The Overlooked Key to Success: Embracing Exercise

As we learn new and exciting ways to make our businesses better, increase profit, and maximize impact, how often do we examine the health of our own bodies? Believe it or not, the health of a CEO can affect the health of a business. One of the ways CEOs can increase their health, improve their mental wellbeing, and in turn make better business decisions, is by developing an exercise routine.



“Exercise should be regarded as a tribute to the heart.” - Gene Tunney

Benefits of exercise

Support for the body

Exercise has many health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health.” Anyone who is not already exercising regularly can experience the benefits of an active lifestyle regardless of age, abilities, weight, gender, or ethnicity.


Exercise can help CEOs manage weight gain and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers such as bladder, kidney, and lung cancer (CDC, n.d.). Being active also helps protect bones, joints, and muscles. According to the CDC, “doing aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening physical activity at a moderately-intense level can slow the loss of bone density that comes with age.” It also can help people manage arthritis and other rheumatic conditions.


New research has even pointed out that exercise can improve your immune system (CDC, n.d.) Exercise has also been shown to increase lifespan and reduce health risks later on in life. The CDC states that “If you’re a physically active middle-aged or older adult, you have a lower risk of functional limitations than people who are inactive.” Older adults can also benefit from “multicomponent” exercise as it prevents falls and the likelihood of injury from falls. “People who are physically active for about 150 minutes a week have a 33% lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who are physically inactive.”


“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” - Jim Rohn

Fuel of a lifelong learner

Exercise has many benefits for brain function and mental health. CDC guidelines share that exercise has “immediate” benefits for brain health such as improved sleep quality and reduced feelings of anxiety. Having physical activity incorporated into your day-to-day interactions also helps reduce the risk of developing “dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)” and “depression.” Regular exercise has also been shown to “help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age.” Exercise is the fuel of a lifelong learner, helping them stay ready and receptive to new information (CDC, n.d).



The connection between physical and organizational health

Organizations are directly affected by the choices of their executives and CEOs. The decisions of executives and CEOs are vital for an organization’s health and wellbeing. Consequently, investing in the decision-making abilities and health of business leaders can have drastically positive impacts on a business.


“To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.” - Gene Tunney

Profit protection

Clearly, exercise offers several benefits to the body and mind. The reduced risk of disease that exercise affords business leaders benefits not only their health but their business as well. For CEOs specifically, research shows that a 5-to-7 day period of hospitalization resulted in a 7% decrease in profit for that organization’s year (Gaskell, 2020 & Bennedsen et a., 2020). To put this in perspective, a business that normally would expect a 1 million dollar profit margin would lose 70 thousand dollars due to CEO hospitalization. The effect of the extended absence of other executive leaders (not including the CEO) is approximately half of the 7% loss caused by CEO absence (Gaskell, 2020 & Bennedsen et al., 2020). By developing an exercise routine, executives and CEOs can reduce their risk of some cancers and several other illnesses, ultimately decreasing their chances of being hospitalized for some illnesses (Alcaraz-Serrano, 2020). This reduces the chances that their businesses will experience an unexpected drop in profits due to leadership absence.


“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.” - John Adams

Better decisions

In today’s increasingly technological society, more and more work is done by sitting at a desk with a laptop rather than walking an office. In a study by the Mayo Clinic, 73% of CEOs were said to have a sedentary lifestyle (Sparks, 2018). Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle “is associated with impaired cognition” which can affect a business leader’s decision-making (Wheeler et al., 2020). However, when adults participated in a moderate exercise in the morning and took short walking breaks throughout their workday, their cognitive abilities improved (Wheeler et al., 2020).


Business leaders and executives make important and high-impact decisions for their companies on a daily basis. Because decision making is a “high-level cognitive process based on cognitive processes,” exercise should be considered a valuable asset to the executive decision-making success (Prezenski et al., 2017). Increasing the physical activity and exercise that is done by executives and CEOs, increases their cognitive processing skills, helping them make better decisions and have greater positive impacts on their businesses.

Leader longevity

When executives and CEOs establish exercise routines, they are increasing the potential longevity of their careers. Studies have shown that up to 60% of executives “feel drained and exhausted at the end of the workday,” which is a “strong indicator of burnout” (Schallenberg-Kappius, 2021). One way that executives can help manage this stress and exhaustion is by developing exercise routines.


Research indicates that “exercise may be an effective treatment for burnout” (Bretland & Thorsteinsson, 2015). Furthermore, other research has also found that healthcare workers who engage in “leisure-time physical activity” had reduced “feelings of exhaustion.”


Not only does exercise help curb the effects of stress and potential burnout, but it can also increase the lifespan of executives as well. Dr. Pallavi Bains states that “50 minutes of exercise or more each week” can increase an individual’s “life expectancy by about 7 years” (2020). While some CEOs and executives don’t retire until their 70s or later, having a regular exercise routine can prevent premature burnout and retirement due to stress or health conditions.


