To me, an exercise routine is not just for fitness; it is also for challenging oneself. And it’s not a singular pursuit, but rather a way to measure yourself against others.

Some can lift weights and preen themselves in the mirror of their health club; others can pound out the miles on a treadmill, day after day and week after week. Kudos to them, but that’s not me. I want something a little more intense, more competitive, more challenging.

That’s why I engage in activities like boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and CrossFit. They all require maximum effort, concentration, and commitment, all of which I not only do during my workouts, but I believe, spill over into my day-to-day professional life. 

For one, my training shows a desire to lead from the front (that I will put in the hard work and never cut corners), a willingness to take on a challenge and learn new skills, and hones my physical and mental fitness. 

The latter point bears repeating, as improved concentration and creativity have long been associated with even the most benign physical activity. “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) once said. 

The late Steve Jobs was another adherent, staging walking meetings during his time as the head of Apple, and in 2014 two Stanford researchers concluded that walking does spark ideation.

Specific to a combat sport like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a Norwegian study shows that its practitioners “appear to focus on mastery, making them more likely to demonstrate adaptive behaviour when facing adversity.” In other words, they tend to be more resilient, more determined.

BJJ can also improve problem-solving skills. One blog post even drew parallels between that discipline and chess:

It is your mind against someone else’s mind, and your mental skills can determine what your next move will be, as well as your opponent’s. It is more than just martial arts; it is a mental game that helps develop your critical thinking skills.

Others have mentioned improved self-esteem and self-confidence as being byproducts of competing in combat sports (not to mention humility, since one is bound to take some lumps, especially when starting out). In addition to this is the communal aspect to these pursuits, as is also the case with CrossFit. You’re always around others; they’re constantly pushing you and vice versa. 

So yes, the physical benefits of the workouts in which I engage are manifest. You expend some 500 calories in 30 minutes of BJJ, ultimately improving your endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility. But the benefits don’t end there. They are far more than just skin-deep; they improve your mind and make you a better overall version of yourself, inside and out.