The simple science-based way to break down the barriers to exercise

Your body and mind are designed to survive.

Consider all that is happening in your body as you read this sentence. Your brain is focused on each letter, using memory to associate them with words and their meanings. At the same time, your nervous system is keeping you breathing, turning the air, supplied with oxygen from the plants around you, into energy. Your body knows exactly what to take from each inhale, and what to excrete from each exhale. Your digestive system is turning the food you ate, also supplied by the plants, into nutrients for billions of cells. This system also knows exactly what to take and what to excrete.

Your body and brain are constantly working together to keep you well, without you even thinking about it. This is amazing. This is real. This is presence. Let’s talk more about the transformative power of presence to break down the barriers to exercise. 

The struggle with exercise is real

The struggle with getting enough exercise is real—only 24% of people get enough.1 Physical inactivity has been called a pandemic.2 The weight of guilt and dread that even the word ‘exercise’ puts on so many people is quietly causing unnecessary suffering and disease. This is not an exaggeration—I hear about it from patients and clients every day. Yet, movement scientists and neuroscientists are constantly discovering new reasons to be hopeful, with growing evidence of the incredible potential contained in our mind and body that is released when we exercise. How can something so positive, so amazingly helpful that allows us to fully enjoy life, be so filled with struggle?    

The mindset that transforms struggle to joy

The transformation from struggle to joy with anything, whether it is trying to make healthy choices or endure a global pandemic, starts with how we think about it. Shifting our mindset allows us to see ways around challenges and come up with ways to find joy in even the simplest of actions.

For the past year, I have been writing my first book. Writing is a powerful learning tool. It slows down our brain just enough that it can think about something in a new way. It always surprises me how writing brings new perspectives on how to apply the blending of body and brain sciences to exercise.    

Recently, I have been reading, pondering, and writing about presence. It is the first principle mindset of Exercising WELL because it lays the groundwork for all the other body/mind skills you need to get the most out of exercise for your body and for your mind. Presence is slightly different from mindfulness, which is defined as paying attention to what is happening inside and around you, right now, with curiosity and kindness.3 Presence is mindfulness with an inner trust that you have and are enough in this moment. When you are present, you have a deep respect for the great potential within you at any given moment.4  

Using presence to overcome barriers to exercise

The struggles with exercise happen when a certain approach to exercise leaves you feeling like you don’t have enough of what you need to do it, like time, energy, motivation, know-how. It is even a greater struggle when exercise leaves you feeling like you are not enough: not thin enough, toned enough, fit enough, strong enough, tough enough, flexible enough, etc.  

When you exercise with presence, the struggles fade and enjoyment emerges.  Presence is the simple science-based way out of the struggle with exercise.  

  • Presence before exercise helps you set goals in a way that taps into your intrinsic motives, which is what motivation science shows is the lasting type of motivation. Without presence, you are most likely to default to relying heavily on external motivators, the temporary motivators like other people, rewards, the scale, or your activity monitor. 
  • Presence during exercise lets you fine tune what you are doing to get the most personalized, just-right exercise session that leaves you feeling better every time. This not only saves you time, it creates a positive habit loop that keeps your brain wanting you to keep exercise as part of your life. Without presence, you are more likely to waste time with exercises you don’t need, push beyond your body’s limits to burn more calories or keep up with others (or your past self). This is likely to create a negative habit loop in your brain for exercise, making excuses surface when you go to do it again.
  • Presence after exercise allows you to use this golden time when your brain is flooded with substances like BDNF, to help your brain ‘learn’ that exercise is something you want to keep doing. Without presence,  you are more likely to move quickly on with your day, just glad you got it over with, and missing these key moments when your brain is primed to learn that exercise is a tremendous resource for you to be well now. 7

Presence keeps it real

As Amy Cuddy puts it in her book Presence, “Presence is moments of being real”. There is so much conjured up in the media based on what is marketable, rather than what is real, when it comes to exercise. So much of what we have come to believe about how to exercise; how it should feel, what changes it can produce in your body and how to stay motivated, has strayed from what is real and true and science-based. 

“Presence is internal harmony.” Amy Cuddy 

This is why I write. By knowing the facts about what is happening in your body when you move, how it is designed to move well, and how your brain is designed to stay motivated to take care of you, exercise becomes a time to restore your ‘internal harmony’ even in times of struggle.  

