From Capitol Hill to Wall Street, successful men often have a lot working against them when it comes to fitness—literally.
Executives, managers, and professionals spend 62% of their waking hours on work, Harvard Business Review reports. That doesn’t leave much time for a personal life or family, let alone a fitness regimen.
Despite the obvious benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, this is a common complaint Amie Hoff hears from business leaders. “Time, of course, is number one,” the corporate wellness consultant tells RealClearLife. “They’re so busy being focused on being the CEO and running the company.”
Food plays a part, too. “Eating healthy seems to be the hardest thing for busy individuals,” says Erin Oprea, who trains business executives and musicians like Carrie Underwood.
“Getting time to cook and hit all the deadlines end up being a problem—even for me,” she admits.
Prioritizing wellness, as part of a balanced life, is an important quality for business leaders to exhibit, even if it’s purely for business. Companies in the S&P 1500 index with CEOs that have completed a marathon are worth 5% more than those who didn’t, The Economist reports.
“All the CEOs I’ve talked to realize they’re leading by example,” says Ted Kennedy, former Vice President of Ironman North America. Today, he crowns the “World’s Fittest CEO” each year as President of CEO Challenges, which holds athletic competitions for business leaders. In this role, Kennedy connects with C-level executives and Presidents who tell him their example encourages their employees to make exercise a priority for themselves too. Kennedy adds, “They go ‘wow, if the CEO can fit in a 30-minute workout and do a race, then I certainly have no excuse.’”
Figuring out the best time to exercise and read up on healthy eating habits depends on the person and their schedule, but there’s always a few minutes that can be made from the busiest days with some planning and strategy. “I would defy anyone to say they don’t have that amount of time. Maybe skip a TV show or do a workout at lunch,” Kennedy says.
Hoff tells her clients to do something every day, even if it’s for ten minutes (see her workout tips below). “That’s very easy to implement if you just get up ten minutes earlier and get some activity in.” Echoing this advice, Oprea says, “Consistency is key. Whether it’s nutrition or workouts, not straying from your path is really important.”
One trick for finding motivation and the time to train, Kennedy says, is signing up for a race, paying the registration fee, putting it on the calendar, and telling people about it. “That is the absolute best way to find a way to get fit,” he explains. “All of a sudden the time will appear and you’ll be amazed where it came from.”
For executives on the road, there’s often a hotel gym. Even if there isn’t, Hoff doesn’t let them off the hook. She tells them to run the stairs, because “that’s a great cardio workout in the morning and every hotel has them.” For those looking for even more of a burn, she created the FitKit, that’s basically a toolbox for workouts. The two-pound case includes resistance bands and a set of exercises for strength, flexibility, and cardio.
For those who can’t get themselves up earlier, lunchtime is a perfect opportunity to exercise. That’s what Kennedy did earlier in his career when he was an executive at Bestfoods, Inc. Even better, Hoff recommends, is getting employees involved. She suggests collaborating with the HR department to simply reserve a space in the office or nearby and extend the invitation to employees to join in a lunchtime workout. “It helps CEOs stay in the midst of it all and get involved,” Hoff said.
There’s an incentive for employees join in on lunchtime workouts, too. Many Japanese corporations feature an afternoon calisthenics break.
“They get time with the CEO to share what’s going on down on the lower levels,” Hoff says. After breaking a sweat, the group can catch up over lunch. “They can sort of report back up the chain, so the CEOs really get a better understanding of their employees and take the pulse of the culture.”
One of those executives, Kennedy tells RCL, is Jamie Maguire. When he was CEO of Philadelphia Insurance, Maguire would share his workout schedule with his employees, especially entry-level workers, who often joined him. Kennedy said the company had the lowest rate turnover in the insurance industry, partly as a result of this tactic. “It’s a very positive trickle-down effect,” Kennedy says.
If exercising in a cleared out boardroom or even a hotel room sounds like an uninspiring workout, Oprea, a retired Marine, has a reality check. She credits her military service for teaching her that “the world is my gym and bodyweight workouts are great—if done with good form.” Of these, Oprea suggests Tabata bodyweight workouts, a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). (Here’s one to try.) “You can get some serious burn, and quite a few without weights,” Oprea says.
All too often, though, people forget to think about the other side of staying fit: eating healthy. “80% of our health and wellbeing is nutrition,” Hoff says. In addition to avoiding weight gain, good nutrition is a boon to business as well. “People really don’t realize what it can do for you mentally,” Hoff adds. To avoid feeling cloudy and groggy, she recommends her clients to avoid too much sugar and alcohol.
One simple thing Kennedy recommends is a protein shake for breakfast (recipe at bottom). The shake helps with hydration and is an easy way to get a daily dose of fruit. “The protein really helps to make you lean. It’s not gonna make you skinny, but if you’re working out, it will tone your muscles,” he said.
When in the office, try bringing lunch instead of ordering take out each day. “Restaurants have so many temptations and when you hit the table you’re usually starving,” Oprea said. “It’s hard to make good choices then.”
Taking a few hours to cook on the weekend is one of the best ways to get around this. “Prep day is key,” Oprea stresses. Hoff says every Sunday she grills some chicken breasts, hard boils eggs, and chops up some veggies. “I don’t have to worry about unhealthy choices,” she explained.
Hoff’s advice is the same for business leaders who travel often. “You’d rather arrive where you’re supposed to be feeling energetic and awake,” she explained. “Rather than bogged by eating crappy food, flying X amount of hours, and not being able to sleep.”
Because people have different habits on the road, both Hoff and Oprea tell their clients to keep an eye out for some of those same snacks they might prep at home for sale at area and airport shops. Unsalted almonds and walnuts are also a good choice because they’re filling, have healthy fats, and are not as caloric as other nuts.
If all else fails, there are protein bars, but always read the label. Look for ones with simple ingredients that are recognizable and have about five grams of sugar or less (Rx Bars fit this bill). For those with a hankering for sweets, Hoff suggests Hail Merry snacks since they’re made with clean ingredients.
An 80-20 rule is an easy guideline to follow when it comes to nutrition, Hoff shared. Sticking to the plan 80% of the time is a reasonable way to maintain those habits without getting burned out or feeling deprived. At some point, there will be a time at a business dinner, or even on vacation, that calls for a few extra beers or some bacon. After all, what’s the point of leading a life full of wellness, if it’s not well lived?
• Do something every day, even just for ten minutes
• Sign up for a race and tell people about it
• Successful nutrition comes with preparation
• Balance is key: follow the 80/20 rule
Amie Hoff’s Ten Minute Workout
Do each exercise for 30 seconds each in a cycle for ten minutes (or more, if time allows)
• Squats jumping jacks
• Jumping jacks
Ted Kennedy’s Breakfast Protein Shake Recipe
• Milk, almond milk, or water (Two cups)
• Protein powder (one scoop)
• Mixed fruit (handful and a half)
Blend ingredients and enjoy
—Matthew Reitman for RealClearLife