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Let’s Dance: Exercise for entrepreneurs

10 min read
Nellie Akalp

As far back as I can remember, I’ve danced. As a child, I danced for fun and to relieve stress. And today, as an adult, I dance for fun and to relieve stress. But also as exercise for entrepreneurs, to blow off steam — and to help me be a better human, leader, business partner, wife, and mother.

I’m not exaggerating. I danced in celebratory joy when I started my first business in 1997 and when I sold it to Intuit in 2005.

I was still dancing when I started CorpNet in 2009. And I danced my way through the pandemic to keep my sanity and stay optimistic about my business continuing to thrive. Dancing helps me clear my mind and be present. For me, it also serves as a mood-altering tool.

Dancing makes me happy, gives me energy, and keeps me healthy and young. Running a business is an incredibly stressful and, at times, overwhelming adventure.

Although I have a passion for running my business, I’ve also learned over the years that entrepreneurship can take over your life, leaving you little time for self-care, which leads to burnout.

And then what? Lacking motivation and missing deadlines can wreck your business and personal life.

Are you feeling down or unmotivated? Before you throw in the towel (literally), I want to give you a pep talk on putting exercise for entrepreneurs on the agenda to help you tackle the daily challenges of running a business.

Chemical reaction

I know how regular exercise (and dancing) makes me feel, but here’s some science to back up my beliefs.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise increases overall health and has stress-busting benefits. In addition, physical activity increases endorphin production. Endorphins are proteins that act as inhibitory neurotransmitters in your brain, blocking pain signals.

Although the pain-relieving effects don’t last very long, endorphins also trigger the release of other “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine.

Dopamine, also a neurotransmitter, contributes to our abilities to think and plan, helping us persevere, focus, and be mentally stimulated. I always feel lighter and more optimistic after exercising.

I dance four to five times per week with my teacher/choreographer daily on my own. I also participate in hot yoga and dance fusion yoga two to three times a week, in addition to strength and resistance training.

So, how much physical activity do we need?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days a week of muscle-strengthening training.

Experts suggest spreading those minutes out over the week and switching up your workouts so exercising doesn’t become monotonous. Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activities (such as walking fast and riding a bike) raise your heart rate and cause you to break a sweat.

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities (such as running and swimming laps) significantly increase your hate rate and breathing (it should be hard and fast).

Muscle-strengthening activities work all your major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms. The key to strength training is to push yourself until you can’t do another repetition without help.

The goal is eight to 12 repetitions per activity, which counts as one set. So, for example, you can lift weights, work with resistance bands, or do yoga.

Before starting any new activity, check with a healthcare professional so you don’t end up hurting yourself.

Stress is unavoidable for entrepreneurs

When you own a business, stress is unavoidable. The key is not to let it affect your physical health. Ignoring stress can lead to breathing problems, panic attacks, sleeping issues, stomach ailments, and chest pains.

It can get tricky because exercise can imitate stress symptoms. But that helps your body work through them to learn a stress-relieving response. Simultaneously, exercise leads to better immunity and cardiovascular and digestive health, which helps ward off the effects of stress on your body.

Exercise for entrepreneurs is all-encompassing — wiping away all other thoughts and problems of the day while you focus on your body’s movements.

There’s nothing better than losing yourself while practicing a dance routine or perfecting the stretch of a yoga pose. And while you’re exercising your body, you are also exercising your mind, increasing your ability to concentrate and focus.

Mental health awareness

Living through the COVID-19 pandemic led to greater awareness of and willingness to Talk about how stress affects our mental health. About 40% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression by early 2021. And according to a recent Kaiser Foundation/CNN survey, concerns about mental health remain elevated, with 90% of U.S. adults believing the country is facing a mental health crisis.

Among the entrepreneurs surveyed, many reported feeling symptoms of poor mental health. Survey results revealed that for the first time:

  • 25% of entrepreneurs experienced depression
  • 20% experienced anxiety
  • 18% experienced chronic stress

In addition:

  • 49% said their condition made it difficult to concentrate on their businesses
  • 36% postponed challenging work
  • 30% became less responsive to emails and other communications

Nothing about poor mental health is conducive to growing a successful business, which is why exercise for entrepreneurs is so beneficial. If you ever feel like your mental health is suffering, I hope you take immediate action by talking to a professional and participating in some physical activity. Mind.org says physical activity benefits mental health in six ways, including bolstering your mood and reducing stress and anxiety. 

