When asked for his #1 productivity tip, Richard Branson paused for a moment, leaned back and said, “Work out.” By his estimate, it added about four hours of productivity to his day.
As entrepreneurs, we often have the burning desire to make our venture succeed, no matter the cost. We’ll stay up later, work longer, go further and push ourselves more than anyone else. We know we need to spend a few years living like most people won’t so that we can ultimately spend the rest of our life living like most people can’t. We’ve read all the “Create Your Own Success” books and have seen all of the motivational quotes, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes. Unfortunately all too often, “whatever it takes” means sacrificing our personal relationships, our happiness, and our health in order to succeed. What we sometimes forget is that it’s easy to earn more money, no matter what our age.
However, when our health is neglected, it can be difficult – sometimes even impossible – to reverse the ill effects. Neglecting our health in order to be successful in our careers leads to infinitely more downside than upside – like having a massive heart attack before the age of forty. But what many of us may not know is that being healthy and staying fit infinitely improves our ability to earn money: it boosts productivity and energy; it accelerates how fast the brain can think and make decisions; it lets us rest and sleep better; and, most importantly, it prevents us from dying from self-inflicted illnesses of neglect. Here’s how eating healthier and exercising more will make you richer and more successful, all while being one of the fittest people at the office.
#1 It Increases Productivity And Energy – A Lot
Entrepreneurs are obsessed with getting more done in less time. Picture this: let’s say you need to consume around 2,200 calories a day to maintain your body weight. The brain uses up approximately 20% of your caloric intake, which in this scenario means your brain is actually using around 450 of those daily calories to function. That’s 20% of your entire caloric intake fueling the super computer that we call your brain. As an entrepreneur or business owner, your brain is your most priceless asset. So why neglect it?
Picture the day of the average stressed-out CEO: We wake up early, usually after a poor night of sleep. We grab a breakfast to go, along with a coffee or a double shot of espresso. The morning is spent working or in meetings, and lunch might be a quick meal out (or we might skip it due to stress or looming deadlines). The afternoon is spent with more meetings, working, drinking coffee, and the evenings are often more of the same. Skipping meals or eating nutrient-poor meals is depriving our brain of glucose, the energy it needs to function and work optimally. Sticking with the right foods that contain lean proteins and low GI carbs gives us a steady release of energy and glucose, which in turn benefits the brain and ensures it’s firing on all cylinders without getting fatigued.
Of course, watching our diets isn’t the only thing we can do to keep our minds sharp: Exercising also improves brain function. If you’re an older entrepreneur worried about losing your edge, getting your body in motion has been shown to slow down the loss of neurons and brain power. Exercise has also been shown to boost your productivity (alertness, mood) in the hours immediately after it. What’s more, people that regularly exercise show a permanent increases in their baseline level of energy that sticks over time, even after as little as a ten minute walk done regularly.
#2 It Punches Stress In the Face
One of the biggest, most detrimental side effects of entrepreneurship is the near-constant stress and anxiety we sometimes feel when we’re building something for the first time, wondering where our next dollar might be coming from. Once the lizard brain takes over, it’s game over. Poor decisions are made as soon as emotions begin to enter the picture, leaving us no time to meditate on the decision or consider logical consequences. The irony is that when we resort to drinking stimulants like coffee in excess, it increases the stress hormone cortisol. Obviously this increases our stress levels, but there are serious health consequences ranging from increased belly fat, decreased immune function, poor quality sleep, full-on burnout, adrenal fatigue, and even hospitalization.
We’ve all heard the story of a burnt-out entrepreneur that landed themselves in the hospital with a serious health complication (typically GI-related) due to untreated stress. Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty, wrote in a Huffington Post article that after several weeks of hitting deadlines while trying to prove himself as “the rookie,” – which involved drinking way too many double espressos and sleeping under his desk a couple hours a night – his immune system collapsed, and he had a perforated intestine with a baseball-sized mass that required immediate surgery. Here’s the kicker: It all apparently occurred in less than a month.
Exercise and eating nutrient-dense foods also helps lower the anxiety, depression and stress levels that we can feel due to constant time crunches, deadlines and board meetings. Another bonus: If you’re dealing with failures or wildly fluctuating moods, regular exercise has been shown to be more effective at perking you up than the antidepressant Zoloft.
#3 It Improves Your Memory
An unfortunate side effect of always been frazzled is that it kills your memory. In one study, aerobic exercise was shown to actually increase the volume of the hippocampus – the part of the brain dealing with memory and learning skills. Regular exercise will not only decrease inflammation throughout the body and your brain, but it also will stimulate the release of growth factors that help protect the brain and keep it young. This doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym: Just taking a ten minute walk in between projects or before lunch has actually been shown to boost mood, energy, productivity and more. The above study done that actually increased certain parts of the brain was done on people walking 120 minutes a week – about 15 minutes per day.
#4 It Helps You Make Smarter, Faster Decisions
Picture this: You’re grinding it out one Tuesday morning, and you’re getting a bit foggy so you decide to take a break. You hop on over to Hacker News, look back up at the clock and realize it’s been an hour. “I need to be more focused and disciplined,” we tell ourselves. Well, being healthy and exercising can help with that too.
One study done on adolescents and young adults found that physical exercise dramatically improved executive functions (self control, memory, decision making, learning, etc.). Why and how it works is simple: Moving more increases the heart rate and blood flow, which increases oxygenation of the brain. Sitting fourteen hours a day at your desk staring at a computer doesn’t help.
Multiple studies have found that after 30 minutes of doing an easy half hour bike ride, subjects performed much better (and faster) on a series of cognitive tests. Maybe the fact that working out (along with meditation) is one of the two most common daily health habits of millionaires says something?
#5 It Prevents You From Dying Young (Seriously)
Consider the life of the average start-up founder, solo-preneur or new business owner. Lack of sleep? Check. Constant reliance on stimulants (either legal or illegal?) Check. An ever-present feeling of stress and anxiety? Check. Skipping meals or eating quick meals that aren’t exactly calorie-dense? Check. All four of these are serious risk factors for metabolic syndrome, the precursor to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more. In other words, when you get fat and out of shape, your risk of developing pretty much every disease and negative health condition increases – that doesn’t exactly make your life as an entrepreneur easier. And if the other four reasons weren’t a compelling reason to eat healthier and move more, hopefully death is.
Even the symptoms leading up to metabolic syndrome impair your ability to perform at your absolute best. As your weight increases, energy decreases. Men will have higher levels of female hormones, women will have very high levels of female hormones. Productivity decreases, sleep worsens, stress levels elevate.
Fighting the cult of productivity isn’t easy though. Thinking that we should cut corners to save an hour here and there to devote to building our empire can seem like a logical decision, but unfortunately it’s a shortsighted one. Not only will being healthy actually boost your productivity, energy, happiness, mood and more, you’ll also look and feel much better and avoid an early grave. What’s more? It’ll make you a lot more money – with your sanity intact.
Featured photo credit: Happy President’s Day / Bart via flickr.com