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  • Tamar Balkin

Why Should Leaders Exercise?

"Let's get physical, physical

I wanna get physical

Let's get into physical”

Let’s Get Physical by Olivia Newtown John (click here for the song)


“run #1 complete" “Run #2 complete on weekend”

SMSs from a Coaching client


Bill is responsible for the design and implementation of a multi-million-dollar technology solution, for his firm. The focus of his coaching is to lead his team in achieving the strategic objectives of his project, without burning out and to secure additional funding for the next stage in the change management process. Bill had been talking about exercise for 6 months he knew he needed it to manage his work stress. He told me that when he is exercising he eats better, sleeps better, his stress levels are more manageable, has more energy and concentration and sets better boundaries between work and life.

For those who are a bit sceptical, here are a few of the evidence-based benefits of exercise:

  • Pumps blood to the brain, which will make you think more clearly.

  • Increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.

  • Increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves your memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.

  • Releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood.

  • Helps to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation

  • Exercise of any intensity provides protection against future depression

  • Diminishes the symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • Improves sleep quality

  • Reduces stress

  • Improves learning

  • Aids recovery from stressful life events and environments.

  • Counteracts the mental decline that comes with age and facilitates functional recovery from brain injury

  • You will live longer

What are the factors that will enable you to remain committed to long-term exercise goals?

There is much research on the optimum amount and type of exercise one should undertake, in my opinion, the best form of exercise is one that your Doctor says is safe and that you will actually do.

To ensure a long-term commitment to positive exercise habits ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been to the Doctor and or specialist lately for a medical check-up?

  • What exercise do you actually enjoy doing? The odds are slim that you will stick to something if you hate it

  • Is this form of exercise practical in your current circumstances? e.g you like to swim but the nearest pool is an1 hour away.

  • What do you want to achieve by exercising?

  • What are your current fixed commitments? Challenge some assumptions you may have.

  • What will keep you accountable? eg being part of a team, meeting a friend, personal trainer etc.. remember financial membership may not be enough to motivate you.

  • What will you do when you travel?

  • If you need variety, how will you plan for it?

  • How do you want to feel, before, during and after exercise?

  • If your exercise is outdoors what is your wet weather alternative?

After you have been exercising for a while, reflect on your experience and change up your activity if it isn't enjoyable, practical or safe.


How does this relate to leadership?

“Time invested in regular exercise, even if it means spending less time at work, is correlated with higher ratings of leadership effectiveness”

CCL Leading Effectively Staff

Many executives don’t make time to exercise regularly, because of their job demands. Some fear that they aren’t pulling their weight if they prioritise exercise over work. However, researchers have found that regular exercise enables the executive to have the physical stamina for their roles, and improves their general health in the process. In addition, leaders who exercise regularly were rated significantly higher by their bosses, peers, and direct reports on their leadership effectiveness than those who don’t. Recent research has found that moderate exercise is a useful technique in reducing the likelihood that stressed leaders will behave in an abusive manner toward their subordinates. Whilst this finding is encouraging it is essential to remember that unfortunately, incivility is present in many workplaces, its causes are complex, as are the strategies to minimise its prevalence.

The following blogs address the complexity of workplace incivility:

Incivility in remote work:

Final thoughts

Regular readers would know that the well-being and emotional intelligence of a leader has a large impact on their effectiveness. Exercise is a way of increasing the resources of the leader so they can better meet the demands of their role. Exercise is also a great platform for role-modelling proactive well-being behaviour. By opening the conversation about the benefits of enjoyable exercise you can enable subtle changes to the attitudes and actions of your team, and your organisation.


A bit of a tangent.. For those who missed my, LinkedIn post.

While I can’t say it was my favourite birthday present, I am grateful to the Australian Government for caring about the health of my bowels and sending me a test kit in the mail. For those who are a bit squeamish, compared to taking out the smelly garbage or cleaning dog's poo off your shoe, it’s a breeze. In addition, it was excellent to receive my negative results within a very short amount of time. (Click this link to get your free bowel cancer kit and to find out more. )


References: De la Rosa, A; Solana, E. Corpas, Rubén; Bartrés-Faz, Pallàs, Mercè; et al. (Mar 2019) Long-term exercise training improves memory in middle-aged men and modulates peripheral levels of BDNF and Cathepsin B Scientific Reports 9,: 1-11. Harvey SB, Øverland S, Hatch SL, Wessely S, Mykletun A, & Hotopf M (2017) Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry 1;175(1):28-36. Kujala UM (2011). Born to be rich, physically active, fit and healthy? The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 20: 367. Myers J, Kaykha A, George S, Abella J, Zaheer N, Lear S et al. (2004). Fitness versus physical activity patterns in predicting mortality in men. American Journal Medicine 117: 912–918. Laurin D, Verreault R, Lindsay J, MacPherson K, Rockwood K (2001). Physical activity and risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in elderly persons. Archives of neurology. 58: 498–504. Schön, M; Kovaničová, Z; Košutzká, Z; Nemec, M; Tomková, M; et al.(2019) Effects of running on adiponectin, insulin and cytokines in cerebrospinal fluid in healthy young individuals Scientific Reports (Nature Publisher Group); Vol. 9, (Feb 2019): Witlox, Lenja; Schagen, Sanne B; de Ruiter, Michiel B; Geerlings, Mirjam I; Peeters, Petra H M; et al. (2019) Effect of physical exercise on cognitive function and brain measures after chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer (PAM study): protocol of a randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal Open; 9,. 6, Vina, J., Sanchis-Gomar, F., Martinez-Bello, and Gomez-Cabrera, MC (2012) Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. British Journal of Pharmacology 167 1–12 1 Barling, J. and Cloutier, A. (2017). Leaders’ mental health at work: Empirical, methodological, and policy directions. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), pp.394–406. doi:10.1037/ocp0000055. Burton, J.P., Hoobler, J.M. and Scheuer, M.L. (2012). Supervisor Workplace Stress and Abusive Supervision: The Buffering Effect of Exercise. Journal of Business and Psychology, [online] 27(3), pp.271–279. doi:10.1007/s10869-011-9255-0. McDowell‐Larsen, S.L., Kearney, L. and Campbell, D. (2002). Fitness and leadership: is there a relationship? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 17(4), pp.316–324. doi:10.1108/02683940210428119.


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