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,

Janet

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.

Sources

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
  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.

Exercise is Medicine, but Mindset Matters

You don’t need megadoses of the medicine of exercise to be healthy and well, when you have the right mindsets about moving.  

Over the past four weeks, we looked at 

  • how you can use your mind and your body together to get the most out of exercise while reducing stress and keeping your immune system strong.
  • the ways your mindsets about exercise can not only limit the benefits, but keep you struggling to stay motivated.
  • the science-backed fact that when your mind and body are working together, exercise is a user-friendly and time-friendly way to take care of yourself, and be more confident in your health and well-being.

Let’s review what we covered in this series to find the three takeaways that will turn exercise into the kind of medicine that you can enjoy ‘taking’ every day.   

How to get results from exercise with mindset

In Got stress build-up? Here’s a simple solution, we saw how stress is like putting air into a balloon, each stressor adding to the tension in our bodies and the limits of our minds. Physiologists know that through a vast network of nerves that connect the brain and the body, every thought you have is held in your body, and every body sensation changes your brain1. There is a constant, mostly subconscious, back-and-forth conversation between these two parts of you. The conversation either promotes healing and protects health by keeping you in Recharge Mode, or keeps your mind too focused on a problem and your body on high alert, ready to fight or flee that threat to your well-being. Because most of our ‘threats’ do not require movement, just thinking differently is an incomplete way to get rid of stress. Movement gives the body what it has prepared for but only if that movement does not perpetuate the alarm. Recharge Pauses are a way to move with a mindset that helps both your mind and body return to a healing and healthy state for more moments of the day. 

Our first Recharge Pause took movements that have been shown to boost confidence-building hormones like testosterone while reducing stress-producing substances like cortisol and added movement science to ensure you know how to move the way your body is designed.2

How mind-body exercise really works

In When it comes to exercise, stop trying so hard, we used the common mindfulness practice of Noting and added movement. Why? Because when you exercise in order to get to a future state, you miss out on the added benefits of presence. Depression is when your brain hangs out too much in the past. Anxiety is when your brain hangs out too much in the future. The brain likes a sense of control, but all the thinking in the world will not change the past, nor will it give you control over what will happen to you in the future. Your brain’s job is to keep you safe, and those imagined states of past and future reduce its ability to do its job, keeping you in Alarm Mode. 

Mindfulness is the practice of keeping your attention in the present, recognizing when your brain has time traveled.3 Presence calms the brain because it restores a sense of its ability to help you stay safe, based on what is right here and right now. 

Your brain will time travel and put your body in an alarm, it’s just the way you are hardwired.  Since your body is designed to move in response to stress, why not give it what it needs while using the power of mindfulness to give the brain what it needs? 

Active Noting Practice is a way to get the best of both movement and mindfulness by keeping your focus on observing your body while you move. Consider how you feel when you are exercising to try to burn calories you regret eating in the past or when you are exercising because you fear a health issue in the future. Try this Recharge Pause and notice how it feels to simply move with a mindset of noticing what is happening in your body, with the intent of taking care of your body right now.  The irony is that presence while you move promotes health and puts your body in a state that helps you lose weight and be healthy, without all that ‘trying’. 

How to stay safe, and well for the long haul of the pandemic

In ‘Stay safe’ fatigue? Here’s a healthy remedy, we looked at how we can not just stay safe, but well during this pandemic, by spending less time in Alarm Mode and more time in Recharge Mode. Safe to your brain means you are content, have what you need to survive, and are connected with a ‘tribe’ of people who care about you and for whom you care.

When any one of these are missing or there is even a threat of one missing, your ‘guard dog’ lets you know by sounding the alarm. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single aspect of our safety—our food sources, our loved ones, our jobs, and our community connections. When the threats are to every aspect of our well-being, with little control or end in sight, that alarm is triggered everywhere we turn. This function of the brain to scan the past, present, and future for threats to our safety is called the ‘negativity bias’. It’s there to keep us safe but is overused in today’s world, where our brains are flooded with media, and our bodies bear the brunt of that constant alarm.  

