How Working Out Makes Us Better Entrepreneurs

I co-wrote a post with the awesome Derek Flanzraich which first appeared here: Protip: How Working Out Makes Us Better Entrepreneurs – got a fair amount of attention on Hacker News too. Hope you enjoy it! We’ve got another related post coming up so make sure to keep checking Derek’s site as it’ll post there first. (photo credit “Pumping Iron” by Midiman on Flickr)

We’re entrepreneurs. We pour unbelievable amounts of time, hustle, and blood into our companies, making sure the product is amazing, the users are delighted, the team is inspired, and the investors are excited about the future.

There’s a lot to do and we’ve got to have the energy and the stamina to last through some very full days. It’s not easy, but we’ve been pulling it off. What’s our secret weapon in this battle against crushing work loads? It’s not an app. It’s not a pill. It’s not a version of GTD. It’s just a simple thing we call working out.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Working out isn’t just about looking sexier, but about getting more out of your mind and body. Most entrepreneurs who get regular physical activity find that there are many other (more practical) reasons for heading to the gym/bike trail/yoga mat. Here’s why we do it:

ENERGY.

Perhaps it’s strange to think that expending energy provides more of it, but a 2008 study found that regular low-intensity exercise increased energy by 20% and reduced fatigue by 65% for sedentary people. Work days are tough, big deadlines are stressful, and there are always so many things to do– but we’ve found just an hour in the gym can give us the extra juice we need to power through the day. And on the really busy days when we don’t have an hour to spare, we’ll usually still end up taking 20-25 minutes for a short run, brisk walk, or a set of pushups & situps. We blow off steam and then return happier and more energized.

FOCUS & DECISION-MAKING.

Working out also helps us get mentally sharper. When you’re constantly juggling different tasks and keeping a variety of perspectives in mind, you’ve got to find ways to bring it in. Sometimes that means clearing your mind completely. Trust us- when doing that third set of squats or pushing for the final mile on that run, you aren’t going to be worried about your user growth or the bazillion things you want to change about your website. Clearing your head can help you be more productive when you dive back into the issues.

Additionally, physical activity directly improves your ability to think and make the right calls. By improving your circulation, your body can pump blood and deliver nutients and oxygen to your key organ (like your brain) more effectively. Physical activity does a killer job of delivering nutrients and oxygen to your tissues. One study, for example, used neuroimaging to demonstrate that older adults saw measurable increases in focus and decision making after engaging in a 6 month fitness regimen. Another study in 2010 found moderate exercise resulted in a short-term 5-10% improvement in executive function. So working out can help you be sharper and avoid making blunders that you’ll regret after.

BETTER IDEAS.

What does Brad Feld, founder of Tech Stars do when he wants to think about an idea? Hegoes for a run. Bob Iger, President & CEO of The Walt Disney Company, works out at 4:30am every morning with a personal trainer. OnSwipe’s CEO, Jason Baptiste, just raised a $5M Series Awesome– but he’s been working out for more than 10 years and constantly tweets about being at Crunch late into the night. We’re constantly surprised by how many important insights come from things that are totally unrelated to work. One of us, for example, swears by taking long showers. Another on taking long car rides without any set destination. It makes sense right? How many breakthroughs happen while staring for hours into a computer screen?

Again, the evidence isn’t just anecdotal: one study showed that participants that engaged in moderate cardio exercise showed more creativity immediately following the exercise, with the boost continuing at least 2 hours later. In the longer term, another study found the brains of people who exercise regularly have higher levels of brain derived neurotropic factor, a “factor” that ultimately increases capacity for knowledge. Working out just gives you better ideas.

REST.

Sleep? What’s sleep? Unfortunately, there’s pretty definitive proof a good night’s sleep can improve your concentration, productivity and mood. And, worse, lack of sleep isstrongly correlated to weight gain. But the good news is regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep, too- as long as you don’t work out to close to bedtime. And by the way, the good night’s sleep is pretty non-negotiable. A recent New York Times article reported a study that showed people who slept 6 hours a night for two weeks had the cognitive equivalent of being drunk. You don’t drink (a lot) on the job do you? Then get more rest.

Long story short, not only will working out make you healthier and look better (with other unintended, but awesome side effects like, say, improved confidence), but also it will improve your energy, focus, efficiency, inspiration, and rest. At least that’s what we’ve found.

Give it a shot – we promise you won’t regret it. And if you need help making it work, stay tuned. The next part of this series will give some practical pointers on how to get more exercise into your schedule.

How does working out make you a better entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments!


Jason Shen is the cofounder of an early stage tech startup in San Francisco. He’s a former NCAA gymnastics national champion, can do 100 consecutive pushups and helps people make things happen at his blog: The Art of Ass-Kicking. You can reach him at jasonyshen [at] gmail [dot] com or @jasonshen.

Derek Flanzraich is ceo & founder of Greatist, a high-quality health & fitness media startup working to inform and inspire people to make one healthier choice per week. He loves any exercise that’s named after superheroes. You can reach him at derek [dot] flanzraich [at] gmail.com or @thederek.

Want to read other stuff by us? Check out Winning Isn’t Normal by Jason and Build Empires, Not Businesses by Derek.

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1 comments
brandontan
brandontan

I've always thought that going to the gym took time away from me studying. I thought going to the gym on weekdays was a bad decision, because that was when I was most busy.

I was horribly wrong. I realized I had more energy when I made the effort to go to the gym at least twice on the weekdays. Be it playing ball or hitting the weights, I realized that I felt better when I included the gym on my agenda. I was more efficient in class, and at home when I had work to do.

Working out or even just playing some ball definitely provided the same results (more energy, focus, efficiency)

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