This week’s blog is dedicated to the relationship between career success and physical fitness. I have increasingly noticed that most successful people I know are also some of the fittest, and I’ve been intrigued as to why this is.
I have to confess to more than a touch of confirmation bias; looking back some of the best periods of my life have also been when I have been seriously fit — I’ve run the London Marathon, and under non-lockdown circumstances, I like to go to the gym 5 days a week. I’ve also competed in horse riding in numerous countries. Recently, like lots of people, I’ve jumped on the spin class bandwagon, and can highly recommend covering 30km on a static bike in a room with 19 other sweaty people, accompanied by rave music, as a great stress reliever. I’m also told you can burn up to 600 calories per class, which very helpful for enjoying a Friday night take away and a glass of wine guilt-free. Conversely, the months when I’ve been injured and concentrating on rehab have been seriously underwhelming.
There are lots of health reasons to try and stay reasonably fit. It is shocking to know that according to the NHS the majority of adults (63%) are overweight or obese, at a cost to the health service of £5.1bn per annum. As with many other illnesses, the overweight are more susceptible to severe complications from Coronavirus. Mental health, also, is intrinsically linked to exercise, with many studies supporting the theory that physical activity is beneficial for depression, and anxiety, whilst also relieving stress, improving memory and aiding sleep. Powerful stuff! Obviously the better your health, the more likely you are to be able to perform to the best of your ability. I’m thus very interested in the strategic reasons why people prioritise fitness.
Mindset is a bit of a buzzword in the business community. Exercise releases a whole host of lovey hormones including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which are phenomenal for training the brain. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood, and also are the “reward” feelings hence are good for self-esteem. Interestingly specifically aerobic exercises, like running and biking, are most effective, and it is interesting a lot of endurance athletes say they are “addicted” the highs they get from their sport. The stress-relief that this can offer cannot be underestimated. Personally, I have found that mindless cardio has given me a lot of headspace to consider problems large and small. I’m sure my fellow gym members think I’m rather odd for frantically making notes on my smartphone, but for me, it is rare to finish a work-out without having come up with a good idea!
There is some very interesting theory around exercise and cognitive function; all very helpful in functioning to the best of your ability, which is particularly relevant to team sports or in picking up a new fitness activity. The theory is that in combining learning and exercise, may increase blood supply and enhance brain connections. There’s also scientific evidence that people who exercise can sharpen their memory by improving the white and grey matter in the brain, which In turn leads to enhancement of cognitive processes like thinking and memory, attention span, and perception. Movement can also improve cognitive regulation, or the ability to ignore distractions and multi-task. Overall, it seems that resilience, much needed in these trying times, is improved with physical fitness.
I do wonder if this is somewhat a self-fulfilling prophecy: a high achiever probably maintains a culture of excellence across the various aspects of their life. Certainly, there is a skillset that permeates across fitness and career success, specifically breaking down a large goal into smaller steps, and sticking to a long and often uncomfortable plan. I have noticed a relatively recent trend for CVs (and dating profiles!) to include a sport, often an esoteric one.
Talking of which, I’m off for a run, as preventative to coronavirus itself, and a cure for the COVID era blues!