Entrepreneurial business owners have a fundamental drive that sets them apart. They have a burning desire to succeed in business and are prepared to work harder and push themselves further than most other people.
Often, this intense drive becomes an all-consuming business focus, and that can result in personal relationships, health and happiness being sacrificed in people’s mistaken belief that the more time they spend at work, the more wealth and success they’ll achieve. In truth, many of these people do achieve good business success, but at what cost?
There is a another, better way, and the people who have found it are in a different stratum entirely.
You will find that one thing very successful entrepreneurs usually have in common is that they extend their drive and desire to succeed to all areas of their lives. They work hard at everything, not just business, because they know that the kinder they are; the more they give of their time and themselves to others; the more rounded they become; the fitter and healthier they are… the more effective they will be at work and the greater and more rewarding their level of success will be. Sometimes it’s called the ‘alpha’ trait; some people consider it ‘obsessive’ behaviour; other people see it simply as always striving for excellence.
And one of the most significant things the vast majority of highly successful people succeed at is taking regular exercise.
At the extreme end of the wealth and success spectrum, look at Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, Tory Burch and Brian Chesky – they’re all the driving forces behind multi-billion-pound companies and all of them credit exercise as being an integral part of their success.
- Bill Gates usually starts his day with an hour on the treadmill and he regularly plays basketball and tennis. He believes: “You have to exercise, or at some point you’ll just break down.”
- Tech investor Mark Cuban’s routine includes an hour of cardio, six days a week, as well as playing basketball, kickboxing and taking other aerobic classes.
- Richard Branson was asked for his number one productivity tip. His response: “Work out.” He spends an hour every morning doing weights and stretches with a fitness coach and enjoys swimming, tennis, kitesurfing and skiing. Branson estimates that exercise adds around four hours of productivity to his day.
- Designer and fashion house CEO Tory Burch rises early and exercises for 45 minutes each morning.
- A former competitive bodybuilder, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky still lifts weights on a daily basis.
- And, even while he was President, Barack Obama made time for a 45-minute workout every morning, varying the types of exercise, including weights, TRX and boxing.
Looking at more moderate levels of wealth, in a University of Georgia survey of over 1,300 executives earning $100,000 or more a year, 75% named fitness as one of the main components of their success. So, why wouldn’t you take advantage of this simple lifestyle change to give yourself an extra edge?
Stop separating fitness and business
As an entrepreneur committed to achieving success, you should take a holistic approach to your life and attach the same importance to health, relationships and hobbies or ‘down time’ as you do your business.
Too many people still see taking time out from their working day to do exercise as somehow ‘indulgent’ and ‘losing’ valuable hours that they could be spending on what they consider more important things.
But the truth is that the benefits of regular exercise are such that, rather than losing anything, you’ll find you will get far more done and be much more effective in your business once your body and mind have had a good workout. So, it’s time to stop separating fitness and business and make sure that you are investing properly in your number one asset: yourself.
And exercise doesn’t have to be extreme or all-consuming to have significant health benefits. A study by British researcher, Jim McKenna, showed that just by doing 30 to 45 minutes of exercise, three or four times a week, people’s work performance was consistently higher, their time management skills improved, they were more mentally sharp and they were more tolerant and forgiving of their colleagues.
Another study, carried out in America in 2012, found that employees who exercise regularly earn around 9% more than their more sedentary co-workers and people who exercise at least three times a week are more productive and take fewer sick days than those who are less active.
Mark Zuckerberg goes for a run or works out at the gym at least three days per week. He says, “Staying in shape is very important. Doing anything well requires energy, and you just have a lot more energy when you’re fit.”
You can fit it into your day
Too often, when people don’t exercise, they make the excuse that they don’t have time. Rubbish. If the President of the United States (Obama not Trump!) can manage 45 minutes a day, anyone can. Assuming you sleep for 8 hours, it’s less than 5% of your day.
All it takes is a little discipline and finding something you really enjoy because, as with everything in life, if it’s important enough to you, you’ll make time for it.
“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” – Edward Stanley
And one of the great things about exercise is that it comes in such a variety of forms that there really is something to suit everyone. You don’t have to go to a gym, you don’t have to commit to travelling to an exercise class – you can choose an activity close to your work or home or even follow an online fitness video inside your house! However, I would recommend incorporating some kind of outdoor activity into your week because nature is a wonderful natural mood booster. I cycle a couple of times a week and there’s nothing quite like taking on board fresh air when you’re breathing deeply.