The beautiful thing about presence is you can start now. Practice being in awe of all that is enough, inside and around as you move your body. Let me know what you discover!

Enjoy Exercising and Be WELL,


P.S. If you are in the 24% of people who feel joy when you hear the word exercise, share this with those you know who are in the 76%, the ones who dread exercise, and invite them into your joy-filled mindset.


  2. Ding D, Lawson KD, Kolbe-Alexander TL, et al. The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases. Lancet. 2016;388(10051):1311‐1324. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30383-X
  3. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion, 1994.
  4. Cuddy, Amy. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
  5. Di Domenico SI, Ryan RM. The Emerging Neuroscience of Intrinsic Motivation: A New Frontier in Self-Determination Research. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:145. Published 2017 Mar 24. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00145
  6. Habits  Smith KS, Graybiel AM. Habit formation. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2016;18(1):33‐43.
  7. Ratey, John J.,Hagerman, Eric. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science Of Exercise And The Brain. New York : Little, Brown, 2008. Print.

Win through Mindfulness

It’s pay-it-forward week at Exercising WELL and we are running a Win/Win Special.   From now until April 22nd, 2019, when you donate $45 to the Enjoy Life Education scholarship fund, you get your first month of the Exercising WELL Coaching Program FREE.  

The research on the benefits of mindfulness is wide-reaching and overwhelmingly convincing. We all can benefit from more mindfulness skills1. Teens growing up in this distractible world need it more than ever. As adults, we need mindfulness to adapt to this age of technology and distractions.

The Win Win special (6)

Enjoy Life Leadership Academy

A major component of the leadership academy is reminding students to live in the now. Students are constantly reminded to be present and encouraged to adopt strategies in their daily life to remember to make the most of each moment. The best part is that it’s done in a way that is fun, lighthearted, and enjoyable so students genuinely embrace living with more mindful presence.

Exercising WELL Coaching Program

Since your body only operates in the present moment, exercising with mindfulness is the only way to know how to exercise. Because so many of the reasons we exercise are for future rewards, such as weight loss, it is easy to think that exercise is just something to ‘get through’ so you can check it off the to do list. Yet, this how we miss the most valuable tool—the wisdom of our own Inner Trainer. Check out how one Exercising WELL member describes her newfound enjoyment of exercise with mindfulness: “I had a sense of joy while walking up a hill this week. I just felt strong and right and totally absorbed in the great walk, no distraction trying to take the hill. It was almost an exhilarating feeling. Definitely well-being.” Through Exercising WELL ,you learn how to use your Inner Trainer to be self-guided through mindful-presence and exercise becomes a whole new, more enjoyable, AND more motivating experience.

  1. The Science of Mindfulness by Dainel Siegel, Mindful

The way to STAY motivated for exercise

staying motivated for exercise (1)

In the last blog we talked about how the excitement of working toward a goal can be motivating, but that it is likely temporary.  Using goal setting to get motivated just does not give you the skills to stay motivated, which leads to the common ‘all or nothing’ approach to exercise.  

The heating system in a home senses the temperature and adjusts what it’s doing to sustain a comfortable temperature inside, even as the  weather changes. It is set up to continually produce and maintain that, even as conditions change.  What makes it work is a built-in feedback loop designed to sense what is happening moment by moment.

Systems are designed for sustainability. Using a system, rather than goals to get motivated, means you will stay motivated,  even as conditions change in your life. Your feedback loop for an exercise system is mindfulness.  Present moment awareness gives you the power to sense what is happening in your mind and in your body, moment by moment. This gives you a feedback loop, so you know when you are getting off track. More importantly, the curiosity and kindness of mindfulness allow you to make the necessary adjustments so you keep getting what you really want from exercise, even when life starts to get in the way.  

Wouldn’t it be great for exercise to always leave you feeling and functioning better, now, instead of waiting until you reach your goal to feel better?  Wouldn’t it be great if you knew you were doing enough, instead of always feeling like you should be doing more?  A systems mindset lets you know how much is enough, moment by moment.   A systems mindset frees you from worrying about your ability to stick with changes, because you get the Real Results you want each time you exercise.

Even if you do have goals, things that you want to achieve with fixed endpoints, such as completing a 5K, a systems mindset will help to provide a foundation of motivation as you work toward those goals. Even more importantly, the system will be there when the goal is over, keeping you out of that all-or-noting approach to exercise.  

