Leading a company means being at the pique of your performance—and that includes fitness, too. Many successful leaders have vigorous workout routines, including Richard Branson and Barack Obama—and for good reason.
In his book Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, author Tom Corley studied successful people, including business leaders and self-made millionaires. He found that 76 percent of his subjects spent time exercising every day.
It makes sense, given that being a CEO requires mental focus and the ability to effectively lead others—all skills that are benefited by exercise. Research shows that exercise improves memory and cognitive function, promotes better sleep, and reduces stress hormones.
But, how do CEOs maintain fitness goals while running their businesses? Aaptiv asked several CEOs how they prioritize exercise and why working out is important to them. Here’s what they had to say.
Schedule workouts like any other appointment
It may sound simple, but making time for fitness is the first step.
Mabel Lee, the Founder and CEO of Velour Lashes, an ethically-sourced false eyelash brand, uses Sunday to book all her workout classes for the coming week. Lee, who launched Velour in 2011, says she works out five to six days a week, and loves classes that combine cardio and weight training, like the ones at F45 Training.
“Once it’s locked in, it’s in my calendar, and I try my best not to cancel and I just commit to it,” she said. “F45 also works for me because it’s a quick 45-minute class and our offices are located right above [a studio], so I literally have zero commute time.”
Even if your schedule gets hectic, Lee says if you value physical activity, you’ll always find time for it. “If it’s not a priority, you will find an excuse to get out of the class,” she said. “For me, I am the opposite. I get so stressed out if I can’t get five to six [workouts] in.”
For Justin Thouin, the Co-Founder and CEO of LowestRates.ca, a rate comparison website for financial products, scheduling time with his trainer helps keep him accountable. The business leader does a form of physical activity every day and says that exercise improves his quality of life.
“I treat exercise like any other important meeting: I schedule it daily in my calendar and protect the time fiercely,” he said. “Unless I do this, it inevitably gets pushed aside for other work or family commitments. This is the main reason I work out with a trainer so frequently. It forces me to go to the gym.”
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Find your best time to sweat
While there’s a common belief that morning workouts are best (and the time of choice for leaders like Apple’s Tim Cook), every person is different and needs to find what works for them. Different times of the day can have pros and cons, depending on your lifestyle. The important thing is you’re exercising.
Erin Bury, the CEO of Willful, an online estate planning and will writing service, swears by morning workouts. Bury says she works out four to five times a week, and starts many of her days off with a group fitness class or run.
“There are a million reasons to cancel your post-work workout—especially when you’re an entrepreneur,” she explained. “I work out every Sunday, and I prioritize morning workouts since I know there’s a 90 percent chance something will come up by 6 p.m. Or, frankly, I’ll talk myself out of working out because my couch and wine sound better. I know myself, and I need to get working out in first or it doesn’t happen.”
For Thouin, a pre-work workout is not ideal. He says he is not a morning person, and his body isn’t ready for intense activity until after noon. When he meets his trainer three times a week, it’s “generally in the middle of the day.”
Lee sweats whenever she can, whether it be before work, during lunch, or after work. Instead of using her busy schedule as a reason to skip workouts, she finds time that works for her within each day.
Find something you love, and stick to it
Working out is so much more enjoyable when you actually like the activity you’re doing. If you dread indoor cycling, chances are you won’t be motivated to get out of bed at 6 a.m. to make a class.
While Thouin spends his time with his trainer doing free weights and compound exercises, like deadlifts, squats, and lunges, he loves playing tennis on his cardio days. “I play tennis at a competitive level, and it is by far my favorite form of exercise,” he said.
For Lee, daily exercise is a form of therapy—and she’s not alone. Experts say that exercise helps combat work stress since it releases endorphins, which boosts mood and reduces your perception of pain.
“I’ve tried meditation and yoga just to slow my brain down sometimes as I work so much, but nothing comes close to a good sweat after a really long day of work,” Lee said. “There’s a reason they say you never regret a workout.”
Even if you’re traveling, sticking to your routine is important. When away from home, Bury says she’s relies on local cycling studios and running outdoors. “I even made my husband go to the gym at our resort in Fiji on our honeymoon (although admittedly I stopped caring about exercise about two days into the trip),” she added.
How exercise affects leadership
Starting a company from the ground up takes a lot out of you, which is something Thouin learned firsthand. “Three years into launching LowestRates.ca, I had gained 30 pounds, my stress level was off the charts, and I found myself in the emergency room suffering from severe chest pain on almost a daily basis,” he said.
“That was my wake-up call to dedicate myself once again to fitness. Embracing exercise and nutrition as staples in my daily life has been an essential part in growing the company to one of the ten fastest in Canada.”
Bury says she “absolutely” thinks exercise helps make her a strong leader. She believes it’s “the best antidote” for the stress that can come with running a business. “First, it helps with mental clarity, sleep, and focus,” she said. “Second, it shows that you can commit to habits and be consistent. And, of course, if you make working out a priority, usually you also prioritize things like sleep instead of subscribing to the ‘hustle 24/7’ mentality that a lot of founders have that can be really unhealthy.”
For Lee, living a healthy lifestyle is key to being a successful entrepreneur, and it is a huge factor in how she runs her business. “Being healthy builds confidence,” she explained. “It affects everything you do from the way you walk, the way you present in a meeting, to the way you address problems in the workplace.”
Maintaining well-being through exercise is also a way to ensure that all the hard work Lee puts into her company pays off. If she doesn’t take care of herself today, she won’t be able to celebrate her success long-term.
“I’m very passionate about creating a life that you truly can enjoy, and I think that first comes with being healthy and mobile even as you age,” she says. “I would hate to be working this hard to build an amazing life for myself and not be able to enjoy it as I get older.”
Let exercise be your antidote for stress with Aaptiv. We have workouts for every fitness level from strength training, to cardio, and yoga to meditation. Download the app today!