The Effectiveness on Success: How Jogging Improves Cognitive Function


As I stare out the window at 5:45 a.m. on this misty, cold spring day, I am by no means motivated to strap on my jogging shoes. The comfort of this bed is keeping me nestled, safe and warm. Now my alarm is going off for the third time. Unsurmountable guilt comes over me. I know that a light jog will not only get the blood flowing and heart pumping, but clear my head and allow me to take on today’s tasks as well.

This is not news to me. Having been raised by a mother with a career in psychology, I know the cognitive benefits of some light exercise before the day kicks off. And that’s especially true for an entrepreneur whose to-do list has a to-do list. The truth is that running a company is hard. I have enjoyed some of the highest highs, but I have also been crippled by the lowest lows.

At those lowest, darkest moments, my mother was the one to tell me, “Get up and go for a jog. It will change your brain chemistry.” The last thing I needed was to worry about my “brain chemistry” and go for a jog just because my mother told me to. Or so I thought.

My mother raised me to be stubborn and persistent so I, of course, ignored her crazy reasoning. Recently, however, I’ve realized she was totally right. So, despite the dreary weather, I get out of bed and into my Nikes. Off I go!

Richard Branson said it best.

If you ask the man behind the Virgin brand, the most important thing you can do as an entrepreneur is exercise. “It keeps the brain functioning well,” he says in this interview. Working out is simply the best way to stay productive. Though I didn’t start jogging all on my own (thanks mom), I agree. I quickly discovered that I am a way better CEO if I jog at least three times a week.

Tim Ferris gets it right.

Certainly you have heard about the 4 Hour Body. It touches on health, sex and exercise. Tim Ferris explains that a good diet and a decent amount of exercise will help you stay sharp. It’s all about the balance – something entrepreneurs often have a hard time with.

Anyway, I went back to my mother to ask her what this “brain chemistry” thing was all about. As we got comfortable, she began to explain the three reasons why jogging (and exercise) is good for your brain and how it can help you be a more successful entrepreneur.

1.  Improves the function of your prefrontal cortex (a.k.a. the CEO of your brain).

The prefrontal cortex has been called the CEO of the brain. It is the area just behind our foreheads that controls the “executive functioning”. Executive functioning includes cognitive processes like prioritizing, planning, initiating, managing working memory, managing time and resources, and self-regulation. The results of a study by Hillman et al suggest that intense cardiovascular exercise affects neuroelectric processes that underpin executive control. In simpler terms, that means that exercise improves your ability to manage the cognitive processes involved in executing tasks.

Charles H. Hillman, Erin M. Snook, and Gerald J. Jerome. (2003) Acute cardiovascular exercise and executive control function. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 48 (3), pp. 307-314.

2. Provides relief and some immunity to the effects of stress.

Salmon’s report findings indicate that aerobic exercise training has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, which protect against the harmful consequences of stress. The findings suggest that exercise training triggers a process that helps prevent and endure stress.

Salmon, Peter. (2001) Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), pp. 33–61.

Not only does it relieve stress through the release of endorphins, it is also a good mental break. Going for a 30-minute jog takes you away from the computer, your ringing phone, and your busy team to give you peace of mind and time to focus on the thoughts that matter.

3.  Elevates your mood.

It has been found that your level of euphoria is significantly increased after running. This has been referred to as the “runner’s high”. Boeker et al found support for the “opioid theory” of the runner’s high, which suggests region-specific effects in the frontolimbic brain area. That translates to an improved mood and an increase in general optimism. It is running’s impact on these areas of the brain that results in elevated levels of euphoria.

Henning Boecker, Till Sprenger, Mary E. Spilker, Gjermund Henriksen, Marcus Koppenhoefer, Klaus J. Wagner, Michael Valet, Achim Berthele and Thomas R. Tolle. (2008) The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain, Cerebral Cortex, 18 (3), pp. 2523-2531.

There is no doubt that a little exercise can help your brain function at its best, make you sharper, make you smarter and help you make better decisions. And the thing about running is that it only requires a decent pair of shoes.

Make time in your day to give yourself a little break and invest in your health. As an entrepreneur, CEO or busy employee, you will thank yourself (and your team will thank you back). Who knows, maybe all these extra endorphins will help you land that VC financing or the customer you have been dreaming of.

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