precious weekend to put in a few hours at the gym can feel like torture. Of course, finding the motivation for certain types of exercise can be even more elusive than others.

A quarter of polled men and women said running outside was the hardest exercise of all. In truth, running outside can be difficult for even the most seasoned athletes on some days, and there are many physiological (and mental) reasons why hitting the pavement may feel so challenging. Americans who rated their fitness level higher (on a scale of one to five) were less likely than those who didn’t see themselves as all that fit to consider running outside difficult.

Men and women may have agreed on the most challenging type of exercise, but that’s mostly where their similarities ended. More than 1 in 5 women said pushups, squats, and body weights were the toughest exercises, while men said it was lifting weights. They may not be the same type of workout, but they share health benefits of both (including fat burning, enhanced core strength, and better balance).

The least difficult workout, according to Americans polled, was yoga – though 6 percent of men and 1 percent of women still said finding their inner om was challenging.

Good Reasons to Work Out

So if finding the inspiration to work out is so challenging, what motivates people to exercise in the first place? The answer might be even more delicious than anticipated.

We asked Americans which indulgent foods, snacks, or drinks were the most likely to get them to work out. This may sound counterproductive, but eating foods like pizza or ice cream in moderation (occasionally referred to as cheat meals) might actually help boost your metabolism.

So which delicious foods actually entice Americans to work out? According to more than half of people surveyed, pizza took the top slot, followed by burgers for men (33 percent) and ice cream for women (33 percent). Women were more likely to be motivated by sweet treats (including ice cream, doughnuts, and cookies) compared to men, while men were more than twice as likely to admit the promise of beer got them hyped for the gym.

Instant Gratification

Americans told us that working up the energy to do their least favorite exercises could require a pretty hefty food incentive.

If craving a donut or ice cream after exercising sounds strange –it shouldn’t. Research shows the body naturally craves desserts after working out, especially if you’re working out in a group. According to our survey, donuts, ice cream, and pizza were common desires after working out and especially for women, so was grabbing a drink. People generally drink more on days when they work out and while it might not be dangerous, it can have a negative impact on your fitness routine in the future.

For men and women who hated showing up for spin class, it took getting to enjoy 2.4 servings of ice cream to convince them to cycle their way through a session. While you don’t necessarily have to give up ice cream to be healthy, too much sugar or fat can come with some health consequences over time. While most Americans told us they found yoga fairly accessible, it would take more than three full size servings of french fries for them to rationalize getting their stretch on.

Feeling Good About Your Body

There are many good reasons why you should be setting aside at least a few minutes every day to work out – and none of them has anything to do with losing weight.

Research has shown that even just 20 minutes of exercise a day can make you feel happier for up to 12 hours. And while you might not feel energized when your alarm goes off in the morning before a workout, the odds are that by the time the exercise is over, you’ll have more pep in your step (and less stress, too).

Americans who worked out more hours per week were more likely to have a higher self-esteem, sexual satisfaction and even job success than those who worked out less. There’s a science behind why working out may be an effective way to keep you happy both mentally and sexually. As our study shows, there’s a clear correlation between the number of hours you put in the gym and your satisfaction with those three important aspects of life and well-being.

Moderation Is Key

Treating yourself to delicious foods can feel great – but too much indulgence might sneak up on you when you least expect it. As our study shows, working out for a little indulgence may be a common move, but exercise in itself may be a key ingredient to living a happier and healthier life.

Thankfully, there are also simple ways to make working out at home easierwhich means you don’t necessarily have to force yourself to do an exercise you don’t enjoy just to burn off those extra calories.


We surveyed over 1,000 Americans about their sentiment toward working out, and what foods they considered rewards for a hard workout. We asked them to imagine a hypothetical scenario in which they had to perform their toughest workout for the promise of indulging in their favorite foods with no consequences. We asked participants questions about their fitness levels, their self-esteem, career satisfaction, and even sexual satisfaction, as well as basic demographic questions.

Fair Use Statement

Would you like to share our findings on the most popular post-workout indulgences? Feel free to share our study with fitness buffs and foodies alike for noncommercial purposes, but please link back to us to give us some credit!