“Fitness, in my opinion, is a mental exercise more than just physical.” - Anushka Shetty

Encouraging exercise

The benefits of exercise far outweigh the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. Because of the benefits that exercise has not only for the executive but also for the business they run, executive coaches can confidently encourage their clients to participate in physical activity and educate them on its effects on their leadership and business. When working with clients who want to establish a more active lifestyle, consider the following tips for incorporating exercise into busy schedules.


A culture of wellness

Because of the amount of time that executives spend in their place of work, with their coworkers, or performing work-related activities, it is important for executives to establish a corporate culture of wellness. This can be done by incorporating “mental health days” into the vacation policies, having healthy options available in vending machines, and establishing wellness programs. Ultimately, this can encourage not only the executives and CEOs to embrace physical activity but also employees (Jafrey, 2018).


“Health is the vital principle of bliss, and exercise, of health.” - James Thomson

Discuss the bigger picture

While executive coaches do not take on the roles of physical trainers, they can help their clients understand the importance and big-picture benefits of daily exercise (Jafrey, 2018). Discussing how previously established fitness goals are going, the importance of healing, and the genuine goals behind increasing physical activity can help CEOs and executives stay focused and encouraged on their health goals.


Know your resources

Sometimes executives will have fitness needs and goals that extend beyond the reach of an executive coach. In these instances, it is important to know what resources are available for your client. If you are coaching business leaders in a specific area, it can be helpful to know the names of popular gyms and physical trainers in your area. If you are coaching business leaders all over the world, consider helping them find resources that are close to them or available virtually via apps and online fitness groups.


The main takeaway

Exercise benefits business leaders’ physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. These benefits ultimately lead to healthier businesses with greater profit protection, better business decisions, and increased leader longevity. Amidst the challenges faced by executives and CEOs worldwide, investing in time exercise can curb the effects of stress, increase physical and mental wellness and support the leaders that run and manage businesses.


“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” - Plato

References

Bains, P. (2020). Exercise is key to living longer. Retrieved from https://www.allinahealth.org/healthysetgo/move/exercise-is-key-to-living-longer#:~:text=Regular, moderate activities, such as,t do regular moderate exercise.

Bennedsen, M., Pérez‐González, F., & Wolfenzon, D. (2020). Do CEOs Matter? Evidence from Hospitalization Events. The Journal of Finance, 75(4), 1877-1911. doi:10.1111/jofi.12897


Bretland, R. J., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2015). Reducing workplace burnout: The relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise. PeerJ, 3. doi:10.7717/peerj.891


CDC. (n.d.). Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Adults. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/health-benefits-of-physical-activity-for-adults.html


CDC. (n.d.). Benefits of Physical Activity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm


Gaskell, A. (2020, April 07). What Impact Does It Have When Leaders Become Sick? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2020/04/07/what-impact-does-it-have-when-leaders-become-sick/?sh=253a8b9f1bc6


Gold, H. (2021, October 09). Exercise Is the Wonder Drug for Healthy Aging. Retrieved from https://www.barrons.com/articles/exercise-benefits-aging-51633789971


Jafrey, I. (2018, January 09). Council Post: A Healthy CEO Is A Good CEO: Why Wellness Matters. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/01/09/a-healthy-ceo-is-a-good-ceo-why-wellness-matters/?sh=7fe8d53a3739


JAMA. (2016). Physical Activity Associated with Lower Risk for Many Cancers - For The Media - JAMA Network. Retrieved from https://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/physical-activity-associated-with-lower-risk-for-many-cancers/


Kruger, J., Carlson, S., & Buchner, D. (2007). How Active Are Older Americans? Preventing Chronic Disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1955422/.


Prezenski, S., Brechmann, A., Wolff, S., & Russwinkel, N. (2017). A Cognitive Modeling Approach to Strategy Formation in Dynamic Decision Making. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01335


Schallenberg-Kappius, J. (2021, February 25). Burnout: "Apparently, the future of leadership as a whole is at stake right now". Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/burnout-risk-leadership-study-young-leaders-reliable-executives-employees-2021-2


Serrano, V. A., Gimeno-Santos, E., Scioscia, G., Gabarrús, A., Navarro, A., Herrero-Cortina, B., . . . Torres, A. (2020). Association between physical activity and risk of hospitalisation in bronchiectasis. Physiotherapists. doi:10.1183/13993003.congress-2020.259


Sparks, D. (2018). Infographic: Health risks of executive lifestyle. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/infographic-health-risks-of-executive-lifestyle/


Wheeler MJ, Green DJ, Ellis KA, et al Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: a three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognitionBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:776-781.


Wolff, M. B., O’Connor, P. J., Wilson, M. G., & Gay, J. L. (2021). Associations Between Occupational and Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Employee Stress, Burnout and Well-Being Among Healthcare Industry Workers. American Journal of Health Promotion, 35(7), 957-965. doi:10.1177/08901171211011372





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