Perhaps no one understands this better than Joe DeSena (pictured above). Now a resident of Vermont, DeSena grew up in Queens, NY. “I started with a swimming pool-cleaning business when I was 13,” he says. “All the neighborhood kids worked for me. It’s a metaphor for all business. You load up the truck and you go. You work. You get paid. After I sold the business, that became the model. By 2005, I’d done it several more times. That year I bought a 160-acre farm in Vermont and moved my family there.”
Crunching the Numbers
The ridiculously overcompensated staff at Men’s Fitness has known this for years: The more you hit the gym, the more you hit the bank. Now a study in the Journal of Labor Research has shown just that. Vasilios Kosteas, Ph.D., of Cleveland State University, the study’s lead author, found that exercise increases cognitive function and confidence—both building blocks of financial success. Some eye-opening numbers from the study:
9.0: Percentage by which the income of people who exercised regularly exceeded that of a person who sat around.
5.2: Percentage by which the income of a person who exercises only one to three times a month exceeds that of someone sedentary.
6.0: Percentage by which a master’s degree raises earnings.
2.2: Percentage by which a sedentary individual who starts to exercise just a few times per month will see his weekly earnings increase.
Along the way, DeSena also found time to graduate from Cornell. Today, he lives—and trains—on the Vermont farm with his wife and four children. He’s a hard-core runner, swimmer, and CrossFit devotee. He’s even brought in a kung-fu trainer to live on the farm and teach his children martial arts. Want to talk discipline? DeSena’s kids are allowed to watch television shows only in Mandarin Chinese. “I want to prepare them for the world,” he says. “I don’t want their lives to be that easy. They’re capable of anything.”
At 44, DeSena is still ferocious. Among his other interests, he is the co-founder of the Spartan Death Race, part of the Spartan Race series, perhaps the world’s most demanding physical test. In it, competitors have to crawl through mud beneath barbed wire, run sprints, chop wood, and perform other physically demanding tasks. The 40-mile course requires about 24-plus hours to complete, making an Ironman triathlon look like a kids’ game. Usually, only about 15% of contestants finish the competition.
“What I like about it is seeing just what a human body can do,” he says. “You know once it’s pointed toward the finish line.” DeSena uses his fitness philosophy to inform all corners of his life. "I guess it started with the movie Pumping Iron,” he says. “That’s when I realized: You can do anything once you’ve set your mind to it. I still do business and things. And when I do, I often put a new person I’m negotiating with through a little ‘Death Race’ of their own. I make them uncomfortable. I ask the really hard questions—just to see what they have in them. My goal is to take slightly passive people and put them to work. It’s fun to watch people grow.”
“Here’s the thing,” he adds, after an uncharacteristically long pause. “You have only one body and one life. And you should use it. My dad was a straight businessman. But he found that documents and fast-food didn’t do it. His body fell apart. I don’t want that. You have only the one body. And you live in it.”