Corporations often focus on health initiatives and wellness programs for employees, but in the shadows of these initiatives lurks the unhealthy lifestyles of its executive team. Long hours, extensive travel, unhealthy eating habits, alcohol consumption and lack of sleep are all too common themes among the leadership. The key word here being “leadership.” Where are the leaders in this push to get healthy?
The most valuable asset to a company is its human capital and healthy companies start with healthy leadership. When an executive is not getting adequate sleep, has a hormone imbalance, or nutritional deficiencies, the decisions they make will be less than optimal. When the very people in charge of the health of the company are avoiding their own health, it’s a gamble with unfavorable odds. In the world of executive medicine, we refer to this as corporate Russian roulette.
“An executive physical is different from the standard insurance-driven exam because it looks at more than just the basics.”
For example, an executive who is experiencing low testosterone may struggle with memory issues, lack of energy, or general moodiness. This is true for both male and female executives. Even something as simple as a vitamin D or vitamin B12 deficiency can knock them off their game. Because these health issues can cause a decrease in cognition, forward thinking, innovative ideas, and effective and efficient solutions, the very things executives are hired for can become a moot point. Instead, that leader is just trying to survive the day.
On the flip side, executives who lead by example, making good healthy choices, have a great advantage. In business we look at metrics, understanding the current situation in black and white, and then making projections accordingly. The same is important to good health. Those who have an extensive physical exam on a yearly basis can take inventory of all aspects of their health and then follow a plan for improvement. Not only will the informed executive be better at their golf game and in the board room, they will improve their personal relationships as well. Research proves, time and time again, that healthier bodies are happier bodies.
Everyone needs to start somewhere, so here’s a list of the top five things you can start doing today to become a healthier leader.
- Take control of your sleep – Make it a priority with 7.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Avoid computers, television and even your phone for 2 hours before bed. The blue light emitted from these devices can interrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that is vital to a deep sleep. Also, alcohol can prevent you from obtaining a good sleep cycle, so it’s wise to avoid it as much as possible.
- Hydrate effectively – The brain is made up of 75%-78% water. This is why dehydration effects cognition. It’s also why hydration should be the first line of defense against headaches. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 200 lbs., you need at least 100 oz. of water per day. Tea, coffee and alcohol don’t count. And if you fly, add an additional 8 oz. at takeoff and another upon landing.
- Have an executive physical exam – Executives are tough on their bodies, especially when it comes to high stress and extensive travel. An executive physical is different from the standard insurance-driven exam because it looks at more than just the basics. Extensive laboratory testing, including hormone levels, plus cardiac testing, fitness and strength assessments, and cognitive assessments should always be a part of an adequate executive exam.
- Eat clean – Packaged and processed foods need to be a thing of the past. Opt for healthier options like fresh or steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains like quinoa, and lean meat or fish. Artificial sweeteners are a definite no-no, with new research pointing to their disruption of the gut microbiome. Avoid alcohol and instead have sparkling mineral water with a twist of lime.
- Exercise effectively – A good exercise routine consists of 3 components: flexibility, muscle building and cardio. Incorporate each of these into at least 3 hours of dedicated exercise per week, 5 hours if possible. In addition, track your steps and try to hit 10,000 steps per day. Most executives find it easier to start their day when they get in 3,000 to 5,000 of those steps before 10 a.m.
It’s the small steps toward the bigger, healthier picture that matter. Step up and be the inspiration and the healthy leadership your company and family deserve.