Regular exercise is the best way to staying healthy during times of stress. Plus, executives who exercise are considered to be more effective leaders than those who don’t.
“We’ve known for years that people gain huge health benefits when they exercise. What is even more interesting from a leadership perspective is that organizations stand to gain when their leaders are physically fit,” says the Center for Creative Leadership’s Sharon McDowell-Larsen. Recent research from CCL shows that regular exercise and effective leadership go hand-in-hand. Leaders who exercise regularly were rated significantly higher by their bosses, peers and direct reports on their leadership effectiveness than the non-exercisers. Time invested in regular exercise, even if it means spending less time at work, is correlated with higher – not lower – ratings of leadership effectiveness. It seems that a healthy lifestyle can help executives to better cope with the stresses and demands of their positions, thus ultimately increasing their leadership effectiveness.
Staying healthy during times of stress requires either reducing the strain or boosting one’s ability to weather its effects. If you can find ways to reduce the external pressures that cause stress and overload, that’s ideal. Meanwhile, improve your mental and physical ability to process stress by establishing a regular exercise program and other healthy habits. The University of Iowa reports that regular exercise not only reduces stress but also can help leaders reduce anxiety, improve sleep and boost immunity from colds and flu. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
“The key message here is that leaders should not give up exercise time in favor of work time,” says McDowell-Larsen. “At the end of the day, you and your organization will be better off if you commit to your good health.”
Counteract Stress with Exercise
The best way to counter many of the negative health outcomes associated with the demands of the job is to maintain a regular exercise program.
Here are her tips for making exercise a way of life:
• Do less, more often. Short bouts of moderate exercise performed daily are better for maintaining energy and boosting performance than an hour performed only on the weekends.
• Break up the day. Find little ways to increase your activity throughout the day: walk while talking on the mobile phone, take frequent stretch breaks, park at the far end of the lot, and take the stairs.
• Keep track. Log your workouts: what you did and for how long. You’ll be able to track progress, set goals and stay motivated.
• Take it on the road. Book hotels with fitness facilities or health club access. Pack a set of stretch cords for resistance training, a pair of running shoes and a swimsuit.
• Be flexible. Take advantage of an open slot in your calendar whenever it appears. If someone else keeps your calendar, have him or her schedule workouts for you.
• Mix it up. While your stationary bike or treadmill may be convenient, you’re likely to get bored eventually. When the weather is nice, go outdoors. Play a sport or a game of tag. Try a new exercise class. Go dancing.