It is smart to wait to begin working toward a goal until the time is right. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by working on a goal when you’re not ready.   But, when you want to feel and function better, now is a great time to start!  Remember, a system is built to adjust when outside conditions change, so you don’t have to wait until conditions are just right to start. 

You use systems all the time to keep your life functioning well.  Why not use one for  exercise, to keep you functioning well?



PS: Exercising WELL is is a coaching and membership program I designed to guide you through building your system for lasting exercise motivation.  Take advantage of the amazing introductory offer only available until January 31. For only $85 you get a coaching call with me, a 28 day online program, and personalized weekly email coaching for a month! Rates will never be this low again!  Click here for more information.

Exercising Gratitude

This time of year, exercise can slip to the back burner. No one wants to be rushing around, over-stressed, and emotionally drained. It can simply be a by-product of the added to-do’s and emotions of the season.

I invite you to let go of the “exercise to burn off those extra calories” approach to staying motivated this season. Honestly, it is near impossible to know how many calories your body is burning with exercise. There are just too many factors that affect how many calories we burn that vary person to person and change day to day in each individual. Besides, the calorie-burning motivation only distracts us from the real benefits of exercise this season.

What turns a physical activity into exercise is when it is focused, purposeful, and consistent. This makes it a perfect opportunity to be mindful. Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, with kindness. The overlap between these two resources makes them perfect partners for restoring calm, healt,h and well-being.

Gratitude is a shortcut to mindfulness. When we turn our attention to what we are appreciate, we are automatically brought to the present moment in a way that is purposeful and kind. A simple way to bring mindfulness to exercise is practicing an attitude of gratitude about exercise. What are you grateful for about your body, its abilities, its possibilities? What opportunities are you grateful for that allow you even a brief moment to exercise?  What knowledge or skills are you grateful for that allow you to move in a healthy way? What are you grateful for about how exercise makes you feel?  What do you appreciate about what you see and hear around you as you move?

I invite you to give it a try. Take a walk, stretch, lift some weights, dance, move intentionally in some way while focusing your attention on what you appreciate in each moment. Keep it playful, see how many ‘gratitudes’ you can brainstorm. As you do, know that you are not only strengthening your body, but your ability to stay present as well.

Wishing a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

With Gratitude,


Rise Above Negativity


Why is negativity used so often in marketing and politics?

“Our ancestors had to pay a lot of attention to bad news,” states Rick Hanson in his TED talk. The more primitive part of our brain looks for problems to solve to keep us safe. It was essential in that lifestyle to remember where there was danger or a lack of food. This negativity-bias is normal and helpful…to a point.

In today’s world, marketers, leaders and politicians know problems will get our attention. They speak our negative thoughts, leading us to believe they are the truth, to believe we need their product or leadership to fix things.

The problem is, our brain will search for potential problems as well. We think of what might happen if we make a mistake, yet our thoughts are not reality. Our body reacts the same to these potential problems, though, so they seem very real. Again, helpful…to a point!

This works especially well in health and fitness marketing because our ancestors’ physical capability meant safety and survival. If you were physically unfit in some way, not only was your safety threatened but your tribe’s safety as well. Talk about peer pressure!

before and after

Seriously! Look at these before and after pictures. Notice the difference in facial expression, in body stance. Why is the lighting different? Yes, there was certainly a change, but marketers know how to highlight the negative.  Our brain sees the “desired” picture. If it does not match what we see in the mirror, our sub-conscious brain says “uh oh, problem! We better fix this!”

As Rick Hanson also notes, the more we focus on the negative, the faster our brain goes to problem mode. The good news is we can train our brain for a positivity bias (see Dr. Hanson’s TED talk to find out how).

When we are in alarm mode, though, this primitive part of our brain hijacks the more evolved part of our brain. We need to calm the alarm first to regain access to our logical brain. Mindfulness means to see clearly. Movement calms the body and reassures the brain that the body is capable. Mindful movement allows us to rise above the madness and see what is real and true.

Before turning on social media, casting a vote, making a purchase, take a mindful movement pause. Override the negativity bias and outsmart the ones who are using it for their own gain!

May You Be Well,


Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Health and Wellness Coach

Yoga and Meditation Teacher