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Why your health must be a higher priority than your business

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As a business and personal coach, one of the first things I ask my clients is what their priorities are – what is it they want to focus on? And I can tell you that health is rarely near the top of their list, if it’s even on there at all.

But the truth is, one of the things that most very successful people have in common is an uncompromising attitude towards health.

So, think about your own priorities, your goals, your current action plans. Then think about trying to achieve those things without your health. Even if you’re not physically incapacitated, if your mind isn’t clear and focused and your body isn’t properly fuelled and strong, you’re simply not going to be as effective as you need to be in order to achieve the success you desire.

“The first wealth is health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, right now, remind yourself of this: your health is your number one asset and without it, you’re going to find it very difficult to do everything you want and live life to the fullest. The message is simple: when you’re working so hard and putting so much into your business, why wouldn’t you also do everything you can to protect your number one asset?

Good health is founded on three main elements: diet, sleep and exercise. Only by getting the right type and amount of each will your body and mind will be able to function at their optimal levels. Of course, most people get by without necessarily thinking much about any of these things, but you’re not most people.

As an entrepreneur, maintaining healthy habits is an absolute must because how can you expect to take proper care of your staff, clients and customers if you’re not taking proper care of yourself? By making your own health a priority, you’ll find you have more energy and an enhanced ability to look after and get the best out of those around you. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of benefits!

When you eat well, sleep well and exercise well, everything improves:

  • You feel more alert
  • Your mood is elevated
  • You have more energy
  • You’re able to focus better
  • You think more clearly and creatively
  • You have more compassion, patience and understanding
  • You’re far less likely to feel stressed
  • Your skin and eyes are clearer and brighter
  • You’ll find it easier to keep your weight under control
  • You’re stronger
  • Your immune system functions better and you’ll have far fewer sick days
  • Your heart is healthier
  • The risk of you developing a life-limiting illness is greatly reduced.

In short, if you take care of your body, you’ll look, feel and be able to perform better in every area of your life and when you’re putting out that healthy, positive energy, you’ll tend to attract similarly healthy, positive people that can enhance your life and accelerate your success.

“There’s a prevalent attitude among entrepreneurs that the business, whatever that business is, comes first. It is the high priority that trumps everything else, including family, friends and especially health.” – Josh Steimle

If that’s how you’re operating at the moment, then you need to stop and reset your life right now, because there are very real dangers in prioritising your business over your health.

Not so long ago, I was putting my business and career above everything else; above eating healthily, exercising, sleep and even above spending quality time with my wife and children. I fell way short on self-education and self-awareness because my business could never wait. I felt at that time that everything depended on the business – it was all about survival – and, as a fledgling entrepreneur, I just didn’t know how to handle it any better. Before I knew it, in just three years, I’d put on 15kg, my relationship was not far off being in tatters and it’s not as though my business was going particularly well either!

It took that near-crisis point in my life for me to realise something had to change and, in sharing what I’ve learned since, I’m hoping I can reach those of you who might be on that same path and catch you before you’re as far down it as I was.

These days, my health, fitness and also my leisure time are taking a much higher priority than they used to. My home life has never been better and we’re back to being a close, loving family that truly enjoys and values the time we spend together. Not only am I happier and more even tempered, with way more energy than I’ve ever had before, but I know that in business I’m a much more effective negotiator and strategist, more creative when it comes to problem solving, and far better able to deal with stressful situations. By putting my health first, I was able to turn around my business and vastly improve my financial situation.

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – John C. Maxwell

One very important thing to understand is that this is not something to simply tick off a list. It’s a permanent change in the way you live your life.

You need to make these changes a habit, which will take some effort on your part. According to research by a team at University College London published in 2009, it takes an average of around two months before a behaviour becomes automatic. However, I very much doubt it will take you that long because I know how quickly I started to feel better about myself when I began exercising more and eating clean. Within just a week I could see a physical improvement and had started to feel the mental benefits. As human beings, our brains respond well to rewarding behaviours, so I can virtually guarantee that if you start to incorporate my recommendations into your daily routine, you’ll quickly be motivated to stick with them.

