Exercise is No Hobby, It’s Your Last Competitive Advantage

hans and franzIf I could give you a magic pill to make you more intelligent, would you take it? What if this “pill” existed in the form of physical activity? We all understand the advantages of exercise, so let’s skip the part where I describe the health benefits (stronger immune system, reduced risk of chronic diseases, slows the aging process) and company benefits (lower absenteeism, health insurance claims, workers compensation). Let’s talk personal benefits; the advantages exercise can have on your career success.

Your brain is your greatest advantage, yet we neglect the maintenance needed to think at full capacity. Numerous studies show the cognitive value of regular exercise. John Ratey’s book Spark discusses how exercise improves mood, enhances memory, heightens focus, and leads to greater mental acuity. Physical activity boosts the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for memory and learning, and both reduces depressive symptoms and improves self-esteem. In addition, cardiovascular exercise has been found to create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Plus, after exercising you perceive your environment as less threatening and more positive. On a related note, employees who exercise are over 40% are more likely to be engaged in their work.

Listen to me now, and believe me later: it doesn’t matter how much you pump up those muscles, as long as you reach the full pumptential. — Arnold Schwartzenegger on “Pumping Up with Hans & Franz”

Exercise helps us concentrate better, think faster, and be all-around smarter. Still, we continue to think of it as an extra, something we fit into our schedule when (and if) we can. Can you afford to lose this edge? If not, make the most of the limited time you can designate towards exercise by:

Exercising outdoors. This has been found to improve blood pressure, self-esteem, and mood significantly more than indoor exercises.

Blocking out one hour. Research shows that one hour of exercise counteracts the adverse effects of six hours of sitting, which most of us do on a daily basis.

Finding a workout buddy. Studies overwhelming state that a partner is needed for long-term progress. With a cohort we tend to exercise more often, with more intensity, and with more enjoyment.

Doing it in the middle of the day. There is evidence that exercise during regular work hours boosts performance. In one study, employees who visited the gym reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with co-worker.

Unlike the imaginary quick-fix pill, exercise requires diligent effort. It is strenuous, sweaty, and at times humbling. It is also the competitive advantage your adversaries are overlooking. You don’t need to aspire to look like fitness gurus Hans and Franz…just don’t be a girlie (wo)man. Take responsibility for your schedule and make time for self-improvement activities.