In a recent article, Steve Mariotti outlines 24 business concepts with which college grads should be familiar. (I'm sure I'll reference this piece again in the near future!) What I find interesting is that the first item on his list has nothing to do with office best practices or effective communication with others - his first item is "The Importance of Mental and Physical Health."
When you think about factors that impact your career, I somehow doubt that your eating habits and after-hours sweat seshes at the gym make the top 10. But even in the relatively short time that I've been in the workforce, I've found that my performance at work is often significantly enhanced when I treat myself right.
I'll admit that I tend to be a rather high-strung person, and working in a position that often includes endless hours of boredom punctuated by moments of client-induced near-panic often doesn't help that. If I sit still too long, I get antsy and grumpy; if I have TOO much going on, I get overwrought and feel like I'm vibrating from the inside out. Both are miserable feelings, but I've found both can also be dispelled by taking a trip to my friendly neighborhood gym, post-haste.
It sounds like an exaggeration, but fitness has saved my psyche many times. Through intense workouts, I've curbed panic attacks, obsessive worrying, mental fatigue, and strong negative emotions. High-intensity exercise for an hour or two, followed by a good dinner and a shower, leaves me feeling simultaneously exhausted and refreshed: I've burned off the tension accumulated over the course of the day, had positive interaction with other people in whatever fitness class I've taken, refueled, and relaxed. All these factors set me up for a good night's sleep so I can wake up the next day ready to attack my job with renewed vigor.
And while proof for mood improvement through exercise may be the current Sasquatch of fitness research, evidence that healthy eating habits influence mental health abounds. Eating a balanced breakfast helps you lose weight and stay focused throughout your morning; a protein- and complex carb-rich lunch keeps you from losing productivity and sinking into a stereotypical 2:30 slump; and eating nutritiously at dinner refuels you after a long day and preps you for sleeping well. Focus, productivity, and well-restedness are all valuable in the workplace, and they can all be achieved, in part, by feeding your body the right things.
So the next time you feel like it's too much trouble or just not worth it to go to the gym or have a dinner that's not from a drive-thru, think about the fact that putting forth that little effort is like investing a little bit of your paycheck into a strong portfolio, except you're investing energy instead of money, and you're putting it into something infinitely more valuable: yourself.