This is the time you need a long-term solution to staying safe. The Recharge Pause below calms the alarm by giving your brain and body what it needs: reminders that in this moment you are safe, contented, and connected.

How your body will survive and thrive

In Your body and mind are designed to survive. Trust them and you will thrive, we use a Recharge Pause to remind you that your brain, body, and heart all work together beautifully. They are not problems to be solved, they are incredible systems to be celebrated. Trusting this fact is the way to be well and feel better now, which leads to better health and motivation for self-care in the future. 

There is no better example than exercise of  how we break down the relationship between the brain and body.  You are told you need to put down your body to get motivated to exercise.  Your body is portrayed as a problem to be fixed rather than an amazing collection of systems constantly working to take care of you. Exercise is reduced to a way to burn off last night’s decadent dessert and mold your body, chiseling away at all the ‘bad parts’ to achieve a look in the future. Fear of disease is used as a motivator, and pain is promoted as a sign of progress rather than a warning to prevent you from further injury.  

The Recharge Pause Celebrate Self-care reminds you that exercise when it is done for the purpose of being healthier is a form of self-care. It helps you shift out of the mindset that exercise is a form of punishment to ‘get through’ and into a mindset that it is a gift you are giving yourself to be well now. The research behind it is clear: the mindset of self-kindness puts you back into Recharge Mode while setting up your mind for more lasting motivation than criticism and mental put-downs ever will.  

Three takeaways that turn exercise into medicine by adding a healthy mindset

  1. Exercise works best when it involves your whole person. When your brain is in the present, it helps your body use movement to calm the alarm and get back to the state where you can more easily get what you really want from exercise.
  2. Exercise works best when it is an act of self-care. When you choose to move not as a punishment,  or motivated by fear, disgust, and remorse, but because you care about your whole person right now, the results for your whole person are greater and motivation is more lasting. 
  3. Exercise when it is done with a mindset of presence and self-care is the complete antidote to stress. Whole-person exercise calms the alarm and puts you back in a state of healing and health, without the need for megadoses. The amount of time, distance, or speed you move for your health and well-being is not as important  as the mindset with which you move.  

Exercise with a mindset of presence and self-care is the medicine we need right now. You don’t need megadoses, but you do need a dose every time the alarm is triggered. Recharge Pauses are a convenient way to practice shifting to the mindset that makes exercise a powerful medicine for you to stay safe and well and keep you enjoying more of life.  

Enjoy Exercising and Be WELL,

Janet

Sources:

  1. Pelletier, K. R. (1992). Mind-Body Health: Research, Clinical, and Policy Applications. American Journal of Health Promotion, 6(5), 345–358. 
  2. Cuddy, A. J. C., Schultz, S. J., & Fosse, N. E. (2018). P-Curving a More Comprehensive Body of Research on Postural Feedback Reveals Clear Evidential Value for Power-Posing Effects: Reply to Simmons and Simonsohn (2017). Psychological Science, 29(4), 656–666.
  3. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057–1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
  4. Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Unabridged ed. [Melbourne, Vic.]: Bolinda audio, 2014.

Is your body keeping you stuck? Use your mind to move forward!

Is your body keeping you stuck_ Use your mind to move forward!.png

Let me explain that title!

Your thoughts about exercise have tremendous power. The way you define exercise determines if you can and will do it. If you think exercise has to be a certain amount of time, intensity, or type to ‘count’ as exercise, but you feel limited by pain, weight, fatigue, etc., you are not going to exercise. What you think about exercise and what your body can do in this present moment are at odds.

However, when you think of exercise as any movement to help your body, exercise becomes possible. This is why I ask you to Rethink Exercise.

Rethinking exercise starts with letting your body lead the way. Your body does not know what you used to do or what you think you should do.  It doesn’t know how many calories you want to burn, or steps you are ‘supposed to’ take in a day, it only knows how much it can move now. It doesn’t know the numbers displayed on the weight machine or the treadmill or your activity monitor.  Your body only knows what it can do now, in this moment.

If your body cannot tolerate what you are doing, it will let you know through pain and fatigue, which are signs of doing too much, too soon. (Contrary to popular belief, pain is not a sign of progress—nope, not even muscle soreness.) If your body can do what you are asking it to do, it will let you know instantly through more energy, greater freedom of movement, more focus, and a better mood.

