How important is good health as a competitive advantage in business?

Attractive people have all sorts of proven workplace advantages over unattractive folks. And fitness is one of the most important and controllable dimensions of your looks. So it follows that fit people probably get more job offers, venture funding, and promotions. And obviously attractive people have an advantage when it comes to sales and negotiating.

Fit people have more energy to put into every task. And we all know that humans perform better when they have more energy. Studies back that observation.

Energy influences your optimism, your ambition, and how others see you. Those are big deals too.

And studies show that exercise and diet have a huge influence on brain health. You need your brain for most occupational challenges.

Stating the obvious, healthy people have fewer sick days than unhealthy people.

Depending on your sporting preferences, exercise might be a great networking tool as well. You tend to form lifelong friendships with your running pals, tennis partners, soccer teammates, and so on.

Exercise and proper nutrition have a huge impact on your stress levels. And you know you don't operate efficiently when your body is in stress mode.

Successful people tend to be lifelong exercisers. But correlation does not prove causation. Folks that have the energy, discipline and drive necessary for career success probably have what it takes to hit the gym every day too. So while it's probably true that exercise improves your odds of success, it might be truer that highly disciplined and energetic people are more likely to succeed at both work and exercise.

Still, there's enough science to say that fitness increases your odds of career success. That's why my book on the topic of success (the book that shall remain nameless here because you are tired of hearing about it) has chapters on diet and exercise. I would go so far as to say that any book on success that ignores your health is tragically incomplete.

So how did readers react to seeing diet and exercise information in a book about success?

Not so good.

And the problem wasn't my lack of credibility, given that I show my sources and those sources are credible. Based on the reader reviews on Amazon, lots of folks consider diet and exercise inappropriate "filler" for a book on success.

My moist robot view of the world says health is the number one priority for success. So I worry about the folks who want more out of life and don't see diet and exercise as the starting points for that journey.

I blame the media for putting diet and exercise in the "vanity" bucket while hard work and education are in the "success" bucket.  I'd like to see diet and exercise in the success bucket, with vanity as the side benefit of both fitness and success. Business publications should be talking about diet and exercise on a regular basis. That would be more useful than the ridiculousness they write about passion, engagement, and doing your own research to pick stocks. I'm not going to say that Shape magazine is a better guide to workplace success than your favorite business publication, but it's probably a close call.

In your opinion, where do you rank diet and exercise in terms of importance to success? Do any of you put it at the top of your lists?


Scott Adams

The Financial Review wrote about the startup I cofounded (CalendarTree.com).

VentureBeat.com interviewed me about it too. They like it.
Here's a link to the unnamed book I wrote on success


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Apr 3, 2014
Health and fitness is hugely important to success. But sometimes it's an element that is not exactly under your control. Such as when you get hit by a car. Or if your brain decides to stop producing the chemical that tells you that you are full and should stop eating. Or if, despite all objections, you age starts exceeding 40, followed by 50, and so on. Stupid linear timeline.

There's also so very much disinformation and confusion out there about how to get fit that people's brains have evolved to filter it out as a defense mechanism. Besides, the hormones and antibiotics they feed cows and chickens to make them larger are what truly control your body weight. According to the latest theory I've read up on, that is.
Apr 3, 2014
Much as I hate to bow to evidence, in this case the evidence is quite clear. Choose at random 10000 very intelligent people. How many of them are superior in health? Choose at random 10000 in-shape professional athletes. How many of them are superior in intelligence? Few of them. Few of them. There are some exceptions, to be sure, but on the whole the healthiest among us, while their animal existences flourish, are not the smartest, and the smartest among us, while their mental lives flourish, are not the healthiest. Bodily health is a good in and of itself. Intelligence is a good in and of itself. Neither one is necessarily linked to the other. As John Henry Cardinal Newman eloquently puts it in his extended analogy in "The Idea of a University," each is to be cultivated for its own sake.
Apr 2, 2014
I used to be a bodybuilder and general health nut. I looked great and had health beyond what most people dream.

