I’ve been asked so many times by people, “How do you find time to stay in shape?” and my answer is simple, “I don’t make time, I just make exercise a priority.”
The habits you develop shape who you are. Let’s first look at the benefits of exercise and then see how the after-effects transform us for the better.
“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning,” says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Exercise doesn’t actually reduce stress, it reverses it by increasing the “feel good” chemicals of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in our brains.
Here are some more reasons why exercise is so critically important to personal and professional effectiveness:
It combats depression. Just working out three times a week with the goal of burning off 350 calories each session has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression as effectively as antidepressants, and provide better overall health benefits by stimulating the growth of neurons in areas of the brain damaged by depression. But just experience it for yourself. When have you ever worked out and felt bad afterward? (Hint: The right answer is “Never.”)
It makes us smarter. The physical coordination necessary for movement is derived from our mental faculties to coordinate, and so the greater and more consistent your activity, the more connections your brain generates to facilitate learning. The brain is just like any other muscle, it needs stimulation to grow.
It just feels good. Results gives us a sense of accomplishment, which builds greater self-esteem and self-efficacy. When you make promises to other people, my guess is that you keep them for fear of being held in a negative light. But what do you do when you make promises to yourself? Do you uphold them or forget about them when they don’t suit your convenience? Keep your promises, no matter what, and your self-esteem will skyrocket.
If exercise is a habit and it is proven to improve one’s physical, mental, and emotional capacities, then the constant benefits are etched into our genetic makeup. The more consistent we are with exercise, the more often we’ll feel good about ourselves (physically and emotionally), be happy, stress-free, and mentally alert.
Leadership Implications of Exercise
The Center for Creative Leadership contends that “executives who are physically fit are considered to be more effective leaders than those who aren’t” and are rated significantly higher by their bosses and peers, and on assessments of their leadership effectiveness compared to those who don’t exercise. The time invested in frequent exercise --- even if it means spending less time at work --- is correlated with higher ratings of leadership effectiveness. Interesting, huh?
In the SEALs, exercise was just a part of who we were. There was no organized physical training like in the rest of the military because it was incumbent upon each operator to be able to perform his job. Plus, exercise is a personal endeavor, and one size doesn’t fit all.
So if you want to make exercise a way of life, here are four ways to do it:
Set yourself up for success. Aim for just a month of consistent exercise. Shoot for 3-to-4 days a week, and do it. If walking all the way over to your closet is too far, place your shoes next to your bed. If changing clothes is too tedious, sleep in your gym shorts. Do whatever you have to do to make it easier on yourself.
Start small, win big. Many people think they have to start out by spending hours at the gym five days a week. Nonsense. Do what you can (but a minimum of 20 minutes) with regard to exercise and then scale from there. My bet is that, similar to a runner’s high, your endorphins will develop a sort of addiction to how good it feels to exercise, and after a while, that 20 minutes will turn into 30, then 40, and so on.
Record your effort. Everybody likes to see improvement. More so, people like to see improvements they’re responsible for. Keep a running log of how much exercise you did and when in order to give yourself a baseline to measure your improvement against, as well as direction for how to set your next goal.
Make no excuses. “But I travel all the time—and those hotel gyms suck!” Get over it. Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you can’t run or do bodyweight exercises in your room. If you’re a road warrior and in need of a traveller’s workout, I have a ton. Email me here. Of course, the opposite is true, too. If you’re an office rat who “just doesn’t have the time but really wants to work out” then 1) I question how important fitness really is to you, because if you really want to do something then you will; and 2) I question your leadership effectiveness. Are you doing things that people two levels below you can do? Hopefully not. Ideally, you should be focusing on what only you can affect, and everybody can affect their time management. Everybody.
Hell, if the president of the United States has time to exercise, then so do you. Here are some solutions for the office rat who never gets outside:
• Bring a kettlebell to the office (and make tons of friends)
• Adopt a prison gym (bodyweight)
• Instead of going to lunch with your coworkers, go to the nearby gym instead. If there’s no gym, go for a run. Do pushups. Go in the bathroom and do squats (not like that wouldn’t be weird), but definitely don’t do pushups.
The bottom line is if you search for an answer hard enough, you’ll find it. Everybody has the same amount of time in their days, just different priorities.