Exercise is challenging when your ‘exercise window’ is very small because of body limitations.  It takes more presence to exercise within those limits.  But when you do, the window gets bigger. When you work with how your body was designed to move well, in the way it can move now, discover you can exercise, and start spiraling up to feeling well again.

Bottom Line:  When it comes to movement, your body is smarter than your brain. Learn to listen to it and how to move to make it feel better within the first few seconds of exercise. This allows you to use exercise as one of your best resources to feel better now, and in the future.

Enjoy Exercising,

Janet

P.S. When your ‘window of movement’ is small, getting started is the hardest part. Before you decide you can’t exercise right now, check out Exercising WELL™  It starts with a month-long program called Start WELL, with guidance and coaching to help you get unstuck and moving forward. Click here to learn more and get started today. 

Strength, beyond your muscles. 

Humble honey.png

As we discussed with cardio, we often talk about strength training in terms of the long-term benefits. Yet your brain really cares about the instant rewards of doing something. But what if the instant ‘reward’ you get from lifting weights is muscle soreness and fatigue? Sure, you could tell yourself ‘no pain, no gain’ and convince yourself that it is a ‘good sore’ and all that discomfort means you got a ‘good workout’. Your brain, though, is most concerned with you feeling good now and it’s designed to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable. When your willpower to endure the discomfort runs out, your brain will start to plant excuses in your head about why you need to skip strength training today (and the next day, and the next).

Eighty percent of people are not doing strength training. Like you, they probably know the benefits—stronger bones, better aging, stronger metabolism—but the brain has some concerns—injury, weight gain, getting ‘too muscular’, or looking like a weakling at the gym. This keeps many people living in the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training.

Are you ready to get out of the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training? Ready to reassure your brain that it is all good, because you are going to work with how your body is designed to be strong? Let’s cut through the marketing- and myth-based ‘facts’ and clear the path to your strongest possible muscles, bones, and metabolism now and every decade going forward.

What is strength training? Strength training is also known as weight training, weight lifting, and resistance training. Basically, it’s when you challenge your body to be able to move your body or objects more easily against gravity. If you are thinking the things you do in your daily life like housework, child care, and yard work mean you don’t need strength training, click here to see why these physical activities are different than exercise.

Making your brain want to strength train. From the very first time you do a strength exercise, you set into motion a cascade of events that produce unique and powerful events in your whole body. Yet, most of the effects of doing or not doing strength training are not noticeable right away, so it’s easy to forget why it is so important. In the next few blogs, I’ll show you the Real-time Results of each strength training session, and why pain and discomfort are not necessary. This way, your brain will be more confident that doing strength training will help you feel and function better now, without having to first endure pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

Why strength is not from your muscles. Although we most equate strength with big muscles, that is not where strength comes from. Before you even move, something very important happens. Your brain is activated and ‘plans’ what muscles will be needed to create the intended movement. It estimates how many muscle fibers are needed to create the force you need to move against gravity. Then your brain sends a signal through your spinal cord to the muscles you need to do that movement. Without this nervous system signal, muscles can’t move. This pre-planning of movement makes it much smoother and more efficient.

The pathway to strength: Just like the first time you take a trip somewhere, the first time you perform a movement, your brain has to work harder to find the most efficient pathway. Over time, it becomes easier as your brain remembers the pathway. Think about how your body learned to walk, ride a bike, tie your shoes, swim, or play sports. All of these are examples of this process we call muscle memory. This building of muscle memory is what makes movements more automatic, so you can gain coordination, balance, agility, and strength.

Confusion about muscle memory: There is some talk that muscle memory is bad, because you burn fewer calories as your body gets used to an exercise and that you need muscle confusion to keep your body burning more calories. Honestly, the calorie-burning difference is minimal and probably won’t add up to any change on the scale. Muscle memory is what allows you to function. If you are exercising to lose weight so you can feel and function better, muscle memory is your friend.

