How Exercise Can Help You Reach the Next Level In Your Career

If you've ever told yourself that you're putting exercise on the back burner for a while so you can focus on work or other aspects of your life first, you're missing the point.

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Your network is expanding, and relationships are strong; your resume is on point, your innovation muscles are flexed, and you're working hard. But somehow you're losing precious sleep and feel irritable (or even stuck) because of stress. Sound familiar? Some people might tell you that you're suffering from burnout and need to take a break, and they're not far off the mark. But no matter how well-rested you are, you'll never be able to achieve complete focus and efficiency to level up in your career unless you address that feeling. And one way to do that is by taking your fitness seriously. Here's how to get started.

The Link Between the Brain and the Body

Most of us have been taught to see our body parts as independent entities, with our leg pain, tooth cavities or headaches having no correlation. It's rarely so simple. There are thousands of intricacies in how the body works and everything connects, but one thing we do understand is that exercise benefits our all-around health.

Research shows that exercise pumps more oxygen to the brain and prompts the release of hormones, encouraging the growth of brain cells and plasticity (which helps create new brain connections).

Much of this exercise-induced activity takes place in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. Can you see how this links to workplace productivity and career decision-making?

That's not all. Exercise also helps cut down on brain fog, helps reduce stress and anxiety, and can improve our sleep — all essential for functioning well in the workplace (and other aspects of life).

Exercise and Leadership

While you probably don't need much convincing that exercise is good for you overall, did you know that it could help improve your leadership skills?

Evidence suggests that executives who work out regularly are more effective leaders; at least, that's how their bosses and peers rated them.

It makes sense. The less anxious you are and the better you are at thinking quickly and reacting to the circumstances around you, the better you'll function under pressure. These things are useful for everyone, but as a leader, you face more challenges than the average employee.

Fitting Exercise into Your Routine

After being told they should exercise, the first objection most people have is that they just don't have the time. Sorry, but no matter how senior level you are, this just isn't true.

You don't need to magically create extra time out of thin air — just look for a gap in your routine where you could replace something sedentary with exercise. Instead of scrolling through the news on your lunch break, take a walk. Cycle to work rather than driving. Take a few breaks throughout the day to walk up and down the stairs.

Even if you can only afford to put a few five-minute blocks aside each day, they can really add up — little and often.

If you're really struggling with your time management, you could even consider recruiting an accountability buddy — someone who will check up on whether you're following through with your plans (generally you'll do the same for them).

Maybe you could even hire a personal trainer.

The Best Exercises

If you prefer cardio over weights or vice versa, fear not — they both play an integral role in your physical fitness. Science hasn't quite figured out the ultimate fitness routine for leaders, so test a few things out to figure out what works best for you.

Here are a few exercises I recommend based on what the research shows. But whatever you opt for, one general principle applies: Exercising for around 150 minutes a week (that's about 20 minutes a day) at a moderate intensity brings plenty of health benefits, so there's no need to go overboard.

Cardio

A University of British Columbia study discovered that regular aerobic exercise (aka cardio) can increase the size of the hippocampus. Good examples of aerobic exercises include jogging, swimming, brisk walking and using a rowing or cycling machine.

Resistance Exercises

Although resistance and weight training aren't as linked to improved memory or thinking, they can help your brain in other ways. For instance, strength training has been linked to protecting against brain degeneration.

If you want to get into strength and resistance training, try the following exercises:

• Core exercises like planks, crunches and sit-ups.

• Bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups and pullups.

• Resistance band exercises like the overhead press, core twist and bent row.

The Center for Creative Leadership's YouTube channel is a great resource for workout videos dedicated to your needs.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Healthy Business

If you've ever told yourself that you're putting exercise on the back burner for a while so you can focus on work or other aspects of your life first, you're missing the point. You can't separate your health from everything else — it's fundamental.

So, grab your sweatband and your sneakers. Your team and organization will thank you.

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