As we get older our lives seem to just get busier and busier. Between work, family obligations, and social events the first thing that always gets tossed by the wayside is exercise.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s in times like these when busy high achievers must take a step back and review the oxygen mask analogy.

Put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others, or in other words, take care of yourself first before going out there and trying to change the world.

The first step to taking care of yourself begins with your health. It’s no secret that science has clearly proven the health benefits of exercise but it wasn’t until I met Dr. John Ratey, a world-renowned psychiatrist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, that I fully understood just how powerful the mind body connection actually is and how exercise can literally make you better at your job.

Most high achievers have some degree of ADHD

Ratey’s early work centered around Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) where he discovered that exercise was a way to balance out patients who had difficulty maintaining focus for extended periods of time.

By definition, ADHD describes an individual whose brain activity is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that interferes with daily function or development.

As it turns out, most high achievers are in fact slightly ADHD in the way that their brains are hyper-focused when coming up with brilliant ideas, exploring uncharted territories or solving difficult problems.

After discovering the power of exercise in his ADHD patients, Ratey continued researching and unpacking all the benefits that exercise has on the brain.

Even when factoring out the obvious positive effects of lowering blood pressure, stroke risk and improving blood flow to the brain, there seemed to be an extra magical property of exercise above and beyond that.

Exercise is great for the brain

Ratey’s continued studying exercise and the brain and noticed a number of other benefits to exercise including helping with moods, stress, anxiety, attention and aging.

His next book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain continues this study and in this book he distinctly draws a connection between a person’s physicality and their cognitive function.

Ratey scientifically proves in the book that when you exercise, you work more nerve cells in your brain than any other human activity. Basically his point is that exercise is great for the brain.

That’s not all, exercise slows cognitive decline too

If all of the above isn’t enough to convince entrepreneurs to start exercising right away, then maybe this will.

Ratey’s final conclusion is that exercise is essentially a prevention to cognitive decline and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease. As he kept learning about the brain as a muscle, he realized that the more we exercise the smarter we become.

Exercise makes your brain tougher just like a muscle and when we fire nerve cells in the brain our brain cells stay young and grow.

The only way we learn is when our brain cells grow and the most effective way to make them grow is through exercise.

So before you think about doubling down on your evening espresso to pull yet another all nighter, try getting under the bar for some heavy squats instead.

You’ll be surprised at how much just a little bit of exercise can improve your productivity.

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  • Jay Kim

    Host of The Jay Kim Show

    Jay Kim is a full-time investor at host of the popular podcast The Jay Kim Show, Hong Kong’s first dedicated podcast on entrepreneurship and investing in Asia. Inc. Magazine has named The Jay Kim Show one of the top three podcasts from Asia which are inspirational and useful to entrepreneurs. Jay is an avid supporter of the start-up ecosystem in Asia and frequently consults with leaders in local government on topics related to technology, entrepreneurship, early-stage investing and startups.  Jay is also the founder of Hack Your Fitness the complete fitness & lifestyle solution for busy professionals and entrepreneurs. He works with world-class athletes and other high performers to help them achieve fitness results that are sustainable for life. Jay currently resides in Hong Kong with his wife Evelyn and three children Elena, Jaime and Julian.