I’ve been a public leader of one kind or another for more than four decades now, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that leaders always face pressures of time and stress. A second thing I can tell you for sure is that the more time-pressed we are and the more stress we experience, the more vital it is to make time for exercise.
There are limited options for staying healthy and keeping your leadership healthy during times of stress. One is by reducing the stress. That is not entirely within our control, because leading involves the choices of people and situations out of our control. Do try to find ways to reduce the external pressures that cause stress and overload. But in the meantime, improve your ability to process stress by establishing helpful habits. One of those habits is regular exercise.
Regular exercise reduces stress, reduces anxiety, improves sleep, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and boosts your body’s immunity.
Exercise boosts brain health and function in just about every way that we can measure. Certainly leaders need their brains to perform at top capacity. Research always shows that exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests measuring long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, creativity, and fluid intelligence.
Regular exercise improves mood states by reducing depression and pessimism. It improves optimism and belief in oneself.
Exercise has also been shown to induce the creation of new blood vessels in the cerebellum, the hippocampus, and the motor cortex. This creation declines with age, and exercise can prevent the decline. New blood vessels improve blood flow, which improves oxygen and nutrient delivery which is necessary for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Aerobic exercise also has been shown to increase the production of neurochemicals that promote growth, differentiation, survival, and repair of brain cells. In short, exercise nourishes the brain and enhances state of mind and wakefulness all around.
It helps in relationships and on the job performance as well. Leaders who exercise regularly were rated significantly higher by their bosses, peers, and direct reports on leadership effectiveness. It seems apparent that a healthy lifestyle can help executives better cope with the stresses and demands of their positions, and this results in greater leadership effectiveness.
I am certainly not an Olympic athlete or anywhere near, but I have found that exercise is one of my greatest allies in developing all around leadership, benefitting my family, my church, my business, and everything I touch.
It gives me energy. It recharges my batteries. Every time I am feeling down, exercising and moving changes my perspective. MOVE!
It increases my concentration ability. There are so many distractions constantly. It’s nearly impossible to find time to disconnect my mind, but exercise does it and I am ready to go again.
It improves my resistance. If I don’t have a healthy backlog of resistance, I will lack work capacity and concentration. Daily exercise increases my strength and drive.
It grows self-confidence. Meeting my exercise goals trains my ambition for goals in other areas. Meeting goals is an essential skill for any confident leader.
It inspires and encourages continuous improvement. Exercising regularly requires discipline, perseverance, and strength, qualities necessary for leadership. I can be an example for my team, a source of inspiration for those who wish to grow personally.
It improves my balance. Exercise helps me be better balanced emotionally for making decisions and the way I act.
It makes me more creative. My mind is free when I am exercising. My creativity peaks. Some of my best thoughts have come during these times.
It clears my mind and makes me happy. Once I am in a routine and I know what I am doing, workouts become a way to deal with frustrations and help me think clearly about the issues or obstacles I am dealing with in my life. I’m always uplifted by them.
The Bottom Line: Challenge yourself. You can be a better person and a better leader. You can extend your leadership and your life. Increase physical activity by moving more during the day (a step counter can help with this) and by engaging in regular intentional exercise that is varied in duration, intensity, and mode (elliptical or machine, walking, a sport). The key is consistency over time. Finally, sit less and move more. Get up every 20–60 minutes and stand, move, or walk. You’ll be surprised at all the increases in your life!