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Exercising your way to better (business) health

By Doug Hall

The smart way to increase your creativity is (A) rest and relax, or (B) exercise vigorously. The answer is (B). Aerobic exercise is good for your heart, your muscles, and, it turns out, your brain. Get your blood flowing, and your ideas will flow as well. There's even evidence that aerobic exercise will help your business flow better.

Broad-based findings on the beneficial effects of exercise on the ability to think creatively comes from a group of Rhode Island College researchers, led by David Blanchette, chair of the department of marketing and management. His team published its work in the Creativity Research Journal in 2005. They asked 60 adults, aged 18 to 27, to take the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking three times. The Torrance Tests ask participants to look at abstract images and descriptions of situations and then to create alternative explanations, descriptions, and ideas. The test takers did this once after being sedentary, once after 30 minutes of exercise, and once more after 30 minutes of exercise followed by two hours of rest. The subjects chose whatever exercise they preferred and maintained a heart rate of 140 beats per minute.

The upshot: Exercise resulted in significantly higher Torrance scores on the sheer number of ideas the test takers came up with, the ideas' originality, how well the test takers could elaborate on the ideas, and how easily the test takers got stuck in a rut. Interestingly, the positive effect of exercise on creativity was just as high two hours after exercising as it was right after exercise. The bottom line: Your body may become fatigued when you work up a sweat, but your mind is reinvigorated, and the positive effects last at least two hours.

Blanchette's findings were taken a step further by Michael Goldsby, a professor at Ball State University in Indiana who studied 366 small business owners. In research published in the Journal of Small Business Management in January, 2005, Goldsby looked at the amount of time business owners spent exercising as well as their company's sales and their satisfaction with being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs who participated in aerobic exercise--specifically, running--felt better about their business lives. They also had significantly higher sales. Those who pursued anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting, shared the runners' enthusiasm for their business lives but didn't see stronger sales.

We can't say for sure why business owners who work out on a regular basis have better sales. But it's believed that aerobic exercise involving a rhythmic effort, such as swimming, running, or cycling, appears to quiet the conscious mind, allowing you access to your subconscious. The insights and ideas that then surface enable you to look at things from a fresh perspective, make connections, and become more effective in your business. So while you should exercise and encourage your staff to exercise to stay fit and to reduce your health-care costs, you should also encourage exercise for the sake of your business.

In my own life, I've found that when I want to transform my business, it helps if I'm also transforming my health. By working out, I reduce stress and think more clearly and more creatively. The challenge is to find the energy to get started. When you're overwhelmed with work, you may think you are too tired to exercise. But that is exactly the right time to do so. Exercise will rejuvenate both your body and mind. So don't put it off. Get up, get out, and get going to improve your heart, your health, your creativity, and your sales!

Doug Hall is the author of the Jump Start Your Business Brain book series. He's also founder and CEO of the Eureka! Ranch and a Judge on ABC's American Inventor

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