Eat well

By eating ‘well’, I mean eating ‘clean’ – that’s focusing on consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible and trying to eliminate from your diet things that are processed and refined.

I began the clean food diet six years ago when I was suffering from heartburn and I’ve never felt better. My energy levels are up and I don’t suffer those peaks and troughs of the cycle of feeling hungry, eating too much then feeling stuffed until I’m hungry again! Clean eating has brought greater clarity to my mind and a better balance to my body.

6 key elements of a clean-eating diet:

  1. Eat fresh – seasonal fruit and vegetables and fresh fish and meat
  2. Eat raw to ensure you benefit from all the natural nutrients and fibre in your food
  3. Choose organic and non-GMO where possible, to ensure you’re not consuming glyphosate, the weed-killing herbicide that starves crops of their micronutrients and may be carcinogenic
  4. Cut out added sugar and salt – sugar will cause your glucose levels to spike then crash, leading to major fluctuations in your energy levels, and too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes
  5. Avoid processed and refined foods
  6. Eat ‘good’ fats, which are a rich source of energy and aid vitamin absorption.

Entrepreneurs are like athletes – we work long days, often travelling and always needing to perform at high levels. And, just like athletes, we need to feed our bodies the right foods at the right times to power and propel us through your day.

Regular healthy eating habits have been proven, time and again, to help combat disease, increase life expectancy, raise energy levels, fire up your brain, improve your mood and boost your immune system. Conversely, if you make poor nutritional choices, a ‘bad’ diet will have a knock-on effect on your emotional state, your cognitive ability and, ultimately, your performance.

So, here are five top tips for a daily healthy eating regime:

  1. Plan ahead. Studies show we make much better choices about the quality of our meals and are better at resisting salt, sugar and fat if we plan ahead of time.
  2. Eat smaller meals, spaced out regularly, to maintain your glucose at a consistent level.
  3. Include plenty of fruit & raw vegetables to increase your dopamine and antioxidant levels.
  4. Include lean protein (e.g. white fish, chicken and legumes) and low GI foods that release energy slowly, such as oats, cereals and nuts.
  5. Have only healthy snacks to hand, e.g. almonds in your desk and car, fruit in the office fridge.

The importance of hydration

Eating clean is one part of fuelling your body but, even more importantly, you must make sure that you stay hydrated.

Your body as a whole is around 70% water and your brain alone around 90%. So, with water comprising the vast majority of every cell in your body, there’s no arguing with the fact that you need to keep it topped up in order to function properly.

When you lead a busy life, it’s easy to forget to keep drinking, particularly if you’re on the move a lot of the time. But studies have shown that a level of just 2% dehydration can negatively affect short-term memory, attention, concentration and information processing. Above 2% dehydration, you’ll probably also start to experience fatigue, tension, confusion and anger – and that’s never going to result in you giving your best at work. If you want to read more about this – have a look at this brilliant article by the senior science team at Georgia Tech.

From a scientific perspective, the hydrogen molecules in water are used to make the basic unit of energy that runs your body. Hydrogen also deactivates inflammatory free radicals from your system, flushing them out of your body through sweat and urine. Meanwhile, the oxygen in water helps pump up your blood cells, enabling them to function at full capacity.

3 top tips for staying properly hydrated:

  1. Whenever you feel hungry, have a large glass of water and aim to drink around two litres every day – more if it’s particularly warm or you’re doing a lot of exercise.
  2. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Cucumber and lettuce have the highest water content of any food at 96%, with tomatoes just behind on 94%, so try adding those to your meals.
  3. Minimise your intake of dehydrating products, including: salty snacks & ready meals, cured meats, sugary treats & alcohol.

Read more about eating well and hydrating properly in my blog, Eat well to maximise your potential.

Sleep well

Sleep is one of the most important things we do. It allows our bodies and minds to relax and repair themselves from the day just gone and prepare properly for the one ahead. It boosts our immune system, enhances our creative thinking and problem-solving abilities and clears the toxins from our brains. In short, if you want to be your most effective and productive self during the day, you’ve got to make sure you get the right quality and amount of sleep at night.

