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Movement is such an elementary part of our lives, that some say movement is life and life is movement.

If someone has to make a physical effort to bring food to the table and keep the family safe, there is not much time left for other activities. Nevertheless, even cultures where people work hard physically have developed sports activities outside of work too. This shows that humans have a natural interest in playful physical activity. It could be a leftover from childhood. Healthy children like to move in many possible and impossible ways to explore and conquer their surroundings. For adults, the motivation for playful physical activity comes from higher levels of the Maslow pyramid: love, belonging, appreciation, self-realization.

Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. If it is physical activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work we call it sport.

Number one is just to gain a passion for running. To love the morning, to love the trail, to love the pace on the track. And if some kid gets really good at it, that’s cool too.

Pat Tyson Director of Cross Country, Track and Field Head Men's CoachPat Tyson, Running Coach

19 Reasons Why People Want to Be Physically Fit

Why is somebody doing a sport or physical exercise? I think this is the first question to answer before we start discussing the reasons for doing a specific exercise in this way and not another?

Sports activity does not have the purpose to produce useful goods.

It’s goal and ultimate purpose is to evoke the full potential and to control the game of forces by subordinating them to one’s own willpower.

The effect of sports activity on humans is a decisive and constituting contribution to the general personal development.

That’s how humans have developed a great system for self development and performance improvement, health maintenance and recreation.

Kurt Meinel, Prof. Dr., 1898-1973 AvatarKurt Meinel, (1898-1973) in Die Bedeutung der Motorik für die Entwicklung der Persönlichkeit

The list presented here is my personal summary of the top reasons I encountered for doing sports. It is mainly based on research and observation during my work as a fitness trainer in the gym and as a lifelong active athlete in many disciplines.

My goal here is to list all possible reasons in a few groups, which allow to efficiently describe an athlete’s motivation.

Reason 1: Fitness

Many popular leisure activities are physically demanding. Standing on the surfboard, skiing, snowboarding and even just hiking on the first day of your holiday can be quite exhausting and cause sore muscles on the days after. Therefore, many prepare themselves with a general physical fitness training. Good idea!

If your work requires a lot of mental or physical fitness from you, you might choose to work out to be better prepared for your job or balance one sided work activities.

Strengthening the muscles and the cardiovascular system from one to three times a week is what it takes for this. Ideally, other important factors such as balance and flexibility should be included as well. They play an important role in many activities and in preventing injuries. This can be easily incorporated into everyday life. Start with putting on the socks or brushing the teeth standing on one foot.

Reason 2: Beauty

Almost everyone I know wants to make a good impression on others. This includes their physical appearance. For some this is a very high priority. Beauty ideals are naturally complex. What we perceive as beautiful is always influenced by our environment. For some, it means a slim and lean body shape, while others consider a few full curves or impressive muscles to be more beautiful. Sport obviously has a strong impact on our physical appearance. And for some this is their primary reason to do sports.

Reason 3: Weight Management

Weight loss and weight gain. Statistically this goal might well be at the top of the list for female and male fitness athletes. Almost everybody struggles a bit to loose or gain some weight at some stage in their lives. A few athletes need to do this as a regular part of their preparation for a competition in a specific weight class.

Most sportive activity will require and lead to a healthy diet. Obviously a combustion engine race car can not run efficiently without the right mix of gasoline. This metaphor is often mentioned by fitness trainers to explain the importance of a good nutrition for our body to perform optimally and stay healthy. Some will even argue, that it is more important or a sine qua non pre-condition at least for some goals in sport. For the purpose of simplicity and focus we will assume that nutrition is dealt with appropriately and not further discuss it.

Reason 4: Health

This goal is definitely at the top of the list for most of us and certainly of public health politicians who care for the overall health of a population. When we wish somebody well on their birthdays, good health is usually included together with happiness. It includes prevention of diseases, injuries and more.

There are many scientific studies on this topic and the list of health related benefits from physical activity is quite impressive:

  • Improve aerobic capacity
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower type 2 diabetes risk
  • Maintain immune functioning
  • Reduce body fat
  • Keep bones strong
  • Build muscle mass
  • Improve breathing
  • Boost energy
  • Reduce the risk of arthritis
  • Maintain sexual functioning
  • Improve emotional resilience
  • Better sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Less migraines
  • Lower anxiety
  • Boosts memory
  • Lowers dementia risk

Most of these benefits come from rather moderate levels of physical activities. Competitive athletes and people pursuing active lifestyles accept higher levels of risk to offset some of these health benefits for the benefit of other goals.

Reason 5: Wellbeing

Wellness is defined as a combination of fitness, health and happiness. It is often mentioned as a specific goal for people to get physically active. Nobody would probably argue against improving his general quality of life.

Sleep is another critical precondition for physical activity and we will assume here, that you take care to get the appropriate sleep time regularly.

Reason 6: Personal Growth

Self-determination. Self-improvement and development. Performance, out-performance. Skill development. Accomplishment. Knowledge. Desire to achieve sport competence. Sport can foster many positive character traits like discipline, commitment, humility, friendship and courage.

The highest and most difficult mountain is always the one we carry within ourselves. Because ultimately we create our own mountains and the desire to conquer them.

Walter Bonatti 1930 - 2011, AlpinistWalter Bonatti (1930 - 2011), 1930 -2011, Alpinist quoted in Die Alpen 02 2015

Reason 7: Longevity

Age well. Preventing ageing or at least staving off the effects of ageing is a motivation for many to be physically active. The process of ageing is irreversible and non-stoppable. But it is also amazing and inspiring to see how people who continue to participate in sports are fitter and with a more juvenile appearance and physical fitness than much younger individuals with a more sedentary lifestyle.