It also:

  • Improves sleep by relieving tension
  • Lowers depression risk by up to 30%
  • Increases self-esteem: The sense of achievement people get from exercising or learning another skill can help them feel better about themselves
  • Improves social connections: Physical activity can help you connect with more people and make new friends

Joining a gym, attending classes, playing team sports, or participating in a bowling league can help make exercise for entrepreneurs an enriching experience. It can allow you to make social connections and alert you to opportunities and solutions you may not know about.

Find your “thing”

My thing is dance, but obviously that is not for everyone. My best advice — never engage in an activity you dread, or you’ll find yourself making every excuse not to do it. Instead, participate in activities and movements you enjoy, look forward to, and are passionate about. Having fun while exercising is critical to sticking to it. 

If you need some ideas, here are some ways to get physical activity into your life:

Find the best time of day for you

Are you an early riser with a lot of energy in the morning? Do you need to decompress at the end of your workday? I know people who are most creative in the middle of the night, so they might sleep in a little each morning and exercise at midday.

Other people I know can only exercise at the crack of dawn before the rest of the work world starts functioning. The key is finding a time of day that suits your schedule and internal time clock.

Of course, the best time to exercise may not be up to you.

If your favorite activity is a class, a team sport, or depends on sunlight, the timing is out of your hands. According to experts, it’s essential to exercise at the same time each day. Exercising consistently regulates circadian rhythms, and it doesn’t matter when that is — morning, evening, or in between. Outdoor exercise is optimal because the sun regulates the circadian clock (our bodies’ natural internal clock).

Find the right place for you

During the pandemic, many entrepreneurs (and millions of others) set up home workout rooms to replace going to the gym. If you run a virtual or hybrid business, working out at home may be the most convenient place to exercise.

On the other hand, getting away from the office may be the best place for an “attitude adjustment” workout. So whether you go for a walk around the block, attend a strength-training class at a gym, or meet up with a friend for a tennis match after work, make sure the place is convenient, with easy-to-find parking, so you aren’t tempted to blow it off.

Find a friend

Exercise for entrepreneurs is a very personal experience — especially for someone like me. If I need to vent, I’ll call a friend to join me for a walk or strength training. If my friend needs to vent, I’ll listen, which can be an exercise in problem-solving and empathy.

Empathy is a skill that you call on throughout your personal and professional life. Plus, if I make a date to meet a friend, I’m more likely not to let the person down by being a no-show. And meeting up to exercise instead of going to happy hour is a healthier choice.

…Or not

Other times, I need some alone time, and exercise is an excellent way for me to get away from outside problems and focus on my internal space. I know many people who listen to books on tape or podcasts while they exercise, which are effective ways to stay current, learn an essential skill, or “read” the latest bestseller.

For me, as I’ve said, it’s dancing. It centers me, calms me, and is my favorite meditation.

Don’t skip exercise for entrepreneurs

Here’s the part where I tell you there is no excuse for not including physical activity in your routine. The key is to make exercise a priority, not something you do if you have time in your day.

Once you prioritize exercising, it becomes something you can’t live without. I’ll admit, there are days when I can’t carve out 10 minutes to lift weights or take a walk. However, I always feel sluggish and sad if I skip working out.

Here are my top tips to help make exercise for entrepreneurs a priority:

Make a declaration.

When I tell someone, “This is what I’m doing,” I have difficulty not fulfilling that statement. I don’t know if it’s self-guilt or not wanting to be someone who just talks about doing something, but once I tell my team that I need to come in late or leave early for exercise, I do it so they know I’m the kind of person who keeps a commitment.

Make a routine.

Entrepreneurship is chaotic, but smart leaders know that setting up a routine or schedule can help them accomplish things more efficiently. Just as you schedule weekly meetings, calendarize your exercise routine. Don’t worry if the routine changes every week. Look at your calendar and put your favorite physical activities on the schedule.

Set goals.

Losing weight and getting healthy are worthwhile long-term goals, but I find that when I establish short-term specific goals, I am more motivated. For example, you could find a local 5K race or a pretty hike to participate in. I prefer learning new dances, but I also hear about gyms setting up competitions for their members. Whatever your goals, celebrate your wins with friends and family.

While surfing the internet for motivation, I was reminded that we need to practice gratitude. I already have gratitude for my family, friends, and business success, but I forget to practice gratitude for myself and my body.

Closing thoughts on exercise for entrepreneurs

Moving and challenging my body is not something to take for granted. I know there will come a day when moving will be more challenging to accomplish, when my body won’t respond how I want it to.

So, for the moment, I cherish every class, every new routine I learn, and every sore muscle I earn. Practicing gratitude helps me feel positive after exercising, and I can’t wait to work out again. See you on the dance floor!