How to Be a Better Leader by Exercising More
Being the boss is awesome, right? But it’s also stressful. If you are a leader at work, home, volunteer groups, or other situations, you know that there’s plenty of stress involved. You have responsibility for more than just yourself. Your decisions affect other people. You are probably getting pulled in a million different places at once, which can lead you to look into how to be a better leader.
You need to de-stress
There are a ton of resources on how to be a better leader. There’s books, e-books, audiobooks, lectures, podcasts, and videos. Basically, there’s a lot of things that you can watch or read. Yet one of the biggest issues with being a leader is the stress.
Although many people, including powerful and busy people, put off taking care of their stress because they think it won’t affect them, this is a dangerous mindset. Our minds are tied to our bodies. When we are stressed, our body has a physical response. Cortisol and adrenaline flood our system, which can cause a variety of issues including increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, suppressed immune system, and altered moods.
The connection between mind and body suggests that exercise can have a dramatic, positive effect on helping leaders be more resilient in the face of stress. Regular exercise, such as yoga, can help leaders maintain their physical and mental health as well as prepare them to respond better in stressful situations.
Exercising can help you react mindfully
Mindfulness is so much more than a buzzword. It’s a powerful tool for leadership that can help you guide your team towards success. A stressed-out leader who can’t appreciate their team, focus on a task, or delegate responsibly because they are so frazzled is not an effective manager. It’s essential in your quest to learn how to be a better leader that you find coping mechanisms to react mindfully and calmly to every calamity.
Fortunately, studies have shown that people who exercise reduce their levels of tension, improve sleep, boost self-esteem, and elevate and stabilize moods. Exercise is a healthy, natural stress buster!
I’ve talked about how stress causes adrenaline to flood your system. It triggers the flight-of-fight response, increases our heart rate, and increases blood pressure. People who exercise regularly are better prepared for this overload to the nervous system because of the reactions that happen inside your body before, during, and after exercise. Their bodies can better handle the physical aspects of stress and more easily return to a pre-stress state than individuals who don’t exercise.
Think about it like this. When you run for a marathon, you train for weeks beforehand. The same goes for life’s challenges. By exercising regularly, you are training your body and preparing it to handle the stress of leadership, unexpected roadblocks, busy schedules, etc. A healthier body will allow you to focus on problem solving and dealing with a problem holistically, instead of getting caught up in the panic of flight-or-fight.
Don’t be a part of the crisis. Manage trials mindfully by exercising your body and preparing it for life’s inevitable challenges.
How to Start Exercising
So we know that exercising is an important step in how to be a better leader. But how do we start exercising?
For people out of shape or who don’t regularly make time for working out, it can seem like a daunting task. However, you can see a big difference with a small time commitment! The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, to improve cardiovascular health (as you remember, cardiovascular response is important to managing the physical effects of stress).
Where can you find 30 minutes in your packed schedule? If you don’t have a continuous half hour, try breaking it up into two 15-minute sections or three 10-minute sections. A morning yoga routine can be as little as five minutes and set you up for success throughout your day. The part of your brain that handles stress response has a strong connection to your core, so specifically working your core through exercises like yoga can help your body build stress resilience.
Also try sneaking in movement throughout your day, like walking on your lunch or running up and down the stairs on your break can make a big difference in overall health. If you take long phone calls, you can always walk or do a few squats. Although most of us sit at a desk during the day, there’s no need to be sedentary! There are a variety of exercises you can do that require little or no equipment at all.
Exercises you can do
If you know me, you probably knew I was going to recommend yoga! Yoga has so many mental and physical benefits. It’s a wonderful way to work your core, and is adaptable to every person. You don’t have to start with headstands; simply start with your level of comfort and work from there. The basic poses of yoga like Downward Dog, Warrior I, Cat, Cow, and Chair pose are all fantastic poses that most people can do.
Start with basic foundational poses and see what your body can do! The more you practice, the more comfortable your body will become with trying new poses.
Running is an incredible exercise that you can do anywhere! You don’t have to go to the gym for a treadmill. Just walk out your front door -- or find a scenic spot nearby. You’ll quickly get your heartrate up while running. It’s an excellent cardio activity that strengthens the heart, gets blood and oxygen flowing efficiently throughout your body, and reduces the risk of heart attack. It can also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
As a leader, staying healthy is an important part of the job. It can feel like you don’t have the time or energy to be sick. To stave off illness, it’s important to make time for exercise. Running doesn’t just help your heart, it strengthens your bones and fortifies your immune system.
I know when I say aerobics you imagine Jane Fonda in her leg warmers, but aerobic exercise, or cardio, is any activity that works your large muscle groups and gets your blood pumping. That includes running, swimming, bicycling, playing sports, and tons of other activities.
The best part about this is that exercise can be incorporated into your daily life. Do you love to play basketball? Make time for a game. Do you have a bicycle? Try cycling to work. Take a brisk walk around the block in between meetings or get out into your garden on the weekend. All of these activities will get your blood moving and prepare your body better for stress.
The founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, called his exercise program “the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.” If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for how to be a better leader, I don’t know what is! Pilates is not aerobic, but it does strengthen your muscles, particularly your core. It’s easy for anyone to start, and can be done in the comfort of your own home. By doing Pilates, you can use your mind and body to complete each movement with precision.
When you are looking into different ways on how to be a better leader, your stress level needs to be an important consideration. Stress can affect our decision making, our physical health, and how we treat our team. Taking the time several days a week to exercise can better prepare your body for stress, which will make you more capable of handling the pressures of leadership. Don’t believe me? President Obama worked out six days a week while in office, in arguably the most stressful job on the planet. You can do it, too!