Back when I was a stressed-out corporate lawyer, I used to burn the candle at both ends. I was surrounded by people who sat in all-night meetings and talked about how there’s plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead. Added to that, it’s often quoted that various very successful people in history only slept for around four hours a night and, whether it’s true or not, that’s helped perpetuate this idea that you don’t need a lot of sleep, particularly if you’re aiming for the stars.

But this myth that sleeping is for the lazy, that somehow it’s a waste of time and you’re missing out on potentially productive hours is just that: a myth. Not only that, it’s bad for your health. The consequences of not getting enough rest at night are physical, mental and social, and can include:

  • poor memory and difficulty focusing
  • irritability and anger issues, which can cause relationship issues, both professional and personal
  • headaches
  • anxiety and depression
  • tiredness and daytime lethargy
  • physical weakness
  • irregular and poor eating habits, which can lead to obesity and heart disease
  • an increased risk of alcohol and drug dependence.

In short, although people think they’re gaining time in their working day and getting more done by spending less time in bed, they’re actually sabotaging their own success.

So, if you’re cutting back on the time you spend in bed because you think that time is better spent on work, stop right now.

Just take a look at what a proper sleep routine does for you:

  • Gives your body time to clean your brain of toxic proteins
  • Allows your brain to disengage from constant activity and rest, to keep your strategic thinking abilities and reaction times sharp
  • Helps you think more creatively
  • Allows your brain to organise and process everything you’ve learned during the day
  • Gives the brain time to convert short-term memories into long-term ones, which helps you be a more effective learner
  • Relaxes the systems in your body that are responsible for the stress response, so you should wake up feeling a sense of calm
  • Enables your immune system to function better by giving your body the time it needs to rest and repair cells
  • Helps keep your heart healthy
  • Makes it easier for you to maintain a healthy weight because if you’re properly rested, you’re much less likely to crave high-sugar foods for energy.

I sleep for 9 hours a night and make sure I don’t schedule anything in the mornings that might result in me having to compromise on that. As a result – and in conjunction with eating well and taking regular exercise – I know that I’m starting each day with a healthy body and mind.

Find out more about the benefits and science of sleep with my blog, Sleep your way to success.

Exercise well

One key thing that the vast majority of highly successful people succeed at is taking regular exercise. Well-known examples include Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Richard Branson, all of whom work out for a minimum of 45 minutes a day. That makes it all the more surprising that too many entrepreneurs 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.

The truth is that the benefits of regular exercise are such that, rather than losing anything, you’ll 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’re investing properly in your number one asset.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha

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. As you exercise, the protecting and repairing protein BDNF and other ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters are released, boosting your mood and making you feel more at ease and less stressed. Your eating and sleeping patterns will improve, helping keep your body’s natural routine and functions on a more even keel.
  2. Increases your focus and creativity. As the ‘feel good’ chemicals calm and clear your mind, you’ll find you have the mental space for creativity to flourish. Even very moderate exercise has been shown to increase creative responses.
  3. Boosts your productivity. As you increase the flow of oxygen to your brain, it starts to function better right away, so you’ll feel more alert and have faster decision-making abilities. 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. Gradually, your body will learn to naturally release more endorphines, 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. Developing a regular exercise regime can virtually eliminate the risk factors for ‘metabolic syndrome’ – that’s the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – which is the precursor to cancer, heart disease, strokes and Alzheimers, among other life-limiting conditions.
  5. Makes you look and feel good. When we see an improvement in our physical appearance, that in itself gives us a high. 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.

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.

And, happily, 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 exercise video in your house or hotel room!  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.

One of the keys to being legendary in business is longevity. You must make the time to pull back from your business, recover, refuel, re-energize and go again. That is how you will grow.

Read more about the physical and mental benefits of exercise and read my top tips for staying fit in my blog, Exercise is one thing successful people do every day.

And, remember: it’s ten times easier to stay in shape than to try and get into shape after years of neglect, so the sooner you can start to get a healthy eating, sleeping and workout routine in place, the better.

I know for sure that if my clients put their health before their business, they might work fewer hours, but they’ll feel better about themselves, have more fulfilling lives and they’ll produce better results with the hours they do work. Go on, make some changes today, because…

“You are here to do great work, and you’ll need a healthy vessel to do it.” – Elizabeth Rider