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How to Exercise Your Brain...With Exercise! Working out is not only good for your physical health, it provides incredible mental health benefits as well.

By Nadine Greiner, Ph.D.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

We typically associate exercising with our limbs and body. We think of exercise as physical activity. But exercise is an equally, if not more, powerful mental workout. It's a workout for our brains. And it's one of the most powerful antidotes against stress. It reduces your adrenaline and cortisol levels, your primary stress levels. It also causes the production of endorphins, which decrease our perceptions of pain and boost our happiness. This is especially important for leaders and executives who are susceptible to depression. Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes extended and significant feelings of sadness, a loss of self-esteem, and a loss of hope. It also tends to cause a loss of interest in daily activities, including work.

Related: Exercise Officially Makes You Happier Than Money, According to Science

But there's a lot of hope for you as a leader and it starts with exercise. By exercising your physical finger, you can reduce or even reverse the negative effects of stress. Here are four steps to building a successful exercise plan. (To learn more, see my book and workshops.)

1. Warm-up

A great exercise regime starts with a solid warm-up. It's important to make a habit of doing a dynamic warm-up for at least five minutes before any workout. Jumping jacks, squats, pushups, and lunges are all great exercises to incorporate into your warm-up. Your goal is to raise your heart rate and get your blood pumping. When you warm up your muscles before exercise, your muscles become more elastic, and you're less likely to experience muscle or tendon tears or other injuries. You owe it to yourself to set yourself up for success. By slowly raising your heart rate, warming up before you exercise helps minimize stress on your heart. You'll be able to make the most of your workout.

2. Incorporate aerobic activity

Aerobic activity is a key part of an effective exercise routine. Try to find one or more activities that get your heart going. You should choose an activity that you enjoy. Running, dancing, biking, and swimming are all stellar aerobic activities. Try to commit to doing one of these activities for at least 20 minutes three times a week. In the grand scheme of things, this is only a small commitment. If you're worried about commitment, why not find a buddy who can keep you accountable? Working as part of a team is fun and helps to keep you honest with your commitment to your body and mind. When you commit to incorporating aerobic activity into your routine, you strengthen your immune system, strengthen yourself, reduce your blood pressure, and reduce your stress levels.

Related: Exercise Is One Thing Most Successful People Do Everyday

3. Focus on bone density

Does your exercise routine include strength training activities? It's important to find a high impact weight-bearing activity to include in your exercise routine. It doesn't need to be intense weight training. Jumping rope, climbing stairs, and pull-ups are all great options. You should commit to doing the activity for at least 20 minutes twice a week. Please remember that your bones are active and living, just like you. Like all living things, your bones will only get denser when they are placed under regular stress.

4. Embrace stretching

As a leader, you're constantly stretching yourself with new challenges and skills. Stretching in the gym is equally important and impactful. It's important to incorporate stretching into your exercise routine. It's the only way your body can truly adapt and improve. You should select a variety of stretches that engage different muscle groups. Try to perform a combination of neck, shoulder, triceps, hamstring, quadriceps, calf, hip flexor, and lower back stretches. You should hold each stress for at least 20 seconds and repeat each stress at least twice. When you embrace stretching, you lengthen your muscles, decrease soreness, decrease recovery time, and reduce injuries. It almost sounds too good to be true.

Related: 7 Reasons Every Entrepreneur Should Start the Day With Exercise

As a leader, it's easy to de-prioritize exercise. But exercise plays an important role in your health, longevity, and success. As the esteemed poet Joseph Addison once said, "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."

Exercise is associated with increased concentration, enhanced memory, faster learning, improved mood, and even enhanced creativity. It's good for you and your employees' overall well-being. Research has shown that workers who commit to going to the gym are more productive and have better relationships with coworkers than workers who abstain from exercise. Exercise is especially impactful when it's combined with another type of stress-reducing activity. For example, combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces stress more effectively than either activity alone.

So, use the four steps I've outlined to build a successful exercise plan. Good luck! And most importantly, take good care of yourself.

Nadine Greiner, Ph.D.

Human Resources Executive

Dr. Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. is a Human Resources executive. Her book, 'Stress-Less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and Life,' was published by Entrepreneur Press. She believes that the world needs great leaders and has dedicated her career to helping them.

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