How Exercising Maximizes Your Positive Impact on the World

How Exercising Maximizes Your Positive Impact on the World

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According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, less than 5 percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only one in three receive the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

As a good friend pointed out to me the other day—you’d think that these statistics would improve when you look at high performing people in roles that positively impact others (I mean—don’t we all just imagine that those people are perfect in every way??), but the reality is that high-achieving world changers are often so busy devoting themselves to their cause or mission, that they put their own health and wellness last; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

However, this kind of thinking is actually woefully misguided—and not just for the obvious self-serving reasons like the fact that getting regular exercise helps protect you from heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancers, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Research shows that getting regular exercise can help to maximize your long-term impact on the world in several key ways:

By protecting your long-term health, exercising increases the amount of time that you have to impact the issues that you care most about.

Sacrificing your health by not exercising may create short terms benefits as you devote this time to other selfless activities, but doing so also increases the likelihood that you’ll have to give up this work much sooner because of health issues.

Depending on your age or current health status, this may seem pretty far out or unlikely, but I bet that we can all think of at least one of our overachiever friends or colleagues who falls into this category, so this really isn’t an exaggeration.

If you truly care about your work, then take care of yourself by exercising regularly so that you’ll be around for the long haul.

Exercisers have increased cognitive functioning later in life.

Ergo: exercise regularly so that you can continue to be your essential creative, inspiring, impactful self well into your golden years.

Exercising improves your sleep.

According to my psychotherapist friend, Margot Brown, one of the most common issues that she sees in high performing people is insomnia. We can’t turn off our incessant thinking even for the sake of sleep!

Luckily, exercise helps improve your ability fall asleep and stay asleep, and we all know that getting enough sleep is highly correlated with better immunity, improved cognitive functioning, and increased health—all things that support a long and productive life with maximum impact.

Exercise improves your mood.

Exercise has been shown to make people feel happier and more relaxed. Increased happiness leads to increased mental and emotional stamina—both of which are critical to persisting through difficult challenges.

So now that we’re all agreed that taking time out of your busy day to exercise is actually an important and selfless activity—how do you make it happen?

Here are some quick tips that will increase your ability to successfully incorporate exercise into your daily routine:

1. Pick a regularly scheduled time of the day to exercise.

Being a strong believer in the research showing that willpower is a limited resource that decreases throughout the day, I exercise early in the morning before work. I have a 90-minute morning routine and 30 minutes of this is exercise—totally doable if you can discipline yourself to stay on schedule and don’t mind being a little groggy…

I have friends, however, who prefer to exercise during their lunch hour at work. (Yes—they force themselves to take a lunch break to exercise because they know that it’s for the long-term greater good!)

My (super fit!) mom, on the other hand, swears by her nighttime (sometimes 10pm…) exercise routine and regularly rewards herself with a glass of wine at the end…

So the moral here is: don’t pay too much attention to what the “experts” say about when to work out—just pick a time that best meets your needs, preferences, and energy levels and commit to it.

If it doesn’t work, don’t stop exercising—just experiment with a different, but still regularly scheduled, time.

As you develop the habit, you’ll notice that, over time, it will become easier and easier to do. In fact, you may eventually find yourself missing it if you’re forced to skip a day.

2. Don’t exercise for more than 30 minutes!

Seriously, I’m convinced that you don’t need more than 30 minutes a day for exercise as long as you’re getting your heart/respiration rates up and breaking a sweat.

In fact, I’ve found that when I increase the amount of time that I exercise, I end up gaining weight that, sadly, ain’t muscle weight, according to my body fat scale (and my jeans…).

Feel free to build up over time, and if you find that more than 30 minutes works best for you, then by all means do it, but I swear that you can be in good physical shape with 30 minutes or less a day—especially if you gradually increase the intensity (but not duration).

Plus, 30 minutes or less is totally doable if you are disciplined about committing to a regularly scheduled time (see Tip #1).

3. Include your kids or your partner.

Even when I was really young, my mom would let me sit and watch while she did exercise videos in our living room. (I grew up in a rural area, so relative to my other entertainment options, watching her was actually pretty fun…)

Eventually, I started mimicking her and doing the exercises right along with her—until 30 years later, I regularly find myself alone in my living room doing kicks and lunges in front of a TV or computer screen…good habits start young!

Alpha Tip: never pressure your kids to exercise with you—not only is that creepy and weird, but who knows what it could do to their self-esteem in the long run. If they don’t join you, just be satisfied that you’re setting such a great example for them.

For the kidless of us, if your partner (or roommate or whomever…) is into exercising, invite them for a run, hike, or Aerobie date in the park—a great way to strengthen your relationships while maintaining your health (and we busy Alphas are all about efficiency!).

4. Try one of these 30 minutes or less workouts:

Marta Montenegro Endurance Workout video: no equipment required, 3 workouts that are each about 25 minutes long, no fancy choreography and very effective exercises.

This is one of my all-time favorites—it’s a quick workout and I saw results within 2 weeks. When you start, don’t feel feel pressured to be able to do all of the exercises without having to take a break—just keep at it and you’ll get there!

Mark Lauren Bodyweight App: no equipment required, fully customizable to your level, over 200 exercises to choose from, workouts from 2-40 minutes.

A friend told me about this one and I’m obsessed—I usually choose 10-12 rounds of tabatas and vary the level depending on my mood/energy. It takes a few days of exploring to figure out all of the custom workout options, but I love that I can choose what I do each day—and at $2.99, you can’t beat the price!

The (New York Times approved…) 7 Minute Workout: can be done in as little at 7 minutes, minimal equipment (a chair and a wall), based on extensive research by the American College of Sports Medicine.

This one is a favorite for busy professionals of all ages—plus, it’s great because the timing is flexible—if you’re super short on time, do a 7-minute circuit to get your metabolism going for the day; if you have a little more time, try a 14 or 21-minute workout. Bonus points if you organize a group of colleagues to do this several times a week during your lunch break…

To sum up: selfless people—improve your health and ensure your long-term positive impact on the world by making exercise a part of your daily routine (even for just 7 minutes!). START NOW WITH THE 7 MINUTE WORKOUT. Seriously…just do it!

Fellow world changers—questions, feedback, and creative ideas are always welcome in the comments section below.

The author of this article would like to let you know that she consumed a brownie sundae while writing this and she feels pretty great about that since she’s already done her 25 minute workout for the day…

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Danielle Harlan is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential ( and author of the leadership book, The New Alpha ( She earned her doctorate in political science and M.A. in education from Stanford University, where she was a Jacob K. Javits National Fellow and received a Centennial Teaching Award for excellence in instruction. Prior to launching the Center, she was the Chief of Operations for the Carnegie Foundation, where she worked to harness the power of networks and quality improvement strategies in order to solve important educational problems. Named one of Silicon Valley's "40 Under 40," Danielle has also been a speaker for TEDx and worked as an instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension's Corporate and Professional Development Program. In addition, she has given guest lectures at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “”) and the Career Development Center at Stanford, and has been featured in leading publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and Women's Health. Danielle started her career as a Teach For America corps member and later served as a mentor and advisor for Global Leadership Adventures, an international leadership development and service program. In addition to teaching in the U.S., she has taught in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. She is a member of the International Leadership Association, the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, and the National Association for Female Executives.