When was the last time you got up from your desk to move around a bit? And no, walking to the vending machine for a candy bar doesn’t count.
Salespeople looking for an edge in the work that they do are smart enough to realize that some solutions lie far beyond the box that contains effective pitches or advice on closing the deal. Sometimes it comes from movement itself, and the recognition that exercise plays in making the mind sharper.
“There are many very plausible and physiologically supported reasons why you would expect to see improvements in job performance because of exercise,” says Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “You are promoting better blood flow, which helps in terms of neurological function. Exercise has been consistently shown to enhance and elevate mood, so it will help you cope with the stressors of work.”
The ACE also cites evidence that:
- A daily supervised 10-minute stretching program among assembly-line workers showed significant improvement in joint flexibility, fatigue, anger, depression, and overall mood.
- A nine-month study of 80 executives showed that exercisers experienced a 22 percent increase in fitness and a 70 percent improvement in ability to make complex decisions compared to sedentary peers.
Here’s how it works: As you start exercising and your heart rate increases, your body interprets this sudden burst of activity as a ‘fight or flight’ moment of stress. To protect your brain from this stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which acts as a reparative element to your memory neurons. Exercise floods the brain with BDNF, providing the infrastructure it needs to absorb information, process, remember and use it.
While exercise can’t change your IQ, it can “change your cognitive performance,” says Dr. Steven Masley, a St. Petersburg, Fla. physician and nutritionist with a health practice geared towards executives. He’s also the author of “The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up.”
“If we’re talking about brain performance, the best predictor of brain speed is aerobic capacity—how well you can run up a hill is very strongly correlated with brain speed and cognitive shifting ability,” Masley says.
Masley has designed a corporate wellness program based on the work he’s done with more than 1,000 patients. “The average person going into these programs will increase brain speed by 25 to 30 percent. From the corporate perspective think about it; if you could take your top employees and improve brain speed by 25 percent, that would be huge.”
When diet & exercise made an 81% difference in sales performance
Drew Stevens Ph.D., a business development consultant to the medical industry and the author of “Split Second Selling,” worked with a team of more than 300 workers to see if exercise would make a difference.
“Our professionals were mostly selling professionals and marketing managers that travel frequently, eat deplorably and work out when possible,” Stevens says. “We reviewed diet, nutrition and exercise programs. After six weeks on the program of proper nutrition and exercise, there was a 81 percent difference in performance.” He adds: “There was less dozing at meetings, better closing rates on sales calls and less customer service issues.”
How to start seeing the positive effects of exercise (hint: no guilt trips)
Not only can exercise help you improve your mental performance, research shows us that physical activity and happiness are also inextricably linked. Of course, while that may sound well and good, it’s no secret that integrating exercise into our daily routines is often easier said than done. Here’s some tips from the experts to help you get into the habit of exercising daily:
- Don’t do it out of guilt. Karol DeWulf Nickell, Editor in Chief of Live Happy Magazine, argues that any exercise goals will fail if they come out of an overwhelming sense of obligation or guilt. “Exercise has been a part of my lifestyle for some time,” says Nickell. “I’ve biked across Iowa, climbed a ‘fourteener’ [14,000 ft. mountain] and done Zumba. I walk my neighborhood, garden with zeal and love tennis and golf. Our story, however, changed by outlook on fitness. Now I understand that if I’m happier, chances are I’ll also keep on exercising. The emphasis changes from the stressful need to be fit to a simple idea of being happy.”
- Start low and go slow. Like any muscle, the growth of willpower happens slowly. Bryant’s advice for starting out is to “start low and go slow. Start with 10 minutes and maybe take a walk around a block at the office, rather than going to the break room. See what a difference it makes. A lot of people don’t realize how much more energetic they’re going to feel. And look for opportunities to move during the work day, to get away from your work station and move; even if it’s to go over and talk to another colleague.”
- Know your ROI. Try using the same psychology on yourself that Masley uses on his corporate clients. “I talk to a lot of investors and I like to phrase it in terms of ROI: How do you get the best out of the time in your workout? How much return on investment are you getting? It’s essential.” To do that, Masley says that eventually you should exercise at your target heart rate, though he calculates that differently than others. Using a heart rate monitor, push yourself on a treadmill until you can’t talk in two complete sentences. “That’s your maximum heart rate, and most people should be working out at 70 to 80 percent of that,” he says. “You can hire almost any trainer at any gym, or you can do it at home with your own equipment. It doesn’t require anything fancy, but please talk to your doctor before you do a fitness test.”