How to Stop Being a Couch Potato!

By Mel Thomassian (RD)
1092-couch-potato.jpg MJimages

Are you a couch potato?

I used to think the only thing keeping couch potatoes from the gym was, well, themselves!

But, it seems there’s some evidence to suggest it’s not merely a motivation problem, but also genetics separating the fitness fanatics from the slouches.

Here are 3 steps to overcoming your couch potato lifestyle

1. Dress appropriately
If you can’t seem to get over the feeling of reluctance to exercise, get dressed in your outdoor clothes anyway–it’s actually quite uncomfortable to sit glued to your t.v. if you’re wearing clothes for going out. Remember, staying in your pajamas all day won’t encourage exercise in the slightest!

2. Write down your goals
Goal setting is a great way to get some focus. So, write down what you want to achieve in the coming days, as well as for the weeks and months ahead. Then make sure you display them somewhere visible to help maintain that focus.

3. Move in the right direction
If you haven’t exercised lately, first try out a few stretches, then head out for a short walk. Next week think about going for a longer walk, and perhaps adding in an exercise DVD, etc. The idea is to begin small, and aim for bigger things.

While it may be difficult to stop being a couch potato, it is possible. You just need to immerse yourself in activity, and begin enjoying the more active life.

Can I Blame My Genes?

Before you get too carried away though, science doesn’t imply that people unwilling to exercise CAN’T get moving. But, it does help to explain why some people find it more difficult than others to get on with the job!

A 2006 Swedish study looked at leisure-time physical activity in 5,334 identical, and 8,028 fraternal twins. They found the exercise habits of identical twins (genetic duplicates) were twice as closely matched, as those of fraternal twins (share half their genes on average). These finding imply genes account for much of the variability in physical activity levels between people.

Another 2006 study, which pooled data on exercise participation in more than 37,000 twin pairs, calculated the genetic influence on physical activity to be between 48 percent and 71 percent.

So, what makes some people actually want to exercise?

Studies in the past have linked physical activity levels to dopamine. A 1998 study showed that mice deficient in a receptor involved in processing dopamine, the D2 receptor, were less active than those with normal D2 receptor levels.

According to Amy Knab, an exercise physiologist at Appalachian State University:

There’s something inherently different in the dopamine systems of the high-runners, versus low-runners.

But, before you get too excited that you’ve now got a valid excuse to sit on the couch, environment is still thought to play a major role in how much exercise someone takes. For example, Glen Duncan from the University of Washington, states that if people walk into a building and are confronted with a set of stairs first thing, they will probably take them. But, if there’s an escalator front and center, they’ll take that instead.

So, if you are naturally inclined to be a couch potato, what can you do to encourage more exercise?

Are you naturally inclined towards exercise? What are your tips for avoiding a couch potato lifestyle?

Source: LA Times


  1. Chrissy

    “There’s something inherently different in the dopamine systems of the high-runners, versus low-runners.”
    Studies like these are annoying to me because it seems that running obviously effects the dopamine and not the dopamine effects the running.

  2. Thomas Bailey

    My workouts consist of biking to and from work, about 8 km each way. On my day off, I would sometimes go on a very long ride immediately after work, usually to San Francisco (70 km), once to Hollister (100 km), once to Oakland (70 km), and once to Santa Cruz. I have also biked to Sausalito, Half Moon Bay, Gilroy, and Sunol. I cannot afford a car. There is no night bus service (I work nights), which leaves biking as my only way to get to work, which I enjoy anyway. If my bike breaks down or gets stolen, as has happened on several occasions, I would walk to work. I once walked from Sunnyvale to Redwood City and back, 50 km/30 miles all together.

  3. Ann S

    I think the important thing to remember when talking about exercise, is finding what you like to do and putting it into a positive exercise program designed for yourself. Implementing some exercise whether it is walking after dinner, joining your local gym or stretching and doing a small workout at home is important and beneficial.

  4. FitJerk - Flawless Fitness Blog

    Nuthin. I just didn’t laugh at that so I did what makes me laugh. True comedy doesn’t exist until someone gets hurt.

    How do the chips taste now?

  5. TonyK

    ArrowSmith, I believe in a balanced workout plan. You left out the part where you lift the remote (work your delts) and click the channel buttom (finger muscles).

  6. Katie

    This reminds me of something I read in Eat to Live. Even if genes do play a part in whether a person has a propensity toward obesity or, in this case, laziness, blaming genes doesn’t change a thing. Maybe it means you have to work a little harder or be more thoughtful about things, but it’s all just a matter of your mindset, which can do a whole heck of a lot to overtake genes.

  7. ArrowSmith

    Hey what’s wrong with a laugh.

  8. FitJerk - Flawless Fitness Blog

    My version of humor is:

    Smack you across the face
    Repeat x50

  9. Augrav

    It depends on the temperament of a particular person for he / she becoming a couch potato.

  10. ArrowSmith

    My version of exercise is:

    take potato chip
    put chip in cream dip
    put chip in mouth
    repeat x50


    Ah, a post in honor of my namesake! Don’t you think a big part of it is just habit? You have to get in the habit of exercising so that you have the law of momentum on your side!

  12. Spectra

    Ha, I got ya beat…my mom would call us in to the living room to turn on the lamp on the coffee table next to the sofa because she didn’t want to stretch her arm that far to turn the lamp on. Now THAT is what I like to call pure laziness.

  13. mike

    A tip I feel that helps many people is bringing your workout clothes in a gym bag and leave it in your auto so you can go to the gym straight from work.No time for distractions at home this way.

