This post is a section of our report, A Leader’s Guide to Well Being. For a copy of the whole report, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all know that exercise is good for us. But did you know that exercise makes you a better leader?
The benefits of regular exercise are clear, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases, higher levels of energy, and a better mood. These benefits in turn have positive effects in the workplace—a link that’s increasingly the focus of research. Studies show that physical fitness is directly connected to mental capability. For example, exercise contributes to improved concentration, sharper memory, lower stress, and enhanced creativity—all essential for executives. Compared to inactive people, people who exercise:
- Process data faster and experience a slower decline in processing speed as they age
- Experience greater job satisfaction
- Have higher levels of well-being and lower levels of anxiety, depression, and tension
How to get the exercise you know you need
Think of regular exercise as an essential leadership activity—as important as making a key hire or presenting to your board. Plan for it with that kind of clear intention. Find a physical activity you like and look forward to, so you’re more likely to stick with it. If you love being in nature, hiking or cycling could be great options. Don’t try to force yourself to do something you don’t truly enjoy.
Work towards the “magic three”—endurance, strength, and flexibility—in whichever exercise you choose. Develop goals that center on achieving new levels of competence, perhaps with the support of a coach or buddy. Make your goals measurable, and actionable.
Also, consider exercising as part of a group, which can boost motivation and accountability, and keep your interest for the long term. It’s also dual-purpose investment in social support, another fundamental of well being.
Our favorite tips
- Get a stationary bike at home and multitask—read your email or the news while you work out
- Convert some of your 1:1 meetings into “walking meetings” (during the pandemic this means phone calls instead of video)
- Get a treadmill desk or an under-desk exercise bike that lets you move while you work
- Commit to baby steps, “I just need to put on my running shoes today. If I go running, that’s a bonus!”
- If you’re tired, make it a day for stretching. It’s important, low effort, and easy to forget
Our best resources
- Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job (Ron Friedman, HBR)
- Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports (see Exercise & Fitness section)
- How Does Exercise Improve Work Productivity? Julie Boehlke , Livestrong.com)
- Impact of a workplace ‘sit less, move more’ program on efficiency-related outcomes of office employees (Puig-Ribera et al, BMC Public Health)
- Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity (Mayo Clinic Staff)
- Exercising at work and self‐reported work performance (J.C. Coulson, J. McKenna, M. Field, Emerald Insight)