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Feeling stressed or anxious is the absolute worst. And it’s not uncommon. Most people suffer from chronically-elevated stress levels for a large part of their lives, and 29% of Americans will suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder in their lives. But with the right tools you can learn how to overcome stress.
We all know there are benefits to being fit—better health, more energy, and greater feelings of well-being thanks to the supercharge of serotonin to your brain during exercise. But here’s another reason you might want to reconsider that banana muffin and go for a run instead: exercise improves success in life, too.
While research has proven that people who regularly exercise tend to be happier, it also turns out that the most successful among us equate their achievements with working out. According to Tom Corley, financial planner and best-selling author of Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, 76 percent of the successful business leaders he interviewed for his book said exercise was a priority for them.
So, what gives? How exactly can exercise turn you into a success-go-getter?
How Exercise Improves Success
1. You Become More Confident
Well, for starters, a study in Health Psychology claims that maintaining a regular workout is an effective way to build self-esteem and well-being. But it’s not just about physical results—it’s also about changing your perceptions around what you can physically achieve. This in turn enhances your well-being and your confidence, and encourages you to continue exercising.
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“The emotional, or “affective,” benefits you get from physical activity are dependent, in part, on what you believe you’re capable of, what researchers call your exercise self-efficacy,” says Edward McAuley, professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois, and the study’s lead author.
McAuley says that people who continue to push themselves in exercising, even when their body is telling them they’re tired, end up increasing their well-being, their sense of control and by extension their self-confidence.
And the more confident a person is, the more likely they are to try new things, stretch their limits, and, importantly, believe in their abilities. “You start to think: ‘I can go further, I can work harder, this is a good feeling,” says McAuley.
2. You Become More Goal-Oriented
Working out can also make working hard a little easier. That’s because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, prompting the release of an endorphin called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is critical in sharpening executive functioning, the mental processes that help us monitor and select behaviour aligned with the attainment of chosen goals.
According to Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, even a brisk walk around the block is beneficial as it can boost our focus by two to three hours. “And when we’re focused it’s easier to block out distractions and keep on track with our goals,” Dr. Ratey says.
3. You Learn How to Manage Time
When you’re snowed under with tasks it may seem counterintuitive to add a three-mile run into the equation (particularly as most people cite “lack of time” as their number one excuse for not exercising.) But it seems that packing in a workout is just what’s needed to help you manage your time and be more productive in the process.
A study from Leeds Metropolitan University in Britain, measured the productivity levels of officer workers during days when they used the company gym against days that they didn’t. What they found was that on the days they got their sweat on the workers reported more effective time management, greater productivity and finishing the day feeling satisfied with their day’s accomplishments.
4. You Learn How to Balance Your Life
Genuinely enjoying your job and your personal life is probably the best predicator for success—but it’s not always easy to manage both. However, Russell Clayton, faculty member at the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida, and the author of In Search of Work-Life Balance writes that exercise can be the salve to modern stress.
It’s not just that that frequent workouts release the happy hormones that effectively unfurl our brain from the foetal position stress bullies it into. As Clayton sees it, it’s also the fact that taking a little time away from whatever’s bothering you can help you gain perspective on your problem. “Exercise is a way to psychologically detach from work—you’re not there physically and you’re not thinking about it either—and, furthermore, it can help you feel good about yourself.”
And, he adds, “Individuals who exercised regularly were more confident they could handle the interaction of their work and home life and were less likely to be stressed at work.”