Fitness & Founder Whitepaper
Prioritizing Fitness When You’re A Founder
When we’re preparing to deliver our idea into the world, to take the leap and launch our new business, we’re often swimming in research.
We read, interview and comb through information on business entities, equity structuring, managing a team, marketing and financial projections. But what we often neglect is one of the core elements to our business’s success – ourselves.
Think about it. For a startup or early-stage company, we as founders hold the majority of the responsibility for whether or not our business will thrive. So why, when founders have often achieved a certain level of success up to this point, do they often neglect their bodies and mental health?
One of the great myths of founding a business is the idea that we have to deeply sacrifice our individual lives to get something off the ground. This is simply untrue, and as you’ll see, some of the most successful founders are those who prioritize their physical and mental health while launching and growing their businesses.
Can You Afford Not To?
“Being healthy, being fit, living this lifestyle is something that just makes sense,” says Micah Shoemaker, Co-Owner of Iron Tribe Fitness Raleigh and Cary. “It’s something you can’t afford not to do. If you look at your body as a vehicle of getting from A to B, and you believe that people are what build businesses, living a healthy life is something that just makes sense.”
In the American ecomony alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually, or $1,685 per employee.
“In this sense,” says Shoemaker, “entrepreneurs can’t afford not to be there. It’s a very practical thing. It makes sense that you take care of yourself. There are other benefits, yes – sleep, mental health, etc. – but let’s start with the main one…being healthy and able to work.”
Physical activity impacts you and your employees’ working time in both the short term and long term. Regular exercise boosts immunity, helping fight off colds and viruses in the short term while also preventing chronic, long term disease including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Time management and productivity is one of the hottest topics in business books and articles. While these resources focus on hacks for workflow and scheduling, they often leave out a crucial piece of the puzzle – the health of the person producing work.
A study published in the journal Population Health Management shows that eating unhealthily is linked with a 66 percent increased risk of loss of productivity, while rare exercise is linked with a 50 percent increased risk of low productivity.
Because exercise increases the flow of blood to our brains, even a small amount of physical activity can increase our awareness and help us stay more alert.
Fueling Your Mind
Our brains require fuel to run, and that fuel comes in the form of food. What we choose to put into our bodies (and leave out) has a significant impact on our clarity and focus, directly impacting the quality and quantity of our work.
Countless articles have been written on the benefits of certain super-foods for brain health. Let’s take one example here. According to one study, published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, blueberries boost concentration and memory for up to five hours because the antioxidants in blueberries stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to [your] brain – and keep the mind fresh.
Nutritional psychiatry is a growing field, and we can expect the correlations between our nutrition and our mental health to only grow and deepen over time.
Sluggish or Ready to Go?
“I’m in a coworking space and there’s often a line to heat up microwave dinners,” says Mike Doyle of Drive 80. “I’m at the stove reheating the food I prepared for the week. The food we use for fuel makes a huge difference in our energy levels and mental state, and routine is crucial. The discipline of being healthy advances the
discipline of running a business.”
Leslie’s best advice for entrepreneurs looking to add more exercise into their routines? Do it – especially on the days you don’t want to. In the culture and time we live in, starting a business is really stressful and it tends to tear a lot of people down. You don’t need to work out crazy hard. There’s a lot of talk about needing to go to the gym, but being too busy. That’s a total excuse. If you can get up 30 minutes earlier and just do some cardio in your house, it’ll absolutely change your day.” Earlier this year I hurt my hip and couldn’t go to the gym for 2 weeks. I was a totally different person. I was very stressed out and overwhelmed. It’s something I can now see from a different perspective…how absolutely crucial it is to mental balance and harmony. For me, having exercise as an option makes me feel more confident, releases endorphins that impact my mood ,and it makes me feel successful before I’ve even gotten into the office.
Reduce Sitting Time
With the nature of today’s business tools, sitting naturally becomes a big part of our day. Actually, studies show that the average American sits for 8 hours a day.
“The human being is designed to move,” says James Levine, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “You need to move your body. If you stop your body, idle it—which sitting is—it crumbles on every level.”
Start small when trying to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting. Schedule regular breaks to walk around the office, setting a timer to remind you. (These breaks help with mental clarity as well!) Walk across the room to ask someone a question rather than messaging them. Take the stairs and park further away from the door. To take it a step further, consider using a standing desk or a treadmill desk.
Schedule Walking Meetings
Both Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are famous for conducting “walking meetings.” Walking, of course, is not a new remedy for physical and mental issues. Over 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates said, “walking is man’s best medicine.”
