Exercise used to be the last thing on my mind. Now it’s a regular part of my life, and I can’t imagine missing the benefits—especially as an entrepreneur.
Most adults don’t get the regular exercise they need, according to the CDC. As a high-achiever, I totally get it. Carving out time to run or strength train seems like a waste when there’s a project to complete or a product to launch, doesn’t it?
That was my life for years. Sometimes business was good, sometimes bad, sometimes incredible. But I always had reasons to focus on my products and P&L instead of my health.
Then one day I thought I was having a heart attack. Wake-up call!
It was tough at first, but on my doctor’s recommendation I started getting regular exercise. Not only did my health improve, but my business did as well. In fact, I’d say at this point that regular exercise is integral to my success as an entrepreneur.
How? Here are three surprising research-based reasons regular exercise is a Godsend for high-achievers like us:
1. Exercise Hones Your Competitive Edge
Exercise is a big difference maker in wealth-creation, according to one Finnish study. When compared, twins who exercised earned significantly more income than their sedentary siblings. Why?
The answer is hugely important for entrepreneurs. It turns out that exercise actually helps build the kind of character traits that win in the marketplace.
I’ve seen this in my own life. Not only does completing a tough workout instill confidence and a positive sense of accomplishment, but to maintain my exercise regimen, I’ve had to sharpen my self-discipline and increase my capacity for self-sacrifice. These traits are directly applicable in a business environment. But that’s not all.
I’ve also honed my efficiency, dedication, planning, and focus to juggle competing interests and opportunities. Even during an all-hands-on-deck situation like our recent Platform University launch, I made time each day for the gym. That kind of prioritization encourages and reinforces all sorts of positive workplace behaviors.
2. Exercise Empowers Work-Life Balance
Some people, especially high-achievers, will say that they just don’t have time to exercise. Throw family and other major commitments in the mix, and it’s an easy myth to believe. But it really is a myth.
The research shows that exercise actually empowers work-life balance. This seems backward, right? How could adding one more thing to an overpacked schedule have the effect of creating more time? At least two ways, according to researcher Russell Clayton:
- Exercise lowers our stress and anxiety levels and, as Clayton says, that’s “tantamount to an expansion of time.”
- Exercise also boosts our confidence that we can accomplish difficult tasks. That self-efficacy leads to better performance at work and confidence we can keep pace with our home life.
“It isn’t only that exercise supports better physical health,” says Clayton. “Through its direct impact on increased self-efficacy and reduced psychological strain, exercise leads to better integration of professional and personal lives.”
Entrepreneurs are famous for our inability to get this figured out. If that’s you too, exercise might just be your missing component.
3. Exercise Improves Our Problem-Solving Abilities
At its most basic, entrepreneurialism is just problem solving for money. The better we are at solving problems—especially complex and challenging ones—the greater potential for income. Who doesn’t like that?
A single workout can immediately boost higher-order thinking skills, making you more productive and efficient as you slog through your workday. When you exercise your legs, you also exercise your brain; this means that a lunchtime workout can improve your cognitive performance, thanks to blood flow and brain food. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, is a protein that facilitates the growth of neurons and nourishes existing ones. It improves executive function, a type of higher-order thinking that allows people to formulate arguments, develop strategies, creatively solve problems and synthesize information.
Even low impact exercise produces significant results. “As little as 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate is enough,” says Opipari. Just walking or doing yoga can help.
Beyond the physiological benefits, exercise provides time critical for thinking. Like the bolt from the blue that comes in the shower, our minds can be busy connecting dots and working on problems while we jog, hike, or spin.
This has been huge for me over the years. I count on my exercise time, especially running, to sort out issues, think through conundrums, and more. And it happens almost automatically. My mind is free to drift, and suddenly I realize that I have the answer.
Given these and other benefits, I can think of very few reasons entrepreneurs would skip exercise to work on their business. The research says that exercising is working on their business.