But why does exercise make you more productive and more successful?
What happens to your body when you exercise?
Let’s look briefly at the science bit.
A great deal of the impact on people’s level of success stems from the positive effect that exercise has on the brain. When you raise your heart rate, your rate of blood flow increases, carrying more oxygen to your brain and feeding it. But what is specifically happening within your body?
- Your muscles need oxygen in order to break down glucose for energy, so when you start exercising, adrenaline levels rise, which stimulates your heart to beat faster and pump more blood to your muscles.
- Adrenaline also stimulates the capillaries in your muscles to open wider, increasing the blood flow to them by up to 20 times.
- Your lungs need to take in more oxygen to satisfy the demand from your muscles, so your ribcage and diaphragm work together to pull in up to 15 times more oxygen than they do when you’re at rest. You breathe faster and deeper, maximising your lung capacity until your body is taking in as much oxygen as possible.
- As your circulatory system pumps blood more quickly around your body, your brain initially interprets it as a moment of stress. This stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ response and a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is released. This protects and repairs your memory neurons and acts as a kind of ‘reset switch’, which is why we tend to feel at ease and see things more clearly after exercising.
- At the same time, the increased blood flow to your brain also triggers a number of neurotransmitters – ‘feel good’ chemicals – including:
- Endorphins, which help relieve pain and stress. They minimize the discomfort of exercise and can even result in a sensation of euphoria. This is the ‘high’ that many people refer to when they talk about how exercise makes them feel.
- Serotonin, often referred to as the ‘happy chemical’. Raising the level of serotonin in your brain boosts your mood and sense of wellbeing, as well as helping regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycles, internal clock and appetite.
- In addition to playing a key role in beginning movement and speech, dopamine also helps with reinforcement and our focus on rewards, which makes us feel good.
And the more exercise you do, the more accustomed your body becomes to it. The fitter you are, the more efficiently your heart can supply more oxygenated blood to your muscles, which enables you to exercise longer and harder. This increased efficiency will also reduce your resting heart rate and your blood pressure will decrease as a result of new blood vessels forming.
Essentially, the more oxygen you send round your body, feeding your muscles and stimulating chemical reactions in your brain, the better your body and mind are able to function.
The life-changing benefits of exercise
I work out seven days a week and combine indoor weights, cardio and martial art classes with outdoor training that not only works on my body as a whole, but also lets me get out into the countryside, which is, in itself, a mood booster. I know, without question, that my exercise routine makes me:
- more focused at work
- more even-tempered and better able to deal with stressful situations
- a more effective negotiator and strategist
- more creative
…and I feel more comfortable in (and out) my clothes!
Most entrepreneurs are working towards financial freedom and lifestyle independence. And if you’re going to build that kind of life for yourself, you may as well have a fit and capable body to enjoy it with.
So, here are five proven positive effects and life-changing benefits of exercise that work together to greatly increase the level of success you can achieve – in all areas of your life:
1. Great for mental health. Entrepreneurs and business owners are susceptible to high levels of stress and anxiety because of the responsibility they shoulder on a daily basis as CEOs and managing directors. The good news is that exercise can work wonders for your mental health. At a chemical level, as the protecting and repairing protein BDNF and other ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters are released during exercise, your mood is boosted and your brain works to make you feel more at ease and less stressed. You’ll find your sleeping and eating patterns will also improve, helping keep your body’s natural routine and functions on a more even keel.
One study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that walking for an hour or running for 15 minutes every day, reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. It’s even been shown that exercise works as well as prescribed antidepressant drugs for some people!
You can also use the time that you’re exercising to detach yourself from your work life and other worries and think about something else for a while. Even just that change of scenery from the office can help you see things in a different light and gain perspective on particularly difficult situations.
2. Increases your focus and creativity. With the chemicals coursing through your brain ‘firing the cylinders’ and working to calm you down, clear your mind and make you feel happier and more positive, it gives you the mental space for creativity to flourish. Even very moderate exercise can boost your creativity. A 2014 study by Stanford University scientists found that walking significantly improved certain cognitive processes involved in creativity, specifically: convergent thinking (the ability to come up with solutions to problems) and divergent thinking (coming up with original, open-ended ideas). And it didn’t matter whether the walking was inside on a treadmill or outside – those who exercised produced twice as many creative responses as those who were sitting down.