Skip the conference room, grab a jacket and head outside. Order your coffee to go and take your coffee date to the streets. Have a phone meeting? Grab your earbuds and find a reasonably quiet trail or neighborhood street near your office.
Does it sometimes take more planning than a traditional meeting? It may, but it’s worth it.
Discover Something You Love
We’re all human, and we understand that it’s going to take more energy and discipline to consistently show up for an activity that we don’t enjoy.
If you’ve been stuck in a rut that you regularly dread, try something else. New to exercise and fitness? Expect that your first few months may be more exploration than routine. Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try (rock climbing, running, kayaking, a class at a local gym, recreational soccer, yoga, etc.) and choose to see it as an adventure. You’ll likely learn something new about yourself, walk away with some funny stories and – hopefully – land on a new interest you love.
Find a Partner
For many of us, especially the extroverts among us, exercising with a partner can provide a big motivational boost. Having a level of accountability outside of ourselves helps, as well as upping the fun factor. Consider choosing a partner a few steps beyond you in fitness for an extra push.
What if you just moved to a new town and don’t know many people? Or what about those of us who prefer the solitude of a solo workout? A University of Pennsylvania study published in the journal Preventive
Medicine shows that online peer networks can also be powerful motivators with the convenience of being online.
Whether you prefer to workout with someone else in-person or enjoy the benefits (without the face-to-face contact) of online accountability, take a few moments to brainstorm who may be a good fit and reach out to at least one possibility today.
Mike made the switch to a healthier lifestyle several years ago. His advice? Do something simple. Try everything until something jazzes you. Find something you like to do. Start very simple to build the habit and the discipline and make sure it’s working for you. Motivation doesn’t last. It’ll get you going for a week or two, but it’s the discipline that will keep you sustained after that. You make it into a habit. Think about anything in your life that you’re doing that’s consistent. That’s a habit you weren’t born with, but you developed because you started doing it over and over again. I find that when I sleep really well, exercise and then meditate, it gets me ready to go. I’m thinking the whole time I’m at the gym and getting rid of all the noise in my head. At the end of that time, one thought sticks out from all the others and that may become my goal for the day. And I have energy to get started.
In Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Four Tendencies, she identifies a framework that guides readers to understand how they respond to expectations.
Do you respond best to external or internal motivations? Are you more likely to stick to a routine because someone is helping hold you accountable, or because you made an internal commitment to yourself?
Out of all of the personality typing systems out there, consider choosing your favorite and explore your type through the lens of fitness and healthy habits.
These systems can help us identify and take advantage of our natural patterns and tendencies to create sustained change.
Create a Routine
Creatives of all types understand the power of routine. The benefit of setting aside regular times, with threads of consistency running through your work/creative set-up and tools, can’t be ignored.
As with any creative/professional routine, creating a fitness routine requires planning and intention. Begin by taking a realistic look at your current schedule. Is there really “no time,” or is that an excuse? If you literally cannot find time in your schedule, consider this a problem that needs to be solved. Something has to go. Whether you pay attention to your body now or later, in healthy habits or in sickness, it will demand your focus at some point.
Once you identify pockets of time, consider your first two weeks or month an experiment. Play around with time, activity and setting until you find something that clicks.
Make a Commitment
A key indicator of success for any goal is the drive behind the goal. We’ve looked at the practical benefits and ideas for implementation, but now it’s time to look within.
What are your key motivators? These will be different for everyone. Are you motivated to increase your energy for business purposes? Or manage your stress better to improve your effectiveness as a team leader? Want more energy to play with your kids when you get home in the evening? Or do you simply just want to feel better?
Identify your driving motivation(s) and then make a commitment. Start small, but don’t underestimate the snowball effect of growing momentum. Then share your new commitment with someone you trust and watch your personal and professional life improve.
Reid is committed to physical activity throughout her day and loves variety. She’s a bike commuter, runs, practices yoga and enjoys rock climbing. It would not be possible for me to have my business without fitness. Even though it’s very hard to find the time for it, it’s indispensable. I make the time no matter what. When I don’t, everything suffers for it. It’s a vital tool for managing stress for me. When you have things that are really stressing you out and you need to rebound from what is happening, getting out there for a run or practicing yoga is like a reset. Every moment you spend working is really valuable. If you’re stressed and worn out, then your work will suffer. Self care needs to be included in your day no matter what. Exercise is totally vital.