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Want to run a better nonprofit? One answer is to get your heart rate up.

What are you responsible for in your organization? Is it recruiting and retaining members? Meeting grant deadlines? Spearheading a fundraising campaign? Developing a new set of hiring guidelines?

We know from years of prior research that getting enough sleep is integral to our performance at work. And thanks to a study in Naperville, Illinois, we know more about how physical activity increases our brain power.

Confronted with lower student achievement against peers across the globe, Naperville, Illinois studied the effects of exercise on students. What they discovered is they could go from the bottom to the top simply by having more physical education before a class.

The results attained by Phil Lawler and his associates in Naperville speak volumes. Gym class has transformed the student body of 19,000 into perhaps the fittest in the nation.

Among one entire class of sophomores, only 3 percent were overweight, versus the national average of 30 percent.

Their New P.E. program has also turned those students into some of the smartest in the nation. In 1999 Naperville’s eighth graders were among some 230,000 students from around the world who took an international standards test called TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), which evaluates knowledge of math and science.

In recent years, students in China, Japan, and Singapore have outpaced American kids in these crucial subjects, but Naperville is the conspicuous exception: when its students took the TIMSS, they finished first in the world in science and sixth in math.

We also know it doesn’t make sense to overwork, as time spent over about 50 hours a week is basically just time wasted.

If you’re looking for a way to increase collaboration, creativity, activity, health, and productivity for yourself, your colleagues, or board, rethink how you get active.

You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’m very serious when I suggest:

  • Instead of having a board meeting around a table, why not go for a jog with everyone at the local park or cemetery (which are often great for walking and running)?
  • If your teams are consistently struggling to stay awake in meetings, consider taking a walk around the community as you talk.
  • The next time someone comes toting a PowerPoint deck, have everyone go for a walk instead. It’ll force the presenter into condensing and simplifying information, too, which is always a good thing. Might even save time for everyone.
  • If you and your colleagues routinely go out for coffee or lunch, consider places slightly longer on a walk, or go for a bike ride.

One added benefit to this is getting you out into the community you presumably serve, too. Plus it’s way better than any team building exercise you’ve ever done.

And if you’re in a rural, highly suburban, or cold-weather area, consider cardio exercises you can do indoors. Whatever gets your heart rate moving like jumping jacks, some forms of yoga, or jump training.

Even if you don’t come across a great new idea, you’ll get your body in better shape and put your mind into a better state for the rest of the day.

From my own experience as someone who cycles to work daily (car free for almost four years now!), it’s a tremendous stress relief.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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