Most of the human population in the western world has access to unlimited calories and leads an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. The propensity to undertake voluntary exercise or indulge in spontaneous physical exercise, which might be termed "exercise salience", is drawing increased scientific attention. Despite its genetic aspects, this complex behaviour is clearly modulated by the environment and influenced by physiological states. Inflammation is often overlooked as one of these conditions even though it is known to induce a state of reduced mobility. Chronic subclinical inflammation is associated with the metabolic syndrome; a largely lifestyle-induced disease which can lead to decreased exercise salience. The result is a vicious cycle that increases oxidative stress and reduces metabolic flexibility and perpetuates the disease state. In contrast, hormetic stimuli can induce an anti-inflammatory phenotype, thereby enhancing exercise salience, leading to greater biological fitness and improved functional longevity. One general consequence of hormesis is upregulation of mitochondrial function and resistance to oxidative stress. Examples of hormetic factors include calorie restriction, extreme environmental temperatures, physical activity and polyphenols. The hormetic modulation of inflammation, and thus, exercise salience, may help to explain the highly heterogeneous expression of voluntary exercise behaviour and therefore body composition phenotypes of humans living in similar obesogenic environments.