CEOs Say: Staying Fit With No Time For Fitness
In your early days as chief executive officer, you had all the energy in the world. The fast pace of the life exhilarated you. You occasionally had to strain to do everything you could, but you pushed through. Now you’re starting to feel fatigued. Just that pushing through gets harder and harder.
The fatigue that you may think is the product of nonstop overwork and not getting younger is really all about your health. Jim Loehr calls it the human energy crisis.
Loehr is a co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, in Orlando, Fla. His company helps executives get and stay healthy through its Corporate Athlete program. Loehr estimates that 40% of CEOs are technically obese. (The technical definition of obesity is having a body mass index of more than 30; body mass index is the ratio of your weight in kilograms to the square of your height in meters.) In Mississippi, the heaviest state in America, obesity among the adult population is 32.5%. CEOs are seriously overweight.
Unfortunately, they also won’t often listen to arguments about the importance of good health. They’re busy and stubborn. At the same time, their personalities and activities can encourage unhealthy behavior–lavish meals at nearly every lunch and dinner, taking chauffeured cars everywhere. Many of them don’t even get in the generally recommended daily amount of walking–3.5 miles.
The problem is not finding time for fitness–no matter what executives say. They generally have the power to get done anything they seriously want to do. The problem is that they don’t believe they even need to. Getting winded by a five-minute run or having above-average blood pressure can’t stop them from doing their job, they figure, and for some of them, the job is more important than anything else.
But their jobs, as well as their bodies, can be the victims of that kind of thinking. A low-energy CEO is a problem for any company–as is a stressed out one. Decision making and attention suffer. Family life is impaired, too, as work takes longer to get done and uses up energy that a less fatigued CEO could save for after hours.
In other words, the simple benefit of being healthy and having more energy should be enough to keep anyone eating right and exercising, but also the company’s culture is at stake. Fat, disengaged CEOs make for fat, disengaged employees and managers.
Chris Boyce is CEO of Virgin HealthMiles, which helps companies implement programs to encourage their employees to get and stay in shape. His business also promotes fitness among its own workers, and he plays an active role in that. He has had competitions in which anyone in the company who could beat him in distance traveled by foot–as measured by pedometer–got a free day off. At the time, he was covering about 14 miles a day walking and running.
Boyce believes strongly in the use of challenges and feedback mechanisms. Keeping his entire workforce from getting free vacation days probably encouraged him to do a lot of walking himself. He holds individual contests with other executives as well, offering them money or a free dinner if they beat him in certain physical goals. “Set the pace for everyone else,” he advises. “When the CEO says, ‘Let’s take the stairs,’ no one is going to disagree.”
Boyce says just having the ability to keep score in your own exercise, with tools like pedometers and treadmill speedometers and odometers, helps. People have trouble sticking to an exercise program when they don’t really know how far they’ve come or cannot see their success. He says keeping health in mind gets easier as you get fitter. Even if you weren’t planning to eat better, you will–no one wants to sacrifice the benefits of a grueling exercise regimen to a weakness for ice cream sundaes.
Damian McKinney was a commando in the Royal Marines for 18 years before he made the jump into the business world in 1997. Now he’s the chief executive of McKinney Rogers, a consulting firm at which he draws on his military experience to help companies strategize.
Damian believes that setting goals is the most important factor to exercise success. A friend of his, another CEO, decided to run in the Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race–a 508-mile marathon through the Mojave Desert and Death Valley. Eventually, the friend could do 100 miles by bike at once. After completing the race, which took him about 36 hours, the friend found that once he completed his high goal, he began struggling just to do 20 miles. The goal was hugely important.
Damian relies on a feedback mechanism for meeting his exercise goals–the people around him. He recommends making friends and coworkers aware of your aims, to give yourself a second conscience. You’ll be less likely to cancel a workout if you know that the vice president of sales may ask if you made it to the gym. “Tell people what your goal is,” he says. “My support network is my wife and my trainer.”
Even Jim Loehr had a hard time staying in shape when he began running a successful business. When his attention to fitness started to slide, his three sons got him back on track– long days of work made him tired and detached during the time he spent with them. Getting back into shape helped him give his kids proper attention. It also made him a better role model both for them and for his own employees.
As a CEO, you cast a big shadow on those around you. Make sure it isn’t any bigger than it has to be.
By Klaus Kneale
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