By Tyler C. Cooper, MD/MPH
Despite the demands placed on top executives, it’s no surprise that as a whole many in corporate America are not always inclined to incorporate exercise and good nutrition into their daily routine as much and as often as they should. As a physician to many leading Texas CEOs, I see it every day.
Today’s business leaders face a unique set of daily challenges – heavy travel, high-stress situations, irregular eating and exercise habits and a never-ending schedule of meetings. As a result, an executive’s health and personal achievements are often times derailed by professional challenges. Thanks to scientific research, we know the overall health benefits of staying fit; a reduced incidence of heart disease, lower cancer risk, better weight control and the ability to cope with stress.
Fitness helps everyone live longer – moderate levels of exercise decrease the risk of dying from any cause by 58 percent, and lengthens our lifespan by six to nine years. We call it “squaring off the curve,” or living a long healthy life to the fullest and then dying suddenly. It’s shocking, but it’s much better than the alternative of slowly losing functional capacity with age. Who wouldn’t rather spend their last ten years traveling or playing with the grandkids versus declining slowly in a nursing home? Preventive medicine allows us to live a low-risk lifestyle where quantity and quality of life are fulfilled.
For both the business and the body, it’s vital to have a healthy process for achieving goals. A key factor in the success of a company’s health is instilling the same passion in its leaders, and it often starts with the CEO.
A Sound Business Decision
Beyond the obvious health benefits of an active lifestyle, ensuring the health of an executive is a sound business decision. With power comes intense pressure to deliver and exceed target objectives. What many leaders don’t realize is a rather compelling benefit that hits them and companies right in their wallets: The more fit, the better the job performance. These two things are inextricably linked – personal health absolutely influences professional performance. Getting fit can help people excel at work, be better leaders and perform daily tasks with more energy, focus and creativity.
The fitness of key executives can determine the success of a company, and an illness or death of a top executive could have far reaching consequences for an organization. Organizational leaders are the most costly to replace and their day to day productivity has the highest impact on the organizations’ strategic direction and success. The ability to physically sustain the high pace and long hours required of organizational leadership is often the lifeblood of their value. Therefore, caring for the executive team’s commitment to personal health is of greatest importance.
Fitness is more than just exercise; it is exercise, nutrition and stress management. As mental, emotional and physical performance improves, so too, does the efficiency of critical thinking and physical output because a physically fit leader is better equipped to handle the rigorous demands placed upon him or her. This proves in clear and undeniable terms – the greater the individuals’ level of fitness, the greater their mental, emotional and physical performance improves.
Leading By Example
Managing personal health has the power to be a catalyst for positive change to a company’s entire workforce. There is no more powerful support for any strategy than to lead by example. The best way to create and lead a successful wellness culture in any organization is for its leaders to model healthy behaviors. It’s more about the “walk” than the “talk.” And that’s where many companies fall short.
As an executive, here are three things that encourage a healthy workplace:
Rewarding health and health improvement affects risk reduction, risk avoidance and cost containment, but it begins with one person – health is an individual responsibility. Fifty percent of what ails us – medical issues, health problems and other discomforts – is a function of lifestyle choices. My dad and I often say, “don’t die of something stupid.” That’s a pretty shocking statement, but true and achievable by adopting a preventive mindset.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the other half of what ails us is divided into three parts: 20 percent is a result of genetics that can at least be managed and mitigated by making healthy choices; 20 percent are reactions to our environment now flooded with fast food and sedentary lifestyles; and the last 10 percent is due to our access to health care,.
We are to blame for our poor health – not the doctor, not the government, not the insurance companies, not even our spouse. Individuals can take control of their health at any age and any stage.
My father is a shining example of “leading by doing” and believes no leader should expect employees to take charge of their health and its impact on the company’s fiscal performance unless they themselves are committed to the cause. After all, if leaders don’t drive change, who will? At age 80, my father sees patients daily, travels the world lecturing and is passionate about helping adults and children live healthier lives. But more importantly, he has created a culture of wellness in our organization and exercises at least five days a week.
The personal fitness and health of any executive cannot guarantee increased productivity of their employees. However, the example set by the leader with health behaviors and support of an employee wellness program will influence a culture revolution that can.
Dr. Tyler Cooper is a preventive medicine physician at Cooper Clinic and is CEO of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises, Inc., based in Dallas. Dr. Cooper is also co-author of “Start Strong, Finish Strong,” written in collaboration with his father Kenneth H. Cooper, MD/MPH. www.cooperaerobics.com.
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