Then I started working for a living and got married. Now I look and feel like Fat Bastard. What happened?

I'm plenty intelligent and more knowledgeable than most about diet and nutrition and exercise. What don't I understand?

Somehow my life went downhill. My business failed, being married sucked, no money. It's been 14 years since then. I look to food as my crack. It's bad for me and it makes me feel good that I'm being bad to myself.

It's a state of mind not unlike being a common drug addict.

Here's my system of a solution: Take yourself out of your environment. If I could I would go walk the Pacific Crest Trail and pack only pure nutritious food and water. If I died doing it, so be it. But you need to take yourself out of the situation that is causing the self-destructive behavior.

As far as good looking and workplace stuff... yeah, being good looking and healthy and fit can be a first impression bonus because humans are shallow. But no matter how hot you are, no matter how smooth or fit and trim, nobody likes working with an !$%*!$% or a complete !$%*!$ I don't care how hot a chick is... if she is too !$%*!$% I don't like her. If they guy is a douche, I don't like them.

It's like any other thing, It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it".
Apr 2, 2014
HI, I'm so excited by your success book, (or your failure book..) that I can't put it down (except to sign up for this blog!). It's so nice to get a reality check on ideas like "passion" and "affirmations." I now have realistic reasons to be optimistic! BTW, I am a lifelong walker and hiker with a huge priority on fitness. I am 57 years old (like you!), work full time, had 2 sick days last year, and lots of energy for work and hobbies. Joy of Working was one of the best books I've read, How to fail, another. so great to talk to you, Joy
Apr 2, 2014
It is ridiculous to think that you need exercise/fitness to stay healthy. An average of an half hour of normal activities like walking, going to work with bike, stairs instead of lift are more than enough to stay healthy.
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Apr 1, 2014
the solution to the world's food problems:
Apr 1, 2014
I agree with the others who have stated that chronically poor or bad health is more of a detriment to success than good or excellent health is a key to success. If you have two candidates, and one is of average health but 20% above average in intelligence, and the second is of average intelligence, but 20% above average in health, candidate #1 will be more successful in almost any job not centered around manual labor. Same thing if candidate #1 has the same intelligence, but 20% more relevent skills. For your own success, I would certainly rank your system of acquiring skills more critical to your success than your superior health.
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Apr 1, 2014
It's been 4 days, I need another hit, man:

Completely Off Today's Topic:
(Maybe for another day?)

MTBob's Translation Services

Climate change has already left its mark 'on all continents and across the oceans', damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers, according to the leaked text of a blockbuster UN climate science report due out on Monday.

- Translation > This is a very big problem and it's very important it be solved.

The first report, released last September in Stockholm, found humans were the 'dominant cause' of climate change, and warned that much of the world's fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.

- Translation > It's your fault. Your evil consumption is the cause. You have to completely change your lifestyle to fix this.

Those risks will not be borne equally, according to draft versions of the report circulated before the meeting. The poor, the young and the elderly in all countries will all be more vulnerable to climate risks.

- Translation > All you rich middle-class white people better get ready to pay for this.

Climate change will slow down economic growth, and create new 'poverty traps'. Some areas of the world will also be more vulnerable – such as south Asia and south-east Asia.

- Translation > Do you hear that America and Europe? You gonna pay.

The biggest potential risk, however, was of a number of those scenarios unfolding at the same time, leading to conflicts and wars, or turning regional problem into a global crisis ..... and the repercussions of things going bad in several different places are very severe.

- Translation > If you don't pay up and spread some of that gravy you got, and if a guilt trip doesn't work, we gonna make you regret it and pop a cap in your A$$.

[and warned that much of the world's fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change]

You were serious about that? Ouch. That's gonna hurt.

But, Wait. If we pay them carbon credits they can absolve us from our responsibility/guilt/sins and we can keep using that oil stuff.


