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.

Solving the mystery: what’s the right way to exercise? Part 3

Solving the mystery_ what’s the right way to exercise for your body and the real results you want, Part 1 (2)

Good detectives know that asking the questions who, what, where, when, and why can lead to solving a mystery. Knowing the right way to exercise can seem like a huge mystery can’t it?  Everywhere you look, you see exercises and programs that claim to be the answer to the ‘problems’ of your body. How do you know what is worth the investment of your time and energy? In this three-blog series, we’ll use these five sleuth questions to know if an exercise is science-based, right for your body, and likely to lead to feeling better and staying motivated.

In part 1 we uncovered how to find exercise that is science based. In part two we explored finding exercise for the results you want.  In this last part, we solve the mystery of knowing if an exercise is right for your body right now.  

Who is telling you it is right for your body?

Since we are flooded with information about how exercise is good for us, we can often think of exercise like a child eating their vegetables so they can have dessert. The problem with that ‘just do it’ approach is your brain believes what your body feels much more than what you tell yourself. Exercising because you have to in order to get to a goal is an athletic mindset. For most people, exercising because you have to will only last for so long. Eventually, your motivation will fade because something more important you have to do will come along.  

Instead, let you body tell your brain that it wants to keep coming back for more. How? By being present to how you feel when you think about exercising, are exercising, and have finished exercising. If your feelings are negative, it is time to change what you are doing or expecting of your body right now. When exercise is a positive experience in both your brain and body from the moment you think about it, you have found the way to exercise for well-being and health.    

What are you doing for exercise?  

In our calorie-focused society, exercise has become just a way to burn calories.  But exercise literally means ‘to practice’. So ask yourself, what are you practicing and is that what you want.  Exercise is not to burn calories, it is to help your body and brain feel better now and function better later. If you are doing exercises to burn calories, you may be moving in ways that don’t leave you feeling better now and that will drain motivation to keep doing it . If you are doing movements that are are practicing how you want to function better in daily life, at just the right level for your body right now, you will both feel better now and function better later.  Look closely at the movements you are doing and ask yourself if those are moments you want to improve for daily life.  

Where is my attention when I exercise? 

Exercises are often named by the muscles they are working, like triceps, abs, and glutes.  However, muscles do not work in isolation. Movements are a symphony of many muscles working together, orchestrated by your nervous system. The conductor is your central nervous system, brain, and spinal cord. When you focus on muscles, you are likely to miss the fact that other parts of your body are being strained, not strengthened. Consider how an exercise feels for your whole body to know if it is right for your body.  

Often our attention is not on our body at all. If you use distraction, like watching TV or talking on the phone, to get through an exercise, your nervous system cannot help your muscles coordinate the movement well and the quality of your practice has just been lowered. You are not teaching your body to function better while teaching your brain not to focus. This is the number one way we waste time with exercise.    

To exercise in the right way for your body, keep your attention on your whole body in the present moment. Only you know how your body feels and that is your best, most personalized guide. In doing this, you raise the quality of your exercise, thus making it more time-efficient.  

When do I get the results? 

In our athletic-minded exercise culture, feeling good when you exercise is not valued, it is considered ‘wimping out’. This mindset is helpful when you are competing, because the reward comes in the future. But when your reasons for exercise are to be well and healthy, the reward is in feeling better now. If you are a former athlete, but now are exercising for health and well-being, pay attention to this inclination to follow athletic approaches. Remind yourself that now your reasons for exercising are different, so the way you exercise needs to be different too.  

You may have long term goals for exercising, but if they are related to being healthy and well, the way to get there is to be right here, right now. Your body is in a constant state of change.  Every day it needs something slightly different from exercise. What felt good last week may not feel good this week. The path to your goal won’t be linear, because that is not how the body changes. The only way to know how to exercise right is to stay present. Listening to and trusting your body moment by moment is the way to make exercise work for you.  

Why is this exercise right for me right now?  

Connect your Why for exercise with what you are passionate about in life because this is the way to know how to exercise the right way for your body and your life right now and sustain motivation. The stronger you make the connection, the more you will be exercising the right way to get what you really want and the more motivated you will be to stick with it. Your core Why for exercise is not to lose weight or be healthy, it is the reasons why you want those things. Take the time to get to your core Why and finding the right exercise will be easier and more time-efficient.  

Bottom line: When exercise is based on how the body moves well, designed specifically for the real results you want from it, and leaves you feeling better instantly, you are exercising right. This is the most time- and energy-efficient way to exercise and the most motivating too.  When you know how to exercise right, body and your brain will be working together to keep you well and healthy. In the next blog series, we’ll look at how to exercise so you feel better mentally, emotionally and physically.  



Learn More:

Want to know the right way to exercise for your body right now? 

If your body has spiraled downward, it is not easy to spiral up again. Typical approaches to exercise can be too much and you can easily end up feeling worse.  Exercising WELL™ is for people who want to feel better but their body and life keep getting in the way.  You get science-based exercise, step by step personalized guidance and the confidence you know how to stay self motivated to continue on your own.

Enrollment closes soon!

Click here to learn more and get started today!  


Rethink exercise for your brain

You hold the key (1).png

Rethink:  If you think of exercise as something to ‘just do’, like a task to check off on your long list of things to get done in a day, you might be missing out on the brain benefits.  Here is how to raise the quality of the time you exercise, to benefit your brain and your body.

Are you starting to notice small slips in your memory and less ability to focus? Maybe you have heard how exercise can help with brain function, especially as you age.  However, because our society has a very broad definition of what counts as exercise, how do you know if you are exercising in a way that will maximize your brain benefits. It turns out that what you do when you exercise can be the deciding factor for how your brain benefits. Let’s rethink exercise for the brain so you get the most from every move.

When you are under mental stress, your body fatigues because stress is preparing it for movement. Like a car that is sitting in traffic, your body is revved up, using up energy,  because it is ready to move but not moving. This increases the work for your body while putting healing and repair on hold until you are more relaxed mentally.  Movement is the antidote to the stress response. This is why exercise can be so effective for stress reduction.

But exercise is not always effective for reducing stress because often your brain is still working when you exercise. When you multitask your exercise time in an effort to just get it done, it reduces the effects of exercise on the body and on the brain as well. A recently published article found that when workers took a mental break while on an exercise break at work, their brains functioned much better than those whose brains continued working during exercise.

While exercising, take a break mentally by putting aside any work or personal problems to give you the most benefit from the time you are investing in exercise. This study, like so many, reinforces that the brain and body are an inseparable two-way street. When you consider what is happening in both, you get more of what you want from exercise for your health and well-being. It’s a whole-person recharge because your body gets back to the state in which it can heal and repair and your brain get a memory and focus boost.

Take a moment right now to get up, stretch, dance, walk, move —without multitasking.  If you are thinking you cannot take the time away from work to exercise, consider the return on your time investment. Your work productivity could increase and in the end get more done when you return from your exercise break.  If your mind wont let go once you start to move, give it something to focus on in the present moment, such as being grateful for what your body can do right now or how good it feels to simply move and not try to accomplish anything.  

Bottom Line: You hold the key to exercising for your brain. Move your body with present moment attention and raise the quality of your exercise time to give your body and your brain more instant benefits.

Enjoy Exercising WELL

P.S. One of the three principles of Exercising WELL™ is presence.  If you have been told to use distraction to “get through” exercise or to multitask to get to a step goal, it’s time to start Exercising WELL.