“When I run, I can step out of the mind and watch the thoughts. This creates a relationship of sequence, and I can get very clear on ideas and possibilities.” – Nathlie Provosty, Painter
As well as a spike in creativity, you should notice that you’re much more focused during your workouts. I do some of my best thinking while I’m exercising and, to make sure I take advantage of that heightened focus, I keep my mobile to hand to jot down ideas – that way I’m not worrying I’ll forget half of them before I’m finished!
Tip: If you do use your phone like this, remember to put it on DND mode (only use for music or listening to audiobooks and podcasts) otherwise you will be tempted to fiddle with it during the breaks between exercises and it will be a productivity killer. Workouts will take longer, be less intense, and you probably won’t complete your regime.
Of course, the beauty of the all-round benefits of exercise mean that not only will you be more creative during and after your workout, but you’ll also have the mental ‘high’ and energy to follow your ideas through to completion!
3. Boosts your productivity. As soon as you start exercising, the increased oxygen flow to the brain means it starts to function better right away. That results in:
- A more positive mood (thanks to the release of ‘happiness hormones’)
- Greater alertness
- Faster decision-making abilities.
Aerobic exercise has also been shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus – that’s the part of the brain that deals with memory and learning skills – giving you a ‘sharper’ mind.
Then, the more you exercise, the stronger your heart muscle becomes and the better your blood is able to circulate, making it easier for your body to create energy. In addition, if you work out regularly, your body will learn to naturally release more endorphins, faster, leaving you with even more energy on top.
This combination of boosted brainpower and elevated energy levels will undoubtedly mean you’ll achieve more in your day.
4. Prevents you from dying young. All too often, we hear about highly successful business people dying in their 40s and 50s simply because they didn’t look after themselves.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- A lack of sleep
- Constant feelings of stress and anxiety
- Skipping meals
- Eating too much of the wrong foods at the wrong times
- Weight gain
All are serious risk factors for metabolic syndrome, which is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. And that’s the precursor to cancer, heart disease, strokes and Alzheimers, among other life-limiting conditions.
The good news is that developing a regular exercise regime can virtually eliminate these risk factors. The ‘happiness’ chemicals released will keep your mood elevated and help regulate your body clock and appetite, and you’ll be burning fat and keeping your heart muscle healthy. And the fitter you are, the better your immune system is able to function, so you’re less likely to suffer illness.
As I’ve said before, you don’t even need to work out every day – just 30-45 minutes, at least three times a week, is enough to greatly benefit your body and mind and help you avoid an early grave.
5. Makes you look and feel good. This is an obvious but very significant point. As you burn fat and increase muscle tone, you’ll see your shape change. If you’re also careful about eating the right foods (read my blog post: Eat well to maximise your potential), you’ll probably lose some weight and gradually feel your clothes fitting better. The increase in blood flow – together with proper hydration through taking on sufficient water – should make your skin glow, your eyes become clearer and even your hair look healthier and stronger.
When we see an improvement in our physical appearance, that in itself gives us a high. Then when other people start to comment on how much better we’re looking, that reinforcement is a further confidence and mood booster. And the happier and more confident you feel, the more attractive the energy you give out, which is highly likely to result in you naturally attracting more similar people and positive opportunities. See my blog post: What is the Law of Attraction and how can you use it to reach your goals?
You should also find that setting, meeting and exceeding exercise goals will have a great impact on your self-esteem. Knowing that you can excel beyond limitations you might have set for yourself in terms of fitness, should help you believe that you can overcome obstacles in every other area of your life.
The combination of all these benefits can help ensure your mind and body are both operating at their optimum level. Undoubtedly, the cocktail of positive effects will make you more successful and, as I said earlier, why wouldn’t you want to give yourself the greatest possible advantage in life?
Make it a habit
This is key. When it comes to exercise, most people make a daily decision about whether to work out or not. They think about how much they have to do that particular day, how motivated they feel, whether they can be ‘bothered’….and that’s why many fail to stick to a regular exercise routine.