The strength of your brain. Since the brain and nerves are what tell your muscles how to move, strength originates in your brain and nervous system, not in your muscles. That means you need your brain for building strength. You can see why present moment awareness is so important to get the most from strength training. It ensures you are creating the nerve pathways you want, the ones that allow you to access your strength by positioning your body in the right way, and creating nerve pathways so that strong movement becomes more automatic (more on that later). If your brain is distracted by a TV show, or other people around you, it won’t have as much ability to put into building your strength.  If finding the time for strength training is a concern, choose high-quality strength training by focusing your attention on your body rather than trying to save time by multitasking and doing it while watching TV

Bottom line: Your full mindful attention is your best strength training tool!

In the next blog, we’ll look at what happens in your muscles when you strength train that continues the cascade of events that leads to you feeling and functioning better.

How to drop the ‘should’ in exercise

Copy of Which do you use_ (3)

If we know we should exercise, why do we struggle with it? The answer is complex, but as I said in my last blog series there is one word in that statement that changes everything. ‘Should’ makes exercise an externally-imposed activity with future results. Why does that matter so much? Your brain’s job is to pay attention to what is most important to you right now, what will keep you well right now.

Yet those of us in the healthy-person business keep telling you all the great reasons why you should get more exercise.

Exercise regularly to reduce your risk of

  • colon cancer by over 60%
  • recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50%
  • Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 40%
  • heart disease by approximately 40%
  • type II diabetes by 50%
  • death from any cause (overall mortality) by 40% 1

No matter how powerful these statements are, they are not enough to keep you motivated now. When you are feeling tired at the end of a long day or overwhelmed by too many things on your to do list or comfortable in your bed when the alarm goes off, what you ‘should’ do does not hold much power. What is ‘good for you’ at some point in the future just does not get top billing compared to these more immediate challenges to your well-being.

In the last blog, I simplified all the science-based factors for self-motivation into the Exercise Motivation Equation.

EWM 18

What is important right now and doable right now will be most motivating right now. The trick is keeping exercise important and doable in the present moment.

Step one: Importance. When businesses are clear about the company’s core values, know their ‘why’, and communicate it well, they are more successful at motivating you to buy what they are selling.2  This not only works for successful companies, it works for successful individuals. This is why a personal coaching call is the first step in my Exercising WELL program. When we use a coaching conversation to clarify your well-being Vision and uncover your most value-driven Why for exercise, you’ll find your self-motivation for exercise ramps up.  In the coaching conversation, we transform exercise from a ‘should’ to a ‘want to’.

Once you know your Why for exercise, you are ready to discover what is most doable for your body and life now.

Step two: Doable. When your brain knows exercise will leave you feeling better now, it will want to do it. But knowing how to exercise in the way that is right for your body right now, rather than for the body you want in the future is not so easy. Many of the marketable future-based results like melting fat, having long lean muscles, and enjoying toned arms are not even doable because they ignore the natural laws of the body. Other results like six pack abs, reaching a goal weight, or completing a fitness challenge only distract from your Why.

Once you know how to move in the way your body was designed and are focused on what you can do now, exercise will immediately make you feel better right now.

In my next blog series, I’ll talk about the Real-time Results of exercise. When you know what is happening in your body with exercise now, you have the best chance of knowing how to get the results that are most important for you now, and leave you feeling better now.

Rethink this Week: Take a moment to explore your Why for exercise. Ask yourself ‘why is exercise important to me?’ Now, ask yourself ‘why is that important to me right now’ four more times. This seems a bit silly—repeating the question—but it is based on the well-established process of Motivational Interviewing3. Asking the question repeatedly, and answering it thoughtfully, will get you closer to the most value-driven reason for exercising. This is your Why. It is the deepest source of energy for your motivation in the present moment. With this motivation energy, you will be ready to use the Real-time Results of exercise that are most important to you to stay out of the ‘shoulds’ and in the ‘want tos’ for exercise. This process is more effective in a coaching conversation but doing this for yourself is a great way to get started with getting to your Why.

Enjoy Exercising WELL,

Janet

 

  1. Exercise is Medicine 
  2. Simon Sinek TED talk
  3. Instant Influence, by Michael Pantelon, PhD