Reason 8: Pain Reduction

It is a very frequent experience, that many ailments and pains get better after a while with a targeted and balanced training program. Training exercises can also be helpful for restoring functionality after and injury.

Reason 9: Recreation

Sport will recharge your batteries and boost your energy level. Even strenuous physical exercise can be experienced as a mental relaxation, for somebody who has to mentally concentrate and perform at work. If the workout takes place outside, this refreshing experience might be even stronger.

If your work puts a lot of mental or physical strain on you, adequate sports activity will help you recover from it.

Reason 10: Socialising

Camaraderie, congregate in groups, social interaction, support, parental, family, peer support, imitation, social networks. Sports is a very popular place for people to come together and have some fun.

Reason 11: Competition

Compete to win. Because of all the other benefits of sports there is a saying that participation comes before winning. But for ambitious personalities out-performing themselves and others, winning, be the number one in a discipline comes at the very top of the list of their reasons to do sport.

Reason 12: Sense of Achievement

Reaching any of the goals on this list gives us a sense of achievement and proudness. And because there are so many combinations and prioritisations among these goals, sports is a great way to experience it for almost everyone. All it takes is to make up your mind and start moving.

Reason 13: Prestige

Achieving some of the goals on this list can lead to social recognition and prestige, at least in certain more popular or spectacular disciplines. Successful sportsmen can gain popularity through presence in the media. They often have a high status in society as role models especially for the youth.

Reason 14: Fun

Participating in many sport activity comes with positive emotions. Excitement, satisfaction, enjoyment, stimulation, good vibrations. They are one of the strongest reinforcements to stay motivated in the long term.

Reason 15: Curiosity

For curious individuals sport offers a wide field of experimentation and new possibilities.

Reason 16: Happiness

Sport affects the whole person with their mental, physical and spiritual needs and interests. Susan A. Jackson und Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describe in their book how athletes experience the “Flow” as a state where our full attention gets completely absorbed by what we are doing and the awareness of our environment and of ourselves fades away. Runners call this state “Runner’s high” too. Depending of our definition this can already be seen as a basic level of spirituality. In Western traditions, the spiritual aspects of physical activity are usually neglected, while they play a central role in Eastern traditions such as yoga.

Reason 17: Entertainment

Entertaining yourself and others is an age old human activity and most sportive activities are usually quite attractive and entertaining for others especially when they are performed by highly advanced and competent athletes. This is obvious for performing artists.  Some top athletes like Roger Federer or Usain Bold can compete at the top level of their discipline and still find time to entertain the audience with a funny trick which has nothing to do with the seriousness of their performance. Weightlifting was and is always a great spectacle for many and is still frequently performed on public places, circuses or variety shows to entertain the spectactors. Figure skating is as much a sport discipline as it is an artistic performance in the same time. Other performing arts are less directly based on sports disciplines but still based on a high level of physical activity. Many athletes would not define their purpose to be entertainers, but they use entertainment to finance their activity. Exercise for the sake of exercise is sometimes mentioned as another goal for participating in a sport and some trainers mention it as a rather senseless justification because exercise should always make sense and have some reasonable outcome in their view. We subsume this goal in self entertainment. Assuming that nobody does participate in a regular activity without any reason. Playing around with sports simply to be not bored might not be very reasonable but it is certainly not the worst alternative to boredom.

Reason 18: Money

In professional sports it is obviously about making money. Even for amateur athletes who spend a lot of time for their sport sometimes have an interest in being financially compensated. But I would assume that the original main motivation is usually something different and the financial aspect comes later.

In football, tennis or golf, some parents may already have financial ulterior motives if they motivate the children to participate. Again, I assume that the self-motivation of the child has no connection with such financial considerations.

Our definition of sport as non-occupational physical activity only partially covers professional sport.

Reason 19: Motivation from Outside

Not everybody has the same level of self motivation. And not everybody engages in sports out of his own drive and determination to do so. During childhood and adolescence extrinsic motivation can play an important role, where everybody is more or less obliged to participate in mandatory sports activities. The main goal for the coaches in this period should be to help adolescents find their own purpose to continue participating in sports voluntarily.

Demotivation and Amotivation

Not everyone has the same motivation or discipline for regular voluntary sports activities.

In an examination of sports motivation in the framework of the self-determination theory extrinsic motivation, demotivation and amotivation should be considered too.

After childhood, there seems to be an increasing tendency for many to become physically less active. The natural motivation gets lost. The negative consequences of a lack of physical activity is an important issue for sports, health and sports scientists. It would be interesting to compile a list with the reasons, why people do not participate in sports too.

Sport, Exercise, Fitness Training is there a difference?

While some distinguish between sport as a structured, organized and competitive activity and exercise or fitness for people who do the same, but only for themselves and for pure fitness purposes. Some also define exercise or physical activity as any physical activity that improves or sustains physical fitness and overall health and wellbeing, or it distinguishes exercise-to-exercise training versus fitness training or simply training.

I do not differentiate between sports and fitness training. This distinction may be useful if you only want to restrict yourself to individual goals. The purpose of this list was to capture as many reasons as possible, why we do sports or are physically active.

Author: Fit Drills AG, Andreas Schneider

Last updated: 2018-11-06