So what’s the secret to cracking it? Simple: you make exercise a habit. If you work out at the same times every day/week, you’ll start to do it on autopilot and it removes that extra decision from your life, meaning you can save your willpower for other things. And if you’re a busy entrepreneur that has to fire on all cylinders, you’ll need all the willpower reserves you’ve got!
Creating the habit is easier than you might think. Commit to a plan for 30 days and the pattern, combined with the high you’ll get from how much better you’ve started to look and feel, will mean you shouldn’t need to think about it any more. It’ll simply be part of your life. And as you get stronger, more toned, less stressed, happier, more focused and more energetic, you’ll find yourself putting exercise first, not last.
My 3 simple rules to stay physically fit
1. Prioritise exercise. Making exercise non-negotiable will not only make you fitter, happier and healthier, it’s setting you up for success in the boardroom and having an edge over the competition. So, see it as a priority (not as optional), with just as much right to occupy space in your diary as any business meeting, and don’t allow anything to get in the way of this commitment to taking care of yourself. Tip:– your workouts should be scheduled into your weekly/ monthly diary. Treat them like an appointment that you can’t move.
2. Have an exercise routine. If you’re not good at setting schedules for yourself, working out is a great way to build that habit. Allocate regular time slots for exercise and set yourself goals to actively work towards – whether that’s running a certain distance, achieving a certain number of reps or losing a specific amount of weight. If you practice discipline as you work out, you should begin to see results fairly quickly and be motivated to carry that same discipline and success pattern into your business.
Here are my top tips for building your routine:
- Exercise regularly. I’d recommend you do some kind of exercise every day but, if you don’t feel you can commit to that yet, make sure you work out a minimum of three days a week. When you exercise regularly, you develop a permanent increase in your baseline level of energy.
- Exercise in the morning. Completing a task early in the morning gives you a feeling of accomplishment that sets a great tone for the day. The increased circulation and endorphins will give you a mood and energy boost so you’ll hit the ground running at the office. Working out first thing also eliminates that problem of potentially feeling too tired to exercise at the end of the day – and if you exercise too late in the evening, it can actually disrupt your sleep pattern.
- Exercise at the same time every morning. The more regular and consistent your exercise regime, the easier it will be to stick to. Develop a habit of preparing your exercise kit the night before, set the alarm and soon you won’t even need to think about it – it’ll become second nature. For me, it’s 9:30am every day: no breakfast, straight to the gym and a hard, one-hour training session.
- Mix it up. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you probably won’t stick to it, so find a few things you like and try to create a plan that mixes cardio, strength and endurance. For me, it’s a combination of the treadmill, cycling, weight training and Krav Maga classes. Your body will also work better and improve more quickly if you mix up your exercises.
- Set goals. Everyone needs motivation, so think of something you want to achieve – importantly, write it down or have a visual representation of it that you look at every day – and work towards it. You can start with moderate aims, but once you start achieving and exceeding your goals, set new ones that push you just that little bit further. The feeling of achieving something that you once thought impossible will give you a real rush!
- Reward yourself. Treat yourself to a nourishing and tasty breakfast after your workout, for example. As you start to associate exercise with your reward, it’ll help cement your new morning routine.
3. Exercise hard. Exercise is only truly effective if you’re challenging the heart and lungs enough to improve their function. Whatever you’re doing should raise your heart and breathing rate to well above their resting rate and make you sweat.
“You should feel like you’re about to die, but you’re not.” – Tony Robbins
That might sound extreme, but you’ll only get fitter if you’re pushing yourself beyond where you’ve been before. I’d suggest you exercise for a minimum of 60 minutes and ‘hard’ doesn’t need to be a boring grind – mix it up.
Commit to making a change today
If you want to be the best in business and succeed professionally, financially and personally, you have to be your best self. And that means taking care of the body you’re in – as Jim Rohn said, “It’s the only place you have to live.”
Don’t wait for the perfect moment – the perfect moment is now. If you don’t currently take any exercise, start with 30 minutes, three days a week and set targets so that you can eventually build up to 60 mins, six or seven days a week.
Use the tips and rules I’ve outlined here, get a routine in place, follow it for 30 days and I guarantee you’ll look and feel so much better. At work, you’ll be more focused, have more energy and ideas, be less stressed and more productive. Outside work, you’ll sleep better, find yourself developing better eating habits, start to look fitter and healthier – and you’ll be giving yourself the best shot at living a long, healthy and happy life.