How running can help you go that extra mile in your career
Good things, they say, come to those who sweat. Repeated research has shown that regular exercise —about 150 minutes per week — has health benefits that stay with you longer than any miracle pill or potion.
Running is especially beneficial. Studies have shown that regular running can help prevent obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions. But running does more than just improving your physical health; over time, it can greatly improve the quality of your emotional and mental health. However, one facet of running that still remains a secret is the fact that putting on those running shoes day after day can take you – and your career - places.
Corporate stalwarts like Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra Group; Deepak Parekh, chairman of HDFC; DV Subbarao, the RBI governor; Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Steel; and many others regularly run and participate in marathons. Does this help their work performance?
A 2015 paper, Does CEO Fitness Matter?, concludes that companies with CEOs who wore out a few pairs of running shoes in their spare time were “actually 5% more valuable than companies with less fit leaders”.
Clearly, there’s a lot running can do for you. We list down the specific ways in which being a runner can help you go that extra mile in your career:
It makes you happier and more energetic
There’s a reason runners wake up day after day to pound the pavement – it’s getting that runner’s high. Dr Jesse Pittsley, president of the American Society for Exercise Physiologists, believes that “psychologically, runners may experience euphoria, a feeling of being invincible, a reduced state of discomfort or pain, and even a loss in sense of time while running”. Long-duration exercise leads to the release of endorphins, which have a morphine-like effect on the body and are responsible for the “happy” feeling. Perfect way to start a working day?
It helps develop the self-discipline habit
American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens famously said: “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” Running is considered intrinsic motivation and needs a lot of self-discipline. Getting up day after day – even when you don’t want to - can train you to set goals, focus your mental and emotional energies, work hard and strive to do your best in every domain of your life. A runner’s dedication towards reaching the end goal is a great habit to have in the workplace. Be it completing a project or reaching a certain sales target, running enhances the self-discipline habit.
It helps you focus and work towards your goals
All runners – especially those who aim to run marathons - need to prep and train themselves. Be it short-term planning or long-term goals, it’s essential to hash out details so that you remain on the right track. Kelvyn Steggles, a leadership development consultant and facilitator and 14-time marathoner, believes all runners have the “stretch factor”. “In running we push ourselves pretty much every race to do a PB [personal best]. In the workplace there are parallels: do you push for coming in under budget or to deliver early, or can you do a bit more in some way? That's a mindset; it's about having a bit of self-competitiveness and self-efficacy,” he says. The rhythm of running also facilitates clearer decision-making.
It helps you reflect and think creatively
In his 2008 book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami writes: “But to hold to [such] repetition for so long–six months to a year–requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” Dr John Ratey, in his seminal work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008), writes that exercise isn’t just about physical health and appearance. “It has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, physiology, and neuroplasticity. It affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety in a substantial, measurable way.”
It makes you more resilient, physically and mentally
The first run is often rough. The next few runs can be brutal. But there’s no better achievement than persevering when the going gets tough – when you have your running shoes on or when you’re working on a particularly tough project. Running helps you build the mental toughness you need to deal with problems, mistakes, failures, difficult situations/people and general career vexations. After all, if you can run when your legs didn’t want to, why can’t you work through a vexing workplace issue? Running helps acquire resilience, as runners tend to check in regularly on how well they are doing physically, mentally and emotionally. They learn to reflect, re-plan and reset constantly, according to the circumstances around them.
It helps you network effortlessly
Running is a great leveler. Out there, pounding the pavement, CEO and junior employee are doing the same thing and it’s easy to slip into “runversations” that can lead to long-lasting relationships. Navneet Kapoor, president and MD of American discount retailer Target’s 2,600-people India operations, believes that running makes it easier to “build relationships that will help your career progression”. Pankaj Rai, director of analytics at Dell India, feels that “apart from marquee running events, even casual weekend runs lend themselves to networking”. Meeting people without their suits on can change the image of networking as we know it.
It keeps you mentally agile, even as you age
Age leads to changes in the brain’s makeup, but research reveals that regular exercise can help combat the effects of ageing. An active body is the foundation of an active mind. A December 2012 study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review revealed that evidence shows that regular exercise such as running helps “defeat age-related mental decline, particularly functions like task switching, selective attention, and working memory”.
Over time, regular running can help eliminate fatigue, reduce stress, boost self-confidence, control work absences and help improve job performance and productivity. Isn’t it time you slipped on those shoes and set out for a rewarding run? After all, either you run the day, or the day runs you!