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How Fitness Can Turn You into a Leader

In my opinion, athletes, fitness folks, outdoor enthusiasts, and exercise buffs should rule the world!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that Obama, Angela, Shinzō, and all those other heads of state give it their all, but still, I’d like to see some serious fitness folks on the ballot next time I vote, given they have all kinds of advantages in the leadership department. Horton in 2020!


They lead by example.
Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates are reaching epidemic proportions in the Western world. Last I heard, 35% of American adults and 21% of European adults were obese. Obviously, those percentages would drop considerably if you just looked at people who eat right and exercise regularly. They’re healthier because they make wise choices. I don’t know about you, but “wise choice making” is pretty high on my list of attributes for people who should be in charge.

In fact, fit people can’t help but be leaders. I don’t mean they need to run for office or run down to City Hall and stage a coup, but just the simple act of self care inspires those around you to take care of themselves. Whether it’s George W. Bush riding his bike or Barrack Obama shooting hoops, folks get inspired when they see their leaders taking care of themselves. And oftentimes, they follow suit.

Sure, there might be some who try to judge or criticize a leader for looking out for him or herself. (I call these people Blockers.)  A Blocker might argue that a leader’s time would be better spent signing executive orders and attending summits. I don’t agree. There’s an analogy I first heard from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’re in an airplane and the oxygen masks come down, you need to put on the mask before you can help anyone else put on theirs. You’re no good to anyone if you can’t breathe! If you want to take care of—and lead—the people around you, you need to be at your best. That requires proper diet and exercise.

(By the way, if you have Blockers in your own life, they’re easily dealt with. A leader realizes that Blockers block in order to justify their own inadequacies. Your best strategy is to thank them politely for their opinion and move on.)

Working out clears your head and helps you make better decisions.
People who exercise don’t just have fit bodies. They have fit brains. Exercise makes you happier by increasing the feel-good hormones norepinephrine and serotonin in your brain. It also boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves learning and memory by building stronger connection between neurons. In other words, exercise doesn’t just make you happy; it makes you smart.

It also helps you make better choices, which is crucial when you’re head honcho. A recent study in The Journal of Neuroscience shows that exercise can increase the release of GABA, a stress-relieving neurotransmitter that keeps you keep cool in tense situations, assuring you don’t pull a Dr. Strangelove and drop the bomb (literally or figuratively) when you shouldn’t.

Fitness and nutrition lessons learned can be used in other aspects of life.
Intensity, variety, consistency, balance, the pursuit of being their best—all these concepts contain lessons that can benefit you not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too.

And once you apply these lessons to the rest of your life, things just start working for you—and you can’t help but be a leader.

That’s the premise of my new book, The Big Picture, 11 Laws That Will Change Your Life. I’ve spent most of my adult life changing people’s lives with fitness and nutrition. Now I want to help people look beyond the physical. If you work out and eat right, you have all the tools you need to make those improvements elsewhere in your life. When your body and mind are firing on all cylinders, it’s easier to get out in the world and try new fun things, meet new interesting people, and make the most of your career, your relationships, your body—everything! When you do that, people are drawn to you. They see the enthusiasm you have for life and they say, “I want some of that and this person can show me how!”

I know what some of you are thinking. “Does this mean Ol’ Tony is throwing his hat in the ring?” I assure you, I have no plans (or do I?) to run for public office. At 55, I’m doing big things with my life, but I don’t know if the United States is ready for a slackline across the South Lawn and a pull-up bar in the Oval Office.

Instead, I intend to spend the rest of my days taking care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally so that I can live life to its fullest and help those around me. Hopefully, this will inspire others to do the same—and they, in turn, will inspire others, and so on.

Could it be that someone, somewhere might take this chain of leadership to a political level? Maybe. I’ve inspired politicians before. But you don’t need to have a fancy suit and a constituency if you want to be a leader. You just need to get out there, do your best, and forget the rest.

That, my Fellow Americans, is Big Picture thinking.