Staying physically fit while excelling professionally: 5 key thoughts

It is common knowledge that maintaining a consistent fitness regimen has mental and spiritual benefits in addition to physical ones, but how much does exercise influence professional success?

While the relationship between fitness and productivity may not be causal, additional benefits of exercise — such as increased energy and reduced rates of depression, stress and anxiety — can only aid in improving work performance.

According to one study, employees that participate in a worksite fitness center reported higher levels of productivity at work, while nonparticipants were more likely to report health-related work productivity limitations. Another study found being part of a company's fitness program increased productivity levels, lowered monthly absenteeism and improved work performance.

Consider the following ways staying fit can positively influence work performance and tips for maintaining a regular fitness regimen.

1. Regular exercise creates a more energized appearance. According to Carmine Gallo, Forbes contributor and author of "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs," successful leaders make exercise a daily priority because they must prepare — physically and mentally — for the demands of working long hours and frequent travel.

One executive's personal trainer told Mr. Gallo, "A proper training program will help you have better posture, exude more energy, and prepare you to handle the demands of a busy professional life. Without energy you'll look and sound like a dud. The executive who exercises regularly looks and feels energized. They radiate passion, vitality and energy."

2. Exercise makes you feel better — inside and outside the office. Jessica Cole, president and CEO of Becker's Healthcare, said the benefits of physical fitness in both peoples' personal and professional lives are essential to success and happiness. 

Indeed, maintaining physical fitness yields numerous benefits. The release of endorphins that occurs during periods of exercise enhances mood and has also been shown to improve memory. Serotonin is also released during exercise, which alleviates symptoms of depression.

According to Forbes, John Ratey, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of "Spark — The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain," said exercise can help raise focus for up to three hours after a session through the process of neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to improve itself with blood flow.

The mood-related and focus-enhancing effects of physical activity may be initiated in the gym, but their benefits are realized in the office.

3. Many executives agree physical fitness is necessary for success. According to a survey conducted by online job resource TheLadders.com, 75 percent of executives said good physical fitness is "critical for success at the executive level," while just 4 percent said their physical condition was irrelevant to their careers. Similarly, 75 percent of executives said being overweight is a "serious career impediment."

Marc Cenedella, TheLadders.com president and CEO, said employees who exercise may lead to employers exercising their wallets less.

"Physical fitness is a critical issue for employers these days as rising healthcare costs and increased knowledge about the health risks associated with obesity-related conditions have companies thinking seriously about the long-term health of their employees," said Mr. Cenedella.

4. Laying the groundwork for both fitness and business success requires a similar approach. According to Ms. Cole, setting goals is an essential first step. Goals vary depending on someone's current fitness level, but they are important to work toward.

"It will get uncomfortable, but that's where change happens," she said. Using a wearable device or recording the number of repetitions in a workout are effective ways to set benchmarks and monitor fitness goals.

Executives, physically fit or not, already possess the self-discipline required to implement a regular fitness regimen. According to Ms. Cole, exercise is simply another priority to make and uphold, just like the innumerous other responsibilities executives have. The key is holding yourself as accountable, just as you would to make a conference call or meeting.

5. 'Not enough time' is never an excuse. Work schedules may not permit early morning or evening gym time, but if this is the case, there are still opportunities to log in regular exercise.

"Use any opportunity available to be active," Ms. Cole said. "For example, taking the stairs to the office instead of the escalator, and standing or walking while on conferences calls are both easy ways to incorporate physical activity throughout the workday."

A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that even for people who meet recommended levels of daily exercise, sitting for long periods of time increases the likelihood of cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and early death.

Despite these rather discouraging findings, the study did determine those who engage in regular physical activity but are sedentary for the majority of the day are 30 percent less likely to die of such causes than those who get little to no exercise.

Breaking up long periods of sitting during the day with short, suit-friendly exercises not only helps replenish energy and focus, but can help ward of serious health risks.

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