But, if they really want us to leave the oil in the ground, they want us living back in the Middle Ages? I would bet money that 'they' will exempt themselves (because someone has to manage the crisis) and they will create a true global super-elite that has true power and wealth. If you thought our current 1% was an outrage, just wait until you see their idea of the 1%.

Next up, from the new Russian State of Crimea
- Translation > yoink........

(It was surprisingly difficult to find an onomatopoeic word for ouch.)

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 1, 2014
I believe that bad health interferes dramatically with success. Anyone who is sick for even a short period, will know that not only do you not feel like working (even the most disciplined of people), and it becomes all consuming. Suddenly you are researching topics that you usually wouldn't waste your time on. Bad health is also so expensive, that the chances of having anything left to make investments in your future is very slim. If you had anything left, doctors would suggest another MRI.

I don't believe good health affects success - unless you are the only healthy person around.

I believe that good looks affect success dramatically - it begins right from your teens with [often unwarranted] confidence about how great you are. When you look like you are going to fail, uglier people hep you out in the hope you will be friends. Teachers give you the benefit of the doubt, so do bosses. You are employed more easily, promoted more, trusted more and of course if you're in certain jobs like marketing, you will probably actual DO better and sell more. I'm sure we all know good-looking people in senior positions who have IQs no bigger than their shoe size.

I believe that diet and exercise only influences health at the far extremes. People who obsess about diet and exercise take more time off work (preparing for/recovering from that big marathon), they get more injuries and are a pain to everyone at work with their foodie nonsense. People who are dramatically overweight also take more time off work, and tend to get more illnesses related to heart, lungs and joints. They often have poor personal relationships (both because of the weight and because of the lack of confidence) - and that can make their lives more stressful.

I believe that health is largely genetics and "sh1t luck". You can reduce it substantially with smoking, drugs, alcohol, stress and stupidity. You can increase it slightly by keeping your weight to a sensible level, eating a balanced diet and avoiding people and situations that annoy you.

You can sometimes also solve health problems with money, so being rich can be good for your health (i.e. success affects health too). But too many top execs I've known have died long before their time for me to think that success and health can be correlated.
Mar 31, 2014
I have to be honest Scott: The biggest problem with that section was that it came off like you were a pompous ass. People's weight is a sensitive subject and you were too cavalier about the problem, and totally disregarded the impact of decades of being overweight on a person's psyche. The problem isn't your logic, the problem is that you behaved as though it's not really a big problem and people just need the willpower to eat more celery (I'm being facetious, I know that wasn't your take-home message).

Here's a question: How many overweight people did you have proofread that section before it was published? I'm guessing not many.

You have a tendency to blame the reader, both in the blog and in your books. Sometimes the problem was the writer, and you missed the mark big time on this one.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2014
If you are speaking purely of financial success than no, it can't be at the top of the list. There are way too many physically unhealthy corporate executives/directors for a healthy diet and exercise to be considered essential. I would rate people skills the top priority for those who do not already have the necessary connections to be highly successful. Most people don't even know the right way to figuratively go to gain success having connections (either from birth or cultivated) can be extremely helpful in determining this.
Regardless, I do think that physical and mental health are highly important for someone to be as effective as possible. If you are fit, you can both figuratively and literally run faster in the right direction. If you are going in the wrong direction, it doesn't much matter what shape you are in.
Mar 31, 2014
why is p.r.e.t.e.e.n censored?
Mar 31, 2014
My own reaction was "yeah, yeah, we know. Geez, I'm tired of hearing this."

The simple reality is that I have a good 16 hours of commitment most days, already. From the time I wake up to the time I get home, counting hygiene, food, and commute, I've already lost 12 hours. Add in household chores (laundry, dinner, dishes), time with the kids (I have a freaking toddler), and helping the kids (and a teenager and a !$%*!$%* with homework, I only really have sleep hours remaining.

