Guide

Sport As The Foundation For Founder’s Health

Learn how to manage the stress of being a founder by putting ‘sport’ in the center
Nicolas Baranowski
May 2, 2024

Being a founder is often stressful. Tasks will accumulate faster than you can kill them. You’ll have to manage product, growth, fundraising, and hiring in parallel, and the ultimate responsibility of the startup is on your shoulders. Therefore, learning to disconnect from work and building a higher resilience to stress through sport is critical.

Entrepreneurship & Health: a Complicated Marriage

Depending on the stage of your company, as a founder, you’ll face multiple physical and mental challenges:

  • Among physical challenges: lack of sleep, frequent travel, late-night food delivery, lack of time to exercise, and weight gain.
  • Among mental challenges: loneliness, emotional up & downs, long hours of work, uncertainty, and constant switching between topics.

You need a strategy to manage these different challenges, and we propose ‘Sport’ as the key tool in your toolbox.

Why Sport in the First Place

Adopting an active lifestyle will have two direct impacts:

  1. It will reinforce you physically: which can help you “push through” hard times, improve your communication & posture, and ensure you don’t gain weight through the long hours of work required for your startup to succeed.
  2. It will reinforce you mentally: any study on the key levers to improve mental health (e.g., depression, burn-out, stress reduction) always converges to one thing: sports improve mood and help regulate stress levels.

Here are a few articles from the Harvard Medical School on the benefits of sports & exercising on mental health:

To sum up, exercising will have the following five impacts on your body:

  • Neurotransmitter Balance: Sports promote the release of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters (e.g., endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine), helping prevent depression and anxiety disorders.
  • BDNF Production: Exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factors, supporting neuron growth, cognitive function, and emotional resilience.
  • Cortisol Reduction: Sports participation lowers cortisol levels, alleviates stress, and promotes emotional well-being.
  • Hippocampal Neurogenesis: Physical activity encourages hippocampal neuron growth, improving cognitive performance and stress-coping mechanisms.
  • Inflammation Regulation: Sports lower pro-inflammatory cytokines, benefiting mood, cognitive function, and overall mental health.

While having an impact on your mind might seem hard (how do you have a concrete effect on the immaterial?), regularly moving your body is much more tangible, easier to grasp, and easier to set in motion.

Implement an Active Lifestyle: Regularity is Key

We’re not asking you to become Rambo or Usain Bolt; however, a minimum of 3-4 hours per week of moderate to intense sports is required for a tangible impact on your body and mind. Pick any sports you like as long as you move and sweat. Try to find a good mix of muscular reinforcement (e.g., body-building, cross-fit, judo) and cardio (e.g., running, tennis, swimming).

Think of ‘being fit’ as a long-term life decision rather than a ‘transitional’ goal (not as in: ‘I’m not fit, and now I am). Instead, to become fit and active, you must adopt sport as a core part of your life (next to work, family, sleeping, eating, etc.).

If you’re not active yet, you’ll generally have a hard time getting started. To overcome this:

  1. Start small: get started with light sessions (40-45 min, light weights) to accustom your body to ‘get into the gym’ 3-4 times a week. The important thing is showing up every time.
  2. Bet on habit-forming: keep the weekly target frequency for 2-3 months, and soon you’ll feel ‘uncomfortable’ if you don’t work out. Just as you’d feel uncomfortable if you didn’t shower in the morning. The power of habits is that you won’t even ask yourself the question about showing up; you’ll just do it without thinking (just as you don’t ‘ask yourself the question’: should I brush my teeth in the morning)

Two direct benefits of sport on your performance as a founder will be:

  1. Build up your ‘discipline’ muscle: Every day, you make compounding small gains, you overcome adversity, and you build up your ‘discipline’ mindset (e.g., doing that last rep, improving movement).
  2. Build up your confidence: Confidence is a key aspect of being a successful founder (e.g., overcoming no’s, convincing investors and hires, staying calm in the face of adversity, etc.)

Add Proper Nutrition and Sleep in the Mix, and You’re Off to the Races

You can’t really separate ‘Sport’ and ‘Nutrition.’ Your body (and brain) need quality nutrients to grow and repair. Some key fundamentals of good nutrition are:

  • Avoid processed foods (e.g., bread, pasta, ‘microwave’ type of foods, fast food, etc.).
  • Get your daily supplements (e.g., Zync, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Mutli-vitamins, Omega-3, etc.). We recommend Cuure to put your vitamin intake on auto-pilot.
  • Drink plenty of water: you want to hit 1.5-2L per day. Have your bottle always with you (we recommend Chilly’s Series-2).
  • Go hard on fish, fruit, and vegetables: we all know it… It’s basic… But when was the last time you ate an apple??
  • Increase your protein intake (e.g., 50% of your macro-nutrients)
  • Get a quality protein shake (20 min post-workout max)
  • No - or at least very limited - alcohol: it’s proven that 7 glasses of alcohol per week can have a lasting physical impact on your brain. Try not to consume one glass of alcohol for 1-2 months, and you’ll be surprised by the effect on your intellectual (and physical) capabilities (more on this here by Andrew Huberman, Professor and Neuroscientist at Stanford University)

I recommend Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, which is oriented towards athletes but will give you a good base on your nutrition and exercise plans.

Regarding sleep, I recommend using the Apple embedded sleep cycle feature that allows you to programmatically define your recurring Sleep and Wake up times. Try to:

1. Not go under 7 hrs of recurring sleep per day and;

2. Go to sleep and wake up every day of the week at the same time.

This simple mechanism (thanks Apple!) is very efficient, and after a year or two, you’ll basically automatically wake up and go to sleep at the same time. Your body is ‘regulated,’ so to speak.

Conclusion

While managing your ‘mental’ health as a founder can seem challenging and difficult to grasp, betting on sports to improve your resilience to stress and general well-being is the way to go. Being fit or active is not a one-time goal you achieve, but rather - like work - a habit you form and improve over time.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional or mental health provider if you have any questions or concerns about your physical or mental health. The author and publisher of this article are not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any outcomes arising from the use of this information.

Nicolas Baranowski
Founder & CEO at Frame

Nicolas is the founder of Frame, an all-in-one collaboration OS for startups. Frame offers pre-built collaboration apps like Notes, Task, Wiki, Whiteboard, and more. If you want to find a free ‘startup idea template’ on our Wiki app.

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