The best exercises for people who hate exercising

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDlinx
Published May 1, 2020

Key Takeaways

One look at the data regarding exercise among American adults will show you that most of us prefer to sit still.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), less than 5% of adults engage in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, with only 1 in 3 adults attaining the recommended weekly levels. In addition, only 28% to 34% of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 years are physically active, compared with 35% to 44% of those 75 years of age or older.

One could assume that it’s easier to meet exercise goals in warmer climates, but the research doesn’t support that assumption. According to the HHS, the states where most Americans report exercising 3 or more days per week for at least 30 minutes are Vermont (65.3%), Hawaii (62.2%), Montana (60.1%), and Alaska (60.1%).

Slogging it out on the treadmill may seem like a chore to many, but luckily there are less arduous (and more fun) ways to exercise.


If you’re a gamer at heart and would like to incorporate an immersive digital experience in your workout routine, exergaming may be the way to go. Exergaming is active video gaming that requires body movements to play, which makes it a fun gaming experience as well as a form of exercise. Examples include dance games, Wii Fit, and Pokémon Go.

A review article published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found a strong correlation between exergaming and increased energy expenditure. Specifically, expenditure levels were up to 300% above resting levels in exergamers. 

Most exergamers who were enrolled in the study met the criteria for physical activities of moderate intensity set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). In fact, the ACSM has lauded exergaming as “the future of fitness.”

Another review article found that while there are benefits to exergaming, long-term routines may be difficult to maintain. Parents, caregivers, and teachers may be slow to embrace the activity as worthwhile for children, which may hinder its effectiveness. The technology is still fairly young, and more research is sure to follow.


Whether it’s called peregrination, perambulation, or sauntering, most people end up walking at some point during the day. By simply increasing the amount of daily steps from 4,000 to 8,000, you can significantly decrease all-cause mortality risks, according to the results of an observational study published in JAMA. However, walking speed did not appear to affect the results, so traipse at your own pace. 


If you have a green thumb and long to be at one with verdant environs, gardening may be the perfect exercise. According to experts at Texas A&M University, even less strenuous forms of gardening, such as weeding, trimming, and raking, can burn nearly 300 calories per hour. Lifting, tilling, raking, and spading can enhance muscle tone and strength.

Here are some specific tips while gardening:

  • Stretch before you garden.

  • Remain active instead of just milling about. Keep a constant pace and use manual clippers and trimmers instead of powered alternatives, if possible. 

  • Use cushions for your knees, and remember to stretch your legs every 10 minutes.

  • Use long-handled, lightweight shovels, and spades; avoid overloading them.

  • Bend at the knees while collecting your tools.

‘Hard’ martial arts

In the world of martial arts, “hard” refers to forms where force is met with force—such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do—and is more rigorous than “soft” arts such as Tai Chi.

“The majority of studies reported positive effects resulting from hard martial arts practice, showing some improvement in maintenance of balance, cognitive function, and psychological health,” according to the authors of a systematic review published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. “Benefits may be obtained regardless of the age of practice commencement….Hard martial arts seem to have potential to improve balance and cognitive functions that decline with age, which can lead to poorer health outcomes among the elderly (eg, cognitive decline, falls, and fractures).”


This is a fun activity for the whole family. Geocaching is an outdoor GPS-guided adventure intended to find hidden containers. This scavenger-hunt-on-steroids is a relatively new “sport,” but it boasts 9 million players and 2.4 million active caches worldwide since its inception 20 years ago.

According to the results of the Geocaching Exercise and Activity Research (GEAR) study, frequent geocachers were 1.4 times as likely to attain CDC recommendations for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week when compared with non-frequent geocachers. The authors also recommended that participants go geocaching ≥ 1 times a week for a total of at least 2.5 hours to meet the CDC guidelines. 


Yoga is an ancient practice that grew from Indian philosophy. In recent decades, it has gone mainstream as a way to promote physical as well as mental health.

According to the NIH, the benefits of yoga as an exercise are numerous, including relief of back pain, weight loss, smoking cessation, management of symptoms of chronic disease, management of anxiety and stress, promotion of sleep, and improvement in balance. 


You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy the pleasures and health benefits of dancing. People from all walks of life and cultures rumba, tango, and cha-cha-cha. 

In addition to boosting feel-good neurotransmitter levels, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and serotonin, moderate-intensity dance also decreased the risk of heart disease more so than walking, in one pooled analysis

Results from another study indicated that traditional dance improved physical fitness, static balance, and handgrip strength in elderly adults.


Swimming is the fourth most popular sport in the United States, and researchers have found that people enjoy exercising more in the water than they do on land. People can also spend more time exercising in water with less impact on joints.

According to the CDC, swimming for just 2.5 hours per week can reduce the risk for chronic illness. Swimming also improves the health of those with diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and mood disorders.


Birds do it, bees do it, and people can burn calories doing it. 

Sex—among other things—is a form of exercise. One low-powered study found that men burned an average of 101 kCal total or 4.2 kCal/min during intercourse, compared with about 69 kCal total or 3.1 kcal/min for women.

Older research indicated that sex increases respiratory rate up to 40 breaths per minute, and heart rate can increase to around 110 to 180 beats per minute.

With a little creativity and the proper motivation, attaining the proper amount of exercise each week is possible, even with the busiest of schedules.  

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