I don't feel like I have the time for exercise, and I certainly don't have the motivation, as I hate doing it. Your whole "diet and exercise" mantra sounds a lot like something a hated wealthy person would parrot, since it sounds like you have an unrealistic level of freedom to play tennis at any hour of the day. I realistically have the option of doing exercise at 6:00am or 9:30pm and neither choice gives me a social vector and both infringe on the 7 hour window I reserve and treasure for sleeping.
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Mar 31, 2014
Not only is health important, but diet and excersize can cause or prevent depression and other mood issues that can scuttle your chances of success.
One issue I have with a lot of diet advice is that it tries to be too simple and rigid, that is one of the things I liked about what Scott describes (no, haven't read the book yet, sorry).
Counting calories is dumb, your body is quite capable of reducing the calories it burns at need, and will probably react to a cut in calories eaten by storing fat to survive this sudden famine-yes, you can gain weight from cutting how much you eat. I've noticed that when I start exercizing again (I have this dumb 3 months working out, 3 months being lazy cycle that I really should stop doing), I initially eat more, because I have increased my body's need for calories. My exercize habits don't seem to affect my weight!
What does work for me? Listening to my body, if I am craving something, I go and get it, because otherwise I will eat other things as my body searches for whatever vitimin or amino acid it needs from my craving. Milk helps a lot, and not skim milk, did you know milkfat is an appitite suppressant?
But the big thing is being observant, finding out what works for you, not looking at the latest fad-as much as that advice hurts the diet industry...
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Mar 31, 2014
Scott: "In your opinion, where do you rank diet and exercise in terms of importance to success? Do any of you put it at the top of your lists?"
I agree about the correlation. I agree with your statement that it's unclear which way the causation goes.

Scott: "So I worry about the folks who want more out of life and don't see diet and exercise as the starting points for that journey."
The problem for me ist that regular exercise to a degree that I get fitter (i.e. jogging or some treadmill stuff) is boring, strenuous and feels horrible to me. By doing that, say, one hour per day plus travel and shower time, I would not get more (enjoyment) out of life but significantly less.

I think I'm at my personal maximum, doing between 2.5 and three hours of not-really strenuous exercise per week. 1h reasonably relaxed badminton, 90min yoga and sometimes I spend half an hour walking home from work.
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Mar 31, 2014
Health should be at the top of everybody's list. I consider it the most important metric of success. It is not just a starting point, it is also an end point.

I am reminded of this as I currently have several family members 'falling apart', mostly due to aging. One uncle has over a million in the bank, but can no longer walk.

Material success pales in comparison to health success once you lose your health. Unfortunately, people realize this only when they lose their health permanently.

I totally object to the idea that success means working hard and making lots of money. Both are worthless if you're not happy and if you're not healthy.
Mar 31, 2014
@Phantom II
Great post - that's your second good one this year, good skills.
Mar 31, 2014
I still haven't shelled for the book yet. I totally agree with you on the health and fitness being a big of success. I know that my energetic and enthusiastic demeanour when I arrive at work after a 12 mile bike ride help project a positive perception that has really lifted my career. I play squash at lunchtimes, and soccer in the evenings, and just the ride to the gym and the chat on the way do build relationships that have prospered and created a shared understanding. I can use any help on controlling cravings for bad food (I know certain carbs in the daytime just knock my energy levels dead but still eat them) - so I guess I'll finally pony up.
Mar 30, 2014
I found that part of the book a little dull, but I figured that was just because I agreed with you, and it mirrored my experience. I have altered my taste for food over the last twenty years (hardest was giving up diet cola and energy drinks (drink tea instead)) and pretty much eat what I like. We simply don't buy unhealthy, processed food. (If it were in the house, it would get eaten - 'not buying it' is part of the system).

Part of my 'system' is to live car-free. You will be fitter if you don't own a car, probably happier, and have significant surplus money to invest.
Mar 30, 2014
'Based on the reader reviews on Amazon, lots of folks consider diet and exercise inappropriate "filler" for a book on success.'

It seems you're getting a first-hand taste of the kinds of behavior challenges that befall most public health initiatives.
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