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Career Success
JAN 8, 2015

Are You Fit to Lead?

By Yoshito Hori
Shutterstock / Luis Louro

Does your level of physical fitness affect your ability to do your job well? From my experience, I’d have to say…it depends.

In my twenties and thirties, I had zero time for physical exercise. On top of doing an MBA, I was setting up my own firm, working like crazy to hit milestones, getting married, and fathering five children. I had absolutely no time for anything else, including exercise.

But the great thing about being young is that you are naturally fit and healthy. You can work (and party) like crazy, without much negative impact on your health or energy levels.

Hit forty, and that all starts to change.

Suddenly, an unhealthy lifestyle catches up with you. You’ve got less energy. Business travel, in particular, leaves you drained. You catch every cold going around the office. You don’t sleep so well. You start putting on weight…

That, at least, is what happened to me.

Old habits die hard. Only very slowly did it dawn on me that I was actually free to change my lifestyle. The business was firmly established and growing; I had great people to help me run it. I really didn’t need to spend every waking minute obsessing about it any more.

Having been a swimmer in my school days, I decided to get back into exercise by taking part in a swimming competition for the 40–44 age bracket.

Unsurprisingly, after a two-decade gap, I performed horribly.

I realized that if I genuinely wanted to get fit, I had to set myself clear goals—exactly like an entrepreneur hitting milestones.

First, I decided to aim for the medal the organizers gave to people who took part in the swimming competition for 10 years running. Then I put myself down for the hardest race of all: the medley. Before I knew it, I was swimming a minimum of one kilometer three times a week. And I started winning races.

I also took up snowboarding with my five kids. In the off-season, I now hike to maintain lower body strength. Again I have a clear goal: to climb all of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains at the rate of eight per year. I’ve even imported my fitness regime into the office, making myself walk up to my ninth-floor office a couple of times a day.

The result?

I feel a great deal healthier now in my fifties than I did in my thirties. I have more energy, never seem to catch cold, and have all sorts of good ideas for the business as I’m swimming laps!

I think this is a trend.

Recently, more and more Japanese business leaders are doing triathlons. Plus there’s no shortage of business legends who believe in the benefits of exercising.

Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony, used to play tennis first thing every morning before work. Bill Gross, the Pimco “bond king” claims to get his best investment ideas while doing yoga headstands. Jamie Dimon, the combative head of JP Morgan Chase, took up boxing after being fired from Citigroup in 1998.

Of course, being fit should not be a privilege reserved for middle-aged top management. Just because I didn’t do any exercise when I was younger, doesn’t mean my employees should have to repeat my mistakes.

A fitter, healthier workforce is a happier, more productive workforce. That’s why we indirectly support any employees who want to do sports by subsidizing a range of company clubs—tennis, golf, running, cycling, winter sports, futsal, and triathlon.

Thanks to all this sporting activity, our employees aren’t just fitter—they’re also more energetic, mentally fresher, and more team-minded.