  14. Heather

    We had 3 phone lines in the house (before cell phones were as common) so my parents could call each other from different parts of the house, or my mom could call us children to go get her a diet soda from the fridge. 🙂

  15. TonyK

    Tips for not being a couch potato? Get rid of the TV. It’ll improve your life in more ways than one.

    The key is to make exercise a habit instead of something that you have to make time for. Make it an integral part of your life and it’ll no longer seem like a chore.

    Here’s another tip. Ignore any studies that try to justify laziness or try to provide any genetic reasons for you being obese or a couch potato. You have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t make exercise a high priority in your life. Less dopamine? Yeah, ok…whatever. As if we didn’t have enough excuses for being a nation of obese individuals.

    I don’t know if I’m “naturally inclined toward exercise”, but I DO know that it has changed my life. I remember what my life was like before I rededicated myself to fitness…and I’m never going back.

  16. Kellie - My Health Software

    I agree, it’s a habit you start and then you can’t break. Soon it becomes addictive to get out and exercise rather than eat chips on the couch. A change in habit is what’s needed.

  17. FitJerk - Flawless Fitness Blog

    “I’m not a fan of studies that seem to make excuses for people being obese (fat gene??), or lazy etc either, I just think it’s interesting and worth discussing.”

    – Took the words right outa my mouth. Like you literally took a pair of tweezers and with pin point accuracy stole my thought.

    That’s the whole point I was trying to make because now I KNOW for a FACT that some lazy dude will see this study be storm my inbox with: “SEE FJ… its my dopamine levels. I knew it wasn’t me.”

    Pfft. This is why i tend to mitigate such out-of-reality facts from those I train or am training. I don’t care if they find this out after because then I can be like “yeah… you probably DO have low D2, but you still managed, so STFU and keep going!”

    …but if they read this stuff before hand, now they have an excuse. And excuses spread like the cancer! I spend more time helping people get past ridiculous excuses and overcoming mental obstacles than actual training.

    Go figure…

  18. Spectra

    Yeah, okay, something else to blame on genetics. If this were the case, I’d definitely be a couch potato because my parents are couch potatoes as well. My mom is quite possibly the couch-potato-iest person I know…she taught me how to grind up and brew coffee when I was 5 so I could make a pot of coffee and bring her a cup so she wouldn’t have to get up to do it. So why do I have such a drive to exercise now? Um, well, I just started doing it and now it’s just something I do every day. Like other people have said, you just kind of have to do it, whether you want to or not.

  19. Jody - Fit at 51

    I think we all have things that may hold us back. I grew up in a house that was all about more fattening foods, treats & that stuff that puts weight on you real fast. BUT, eventually learned to changes those habits. I think the same with exercising. You may not want to do it, you may not want to eat better BUT if you want to be healthier than just do it. It is hard & harder for some but anyone can do it. You have to love being healthier more than you love sitting on that couch OR eating those 5 donuts. And yes, when I was young, I would eat 4 brownies, not one or 3 pieces of toast, not one.

  20. losebellyfat

    Melanie great article and very interesting.

    I think people can overcome the couch potato lifestyle if they set their mind to it.
    When I was on my weight loss journey I took time each day to relax and visualize myself working out, eating right, and how I would look once I reached my goal weight. It was very helpful because I was living it in my head and that made me want to live it in my life.
    It is also helpful to find things that are easy to do at first for the really unmotivated. Such as dancing, walking, swim… taking baby steps and working their way up to a moderate exercise program.

    It is funny because when I was overweight and working a 9-5 job I sat on the couch and watched tv as much as I could. I reached my goal weight 2 1/2 years ago and have kept it off since. I now work from home and my tv comes on at night for a few hours and that is about it. I used to watch everything now not so much.

  21. Heather

    I know, so everyone else has a faulty dopamine receptor and mine is just great 😉

    No one likes exercising when they first start. You have to keep to it for at least 3-6 months and it become part of your life and you love it.

  22. Alan

    In my experience, losing weight is largely a mental or emotional issue. Most dieters know what to eat. They know they need to take physical exercise. It’s the emotional side of dieting they have difficulty with. That’s why I include tons of motivation help and a fantastic support forum in my weight loss program. Because if I can help you improve your motivation to lose weight, the rest is easy.

  23. Melanie Thomassian

    I think the point was that dopamine levels dictate how much pleasure someone gets from exercise, therefore if you’re deficient in the D2 receptor, you have the potential to be less active than those with normal D2 receptor levels.

    Obviously, the guy sitting on the couch doesn’t know his dopamine levels, but it’s a speculation as to why one person may be more lazy than the next. I’m not a fan of studies that seem to make excuses for people being obese (fat gene??), or lazy etc either, I just think it’s interesting and worth discussing.

  24. FitJerk - Flawless Fitness Blog

    “A 1998 study showed that mice deficient in a receptor involved in processing dopamine, the D2 receptor, were less active than those with normal D2 receptor levels.”

    – While this is interesting, how does it relate to a regular lazy ass sitting on the couch? It doesn’t. They don’t know their dopamine levels, so when it comes to the real world, this is irrelevant. Plain old hocus pocus.

    Its YOU. It’s always been YOU and will always be YOU. My method for busting my behind is simple. 29,000 days. That’s how many you get on this planet. (Go ahead, calculate it… I’ll wait)

    Might sound like a decent number, but not if you’re in your 30’s. Find out how many you have left. Then figure out how you want to spend them.

    …nuff’ said.