Getting Well is Good for Business

Some CEOs incorporate exercise into their workday in other ways. Cheryl Black, CEO of You Technology, the largest digital-coupon-network provider in the U.S., takes advantage of a beautiful path around the office building by holding walking meetings, during which she walks and talks with members of her team. The one rule: everybody leaves his or her cell phone at the office. “It’s a really productive time to chat because when the phones and computers are not in front of them, you get a lot more attention,” says Black. Diet is also a huge factor, says Groppel.

health-2CEOs all too often will skip meals or make poor choices because they’re eating on the go. “If you think about what’s going on with the brain, if you’re going long periods of time without eating, you’re not getting enough glucose to the brain.” Without the right fuel, the brain is operating at a disadvantage. Duff Stewart, CEO of creative marketing agency GSD&M ate that way until 2011, when his wife expressed concern about his health. “One of the bad habits I had was that I’d skip breakfast and come to the office early to get things done. I’d work through because everyone wanted to meet with me and then go home and wind up eating double what I should have,” says Stewart. Today, Stewart eats small, healthy meals throughout the day and has incorporated a daily regimen of exercise.

He zealously guards that time on his calendar. “You have to do that. If you just say, ‘I’ll go to the gym tomorrow,’ too many things will come into the mix and interrupt that.” And because he’s working more efficiently, he finds himself with more time rather than less. “When you do this, you’re also calm and have a different wavelength that enables you to be engaged and present in the conversation you’re in and not irritable and thinking about other things.” In addition to bringing down the cholesterol level and strengthening the heart, exercise can also help immeasurably with stress.

“Stress is an immune system suppressant,” says Venter. “The immune system is the main thing that protects us from cancer. All of us are constantly clearing cancers from our system. But if you have a suppressed immune system, your risk of cancer goes way up.”

health-3One obvious way to prioritize fitness is to bring it onsite, which Centerra Group, a paramilitary support company, did by converting a large office into a gym. “There’s no excuse not to exercise now,” says Paul Donahue, Centerra’s CEO, a former competitive body builder who does not need to be sold on the benefits of exercise. He estimates that about 20 percent of employees take advantage of the gym to get in shape. “That’s not as high as I’d like. But if we didn’t have the gym, it would probably be the country’s average of 2 percent, so we’re a lot better than that.”

Mount Sinai’s Fuster notes that companies that put programs in place, including onsite gyms and flex-time so that employees can take advantage, will ultimately benefit. “You need to prioritize health as one of the main objectives,” he says. “If you do it for your company, you will get motivated yourself.”

On the flip side, if a company puts a program in place and the CEO doesn’t get involved himself or herself, then there likely won’t be a lot of buy-in from employees. “Because the employees won’t really believe they have permission to do it, no matter what they’re told. If they don’t see the senior leadership doing it, they won’t either,” says Groppel. Carine M. Feyten couldn’t agree more.

The president and chancellor of Texas Woman’s University, who is a vegetarian, works out in the university exercise center alongside students. “I strongly feel that as a CEO, I can’t just talk the talk—I have to walk the talk. Otherwise it’s just another program.”