Exercise has been a part of my life, pretty much consistently, since my mid-teens. I’m lucky, because that habit has provided me with emotional and physical health benefits that are truly precious. But what if you’ve never been into exercise, or only intermittently or halfheartedly? I notice how often I recommend exercise in the context of career counseling and life coaching. Exactly how can physical exercise help you on the career front?
Exercise is beneficial in 5 principal ways:
1) Exercise reduces fatigue and increases energy
Although on one level this is counterintuitive (exercise requires the expenditure of a lot of energy, so how can it increase your energy?), the Psychological Bulletin recently reported on the results of an analysis of 70 studies on exercise and fatigue involving more than 6,800 people. More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing: sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported a reduction in fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise, And the effect was greater than that achieved by stimulants, including caffeine. Furthermore, nearly every group studied — from healthy adults to cancer patients, and those with chronic conditions including diabetes and heart disease — benefited from exercise. Why? As your heartbeat increases more blood surges through the brain, increasing the oxygen supply to the brain cells. This makes you feel more energetic and alert. Also, over the longer term, exercise strengthens your muscles so you are able to perform physical tasks more easily. All of this contributes to an ability to accomplish more, whether that be applied to working more productively (focusing on the task at hand rather than how exhausted you’re feeling), working longer hours, searching for more jobs, or making more networking connections.
2) Exercise improves your mood
Studies show that for people with mild or moderate depression, 30 minutes of intense exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication. And a Special Health Report from the Harvard Medical School had an even more startling conclusion: in a 1999 study, 16 weeks of aerobic exercise resulted in 2/3 of people with major depression no longer being classified as falling into that category. Why are these effects observed? Exercise facilitates the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters (e.g. endorphins) and enhances their action. The Mayo Clinic also reports the theory that the increase in body temperature that results from exercise may improve mood. While some of the effects of exercise, particularly this last one, may be temporary, the cumulative impact of a regular exercise routine is significantly positive. A better mood translates into career benefits in a large number of ways, from being better liked at your current place of employment to performing better in interviews.
3) Exercise improves your attractiveness
The weight loss factor is the most obvious: the more calories expended, the more weight lost. In our society, slenderness is considered to be an indicator of, among other things, good health, and self-discipline, both qualities valued by employers. A relatively slim, firm, and muscular body symbolizes self-control and will power, while an overweight body is considered indicative of sloppiness and perhaps even a lack of intelligence, given the prominence of all of the scientific evidence pointing to the benefits of being fit. Furthermore, the benefits of fitness are seen by employers to extend to both getting hired and advancing in one’s career: a Newsweek poll, conducted by telephone among 202 corporate hiring managers, revealed that 57% of managers believe an unattractive candidate will have a harder time getting hired, about 2/3 felt that attractiveness is beneficial for candidates looking for work, and an equal proportion felt that, once hired, looks would continue to impact an employee’s performance rating.
4) Exercise enhances your self esteem
When you feel you look good, and when you’re feeling good, you’re more confident and outgoing, desirable traits for anyone seeking employment. Enhanced self esteem has also been shown to improve on-the-job performance.
5) Exercise increases your creativity
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that exercise enhanced creativity separate from its impact on mood. Another study, published in the Creativity Research Journal reported that creativity was enhanced not only immediately following exercise, but even a full two hours later. The effect seems to be related to exercise’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety; it is much more difficult to be fully creative when you feel that you’re under the gun, as opposed to when you allow yourself the mental space to daydream or enjoy the reduction in pressure that facilitates making connections between seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas. Creativity is a vitally important facility to utilize when contemplating job or career change, and anything you can do to enhance that quality will be beneficial.