Note: This article also appeared in Entrepreneur Middle East, and can be viewed on the site here.
Despite the general acceptance in the modern age that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, there are still many entrepreneurs out there who fail to draw the link between physical and mental fitness and business success. If you ask me, keeping our health and wellbeing in check is just as important as balancing the books when it comes to making your business a successful one.
Unfortunately, many across the UAE do not share my viewpoint. Despite the incredible business success stories that occur on a daily basis in the Emirates, we are a society that, on the whole, drastically neglects its health. The numbers tell the story: over half the population is overweight, 20% are diabetic, and 40% have high blood pressure.
Today’s entrepreneur indeed does not have it easy when it comes to staying fit. Poor nutrition, our sedentary lifestyles, high stress, bad habits such as smoking – is this you? Well, it is many of us. But the smart entrepreneur knows that success comes in large part from being physically fit and mentally alert, and the two go hand-in-hand. The smart entrepreneur therefore has a plan or regimen for their health – just as they do for their business.
In the UAE, over half the population is overweight, 20% are diabetic, and 40% have high blood pressure.
Let’s now take a look at how you can keep fit in mind and body by looking at five essential health habits that many entrepreneurs the world over – including some famous names you will no doubt recognise – swear by.
1. They train in intervals
As any entrepreneur will testify, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. When you work outside the shackles of the 9 to 5, your own leisure time is much less clearly defined, making setting aside time for regular activities – like working out – particularly difficult. A two-hour trip to the gym? No chance. A short workout that actually has more benefit than those long gym visits? That works.
It’s called interval training, and it’s all about rotating between a short, high-intensity period of exercise followed by a short rest. And it can be virtually any type of activity, from running to weights to swimming to boxing – to a combination of different activities. And it can be over and done with in as little as 25 minutes. You push yourself very hard during that time, and yes, it is painful; but the effect is phenomenal, as the research shows.
Three 20-minute sessions of interval training a week provide the same benefits as 10 hours of steady exercise over a two-week period.
The American Journal of Cardiovascular Disease, for example, recently found that high intensity exercise intervals of one-to-four minutes – followed by short periods of recovery time – are more effective than continuous moderate-intensity exercise when it comes blood pressure, cardiorespiratory fitness and insulin sensitivity. And another study by researchers at McMaster University in Canada revealed that three 20-minute sessions of interval training a week provide the same benefits as 10 hours of steady exercise over a two-week period.
2. They eat right
Of course we’re all well aware that what we put in our bodies has a huge bearing on our performance levels, but how many of us really make what we eat a top priority? Very few, actually. Eating right is not about crash-dieting or calorie counting, but rather about avoiding the bad foods. It has to be said that this is particularly hard to do with a busy schedule, when most of the “quick and easy” foods we have access to are packed with all the things our bodies hate.
For many entrepreneurs – and rumour has it Mark Zuckerberg included – eating Paleo is the answer. Paleo essentially means eating as our ancestors did, getting a good mix of meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, natural fats and healthy oils – and avoiding pretty much everything else.
Has eating right helped make Zuckerberg a better entrepreneur?
Getting your diet right is without a doubt one of the most important things you can do for your overall health, and in turn, your business. As well as helping you look and feel great, Paleo eating – rich in Omega 3 and other vital nutrients – is proven to aid concentration, improve brain function, and help keep overall energy levels in balance. If Paleo is not an essential addition to the entrepreneur’s toolkit, I don’t know what is.
3. They meditate
I know many of you out there will see meditation solely as the pastime of new-age hippies and uber-cool hipsters, but I’m telling you, an increasing number of people throughout the business world are doing it and they are most certainly seeing results.
Aside from the fact that the rest the brain experiences during meditation is equivalent to that of the deepest sleep – meaning at the very least you’ll get an energy-boost from it – there are also many incredible changes occurring in the brain throughout the process.
For example, regular meditation has been shown to numb the link between the medial prefrontal cortex (which allows us to look at things from a rational or logical perspective and moderates our emotional responses) and the body’s reaction to outside stimuli. What this does is it actually leads to a more rational outlook and a decrease in stress levels – ideal when your days are spent making sink or swim business decisions.
But that’s not the only way meditation can give our brain a boost. It was also recently shown by the US National Library of Medicine to aid the areas of the brain which control learning, cognition, emotional regulation, empathy, and compassion – while shrinking the areas affecting anxiety, stress and fear. That sounds like the perfect recipe for successful entrepreneurial decision-making.
Meditation can aid the areas of the brain which control learning, cognition, emotional regulation, empathy, and compassion.
4. They avoid bad habits such as smoking and excess drinking
How easy it is to pick up a bad habit, and how hard it is to get rid of it. It’s as if humans need an addiction of sorts. But the fit entrepreneur is disciplined in this respect, and avoids anything that is likely to have a detrimental effect on their mind and body. We need full mental and physical capacity to achieve maximum success, and so avoidance – or extreme moderation – is the answer for today’s entrepreneur.
Obviously you don’t need me to tell you the amount of damage smoking can do to our bodies. The argument for avoiding tobacco pretty much writes itself. But what about alcohol? It’s important here to understand that both regular drinking – or simply one too many on a night out – can have a serious impact on the communication pathways of our brain, impairing both memory and clarity of thought – Public Enemy No. 1 for the entrepreneur.
Perhaps that is why so many entrepreneurs go teetotaler. Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, and the late Steve Jobs – to name just a few.
5. They get plenty of sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep affects our emotional state, how we think, and our likelihood of developing diseases. In fact, around 90% of people who suffer from chronic lack of sleep are also thought to have another health disorder – ranging from diabetes through to heart disease.
Now what about on the cognitive front in particular? This one is important. And this gets interesting. Our brain cells produce a waste by-product as we use them throughout the day, which is then flushed to the liver for elimination by cerebrospinal fluid. When we sleep, our brain’s neurons shrink by half, making the fluid channels wider and speeding up the whole process – which is exactly why we awake feeling refreshed and alert after a quality night’s kip.
Yes, you need sleep to make the right business decisions.
But don’t just take my word for it. One of today’s most prominent entrepreneurs, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, has plenty to say on the matter. Huffington cites quality sleep as a key factor in her success and urges others in the business world to take it more seriously, as creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership and decision-making can all be enhanced simply by sleeping more.
Without a doubt, the healthier we are, the more focused and productive we are, and therefore the more consistently we are able to perform at the highest possible level. So if we are talking about why an entrepreneur should stay fit, therein lies the case for it.
But of course I will also remind you that there is more to life than business success, and a routine that gives us the best chance of maintaining a healthy mind and body is something all of us of any age should have – entrepreneur or not.
In other words, you aren’t supposed to be healthy because you want to achieve a business goal or some other goal. You are simply supposed to be healthy. Full stop. And while it seems that this is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge in today’s world, small steps can add up to big gains very quickly. So get to it.