September 25, 2012

“A strong body makes the mind strong.” - Is there a link between exercise and success?

Although Thomas Jefferson – to whom the quotation in my title is attributed – touted shooting as the most effective sport to develop both mind and body, I will also quote another famous American politician who said “If you make a commitment to better your physical health, you’ll find the same self-discipline, focus, and drive for success carries through into the rest of your life’s activities” (Schwarzenegger, 1998). You can’t argue with Arnie, at least not to his face. Both men can certainly be regarded as “successful”, and both seem to agree on a link between being physically active and improved performance in other areas of life.

To contemporise things a little, Coulson et al. (2008) investigated the effects of exercise on self-reported work performance. The type of exercise undertaken was monitored but regardless of type, duration, or intensity the study showed significant improvements in mood and self-reported performance on days that the participants exercised compared with days that they didn’t. The participants had been selected from largely sedentary jobs, but importantly their employers provided facilities for exercise in the workplace. So how is this relevant? A happier, more motivated workforce is undeniably a more productive and successful one.

To digress into the field of exercise/health psychology, there is a clear link between exercise and wellbeing. Ogden (2007) discusses the positive effects of exercise on longevity, and how important physical activity is in relation to heart disease amongst other potentially fatal conditions (it’s hard to be successful when you’re dead...). She also delves into the many psychological effects of regular exercise, including improved responses to workplace stress, and improved self-confidence (a reoccurring theme).  Can exercise improve intelligence too? Renowned child psychologist Jean Piaget (1936) stated that physical activity and motor development was a key part of a child’s cognitive development, and believed this link may continue in adulthood. Whilst there has been no solid evidence in applying this to adult populations, a running theme across research has found improved cognitive function tends to be linked to regular, structured exercise programs (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).

Back to the real world, and one important question; how can the improvements in mood, perceived performance at work, self-confidence, motivation, physical and mental health, and cognitive ability gained through regular exercise contribute to success? I don’t need to spell it out.

Coulson, J.C., McKenna, J., & Field, M. (2008). Exercising at work and self-reported work performance. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 1: 176-197.
Ogden, J. (2007). Health Psychology: A Textbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Piaget, J. (1936). The moral judgment of the child. New York: Harcourt & Brace.
Schwarzenegger, A. (1998) The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D. (2003). Foundations of Sport & Exercise Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Will Brooks

Chartwell Magazine is delighted to welcome Will as one of our regular sports, health and wellbeing writers. Will is degree educated in Sports Psychology, and aspiring to gain a Masters in Strength and Conditioning next year. Will has several years experience in the fitness industry and is a strong advocate of physical activity for all.