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“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”

– John F. Kennedy

Today’s executives are busier than ever before, and, as a result, unhealthier than ever before.  Between more hours at work, a sedentary work day, greater work-related stress, and trying to find time for family and a social life, it can seem nearly impossible to focus on health.  Many may think, “I can’t afford to take time away from my busy schedule to go to the doctor, exercise, eat healthy, or sleep more.” To them, I ask, can your company afford  an unexpected executive health crisis?

There is a pattern across industries: when a c-suite level executive goes through a health crisis, it creates instability within the company, spreads fear among shareholders, and stock prices tend to drop. Rather than viewing it as taking time away from work, view it as an investment in yourself, your family, and your business.  

Health Risk Factors in the Executive Lifestyle

All this boils down to an increased risk of chronic diseases, like  diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, obesity,  and mental health concerns.

Why Invest in Executive Health?

The benefits of investing in executive health are threefold.  First and foremost, it improves the individual’s physical and mental health, productivity, and personal and professional relationships.  Doesn’t everyone want a CEO who is sick less often, happier, and more effective at their job? This parlays into our second point: executive health as an investment in the company.  Not only do we have a leader who is better at their job, resulting in a more successful executive team and company in general, but we also mitigate the risk of an executive health crisis that may cause instability within the company.  Finally, it reduces healthcare costs. A single healthcare crisis avoided can save a company thousands of dollars in healthcare expenses. In addition, if the head of the company leads by example, other employees tend to focus on their health, resulting in further reduction of healthcare costs companywide.

The Numbers

Executives are very investment vs return driven, so we’ve broken down the numbers for you!  We’re utilizing an example of adding exercise to an executive’s lifestyle, but there are huge returns on investments in disease screening with a physician, psychological counseling, nutrition consultations, physical therapy, etc.

Your Investment:

Any new project requires two main investments, time and money.  A common excuse for anyone, not just executives, is, “I don’t have time to exercise.”  I argue that there is always enough time, just a lack of prioritizing.  Three one-hour long personal training sessions per week is 1.8% of your week.  That time can easily be found by delegating small tasks, improving the efficiency of your meetings, or simply taking fewer internet browsing breaks during the day (don’t deny it, we all do it!).  

Based on the compensation package of the top 50 CEOs in Minnesota in 2018, an executive wellness package would be a tiny percentage of an annual compensation package.  Following our personal training example,  three one-hour sessions per week would amount to .02 – 1.6% of an annual compensation package.  Of course, adding in additional services like physical therapy, doctor’s appointments, and meal prepping would add an additional, but still very reasonable, cost to the package. 

Return on Investment:

Direct Employee Benefits:  

Substantial health benefits occur in just 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (brisk walking) per week, with additional benefits occurring with increased intensity or volume.  These benefits include:

Improved Sleep

150 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity per week can improve sleep by 65%.  Better sleep improves mood, productivity, and mental acuity, and decreases the risk of chronic disease and mental health concerns.  

Controls Weight 

A regular exercise program helps manage weight and reduces the risk of obesity-related health concerns, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type II diabetes.  A 3500 caloric deficit, achieved through diet, exercise, or a combination of the two, results in a 1 lb. weight loss.  Resistance training increases your muscle mass, which burns more calories at rest, resulting in a “faster” metabolism even when you are sitting behind your desk.

Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease and Death

Chronic disease is largely preventable with lifestyle changes.  These diseases include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain kinds of cancer.  Performing enough purposeful exercise to burn 1000 calories per week reduces your risk of death due to these diseases by 20-30%.  This is equivalent to walking 3 miles 3 days per week.

Improved Mood and Mental Health

Endorphins released during exercise boost mood during and immediately after exercise.  Long term, a regular exercise routine has been proven to reduce depression and anxiety.  In addition, fewer physical health concerns reduce mental and emotional stress.

Improved Mental Function

Even a single bout of exercise can boost your ability to think, learn, and make decisions for a short period of time.  Consistent exercise provides longer term improvements in higher level mental functions. 

Healthcare Savings:

60% of healthcare costs are due to chronic and preventable diseases like diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.  Initiating a company-wide wellness program, with the CEO leading by example, can reduce company healthcare costs up to 40%, and employee contribution by 10%.

Risk Minimization:

As mentioned above, executive illness can cause instability within the company and fear among stockholders.  Stock prices tend to fall by roughly 5% whenever a company announces a CEO illness or medical leave.  If early screening and preventative measures can help an executive avoid even one major health crisis or medical leave, it can save a company billions of dollars in the long run.

Execution

If we know anything about high level executives, we know they are intelligent, hard-working, and goal-oriented.  They don’t need to be told their health is important. They know this, they just need help with the execution. So how do we initiate an executive health plan?

1.  Gather a Team of Experts

Physician

Executives, like all people, should have a physician led physical at least once a year, and more frequently if they suffer from a chronic disease.  The primary care provider is the gatekeeper, responsible for screening for disease and bringing other specialists on board as needed.

Dietitian

An executive lifestyle tends to be fraught with poor dietary choices.  From skipping breakfast to breakroom snacks to lavish client dinners, the last thing on most CEOs’ mind is what they’re putting in their body.  A registered dietitian can analyze the executive’s current diet, identify risky behaviors, and recommend dietary changes to improve health and productivity.  If time/ability to cook healthy meals is an issue, many dietitians can provide information on meal prepping services as well.

Fitness Professional

In a world where most executives sit behind a desk for their entire workday, initiating a regular fitness routine is key.  Working with a fitness professional ensures that your workout is safe, addresses your goals, and is time-efficient. It also adds a layer of accountability that exercising alone lacks.  Some executives may prefer to exercise solo, seeing it as a break from people.  In this case, a fitness professional should still review and adjust the executive’s routine as needed. 

Mental Health Professional

As mentioned above, an executive role comes with a great deal of stress and mental health problems run rampant in the C-suite.  A psychologist can help an executive recognize and mitigate stressors both at work and at home, develop coping skills, and learn how to improve professional and personal interactions and relationships.

Physical Therapist

Most executives deal with a certain degree of neck, shoulder, or back pain as a result of being stuck in a chair all day.  Sitting for hours on end is an unnatural position for the body to be in.  It results in shortening of muscles and stiffness within the joints that can lead to pain, poor posture, and inefficient movement patterns.  Addressing these problems with a physical therapist can help improve comfort at work and during physical activity, increase productivity, and reduce healthcare costs.

*Vetting Your Experts 

Every member of the team should be assessed for both quality of education and executive-specific qualifications.  For example, there are many people who call themselves “fitness experts” or “nutrition professionals,” but have no background or certification in either field.  Any personal trainer you work with should have a minimum of a 4 year degree in exercise science and be certified by a reputable group. On the nutrition side of things, look for someone who is a licensed dietitian.  “Physician” and “physical therapist” are highly regulated terms and you can generally assume anyone using those titles holds the appropriate credentials. That does not mean that every physical therapist or every physician is the right person for your team as both fields are very diverse with a great deal of specialization.  You probably wouldn’t want a podiatrist as the lead physician on the team or a physical therapist that specializes in pediatrics working with your 60 year-old CEO. Look for an internist as lead physician and a physical therapist that uses a combination of manual therapy and corrective exercise to address musculoskeletal concerns.

2.  Assessment and Goal Planning

Now that we have our team together, each expert should meet with the executive and provide an in-depth assessment within their area of expertise.  They should also discuss goals related to that facet of health. Once everyone has performed their evaluation, the entire team and the executive should come together, develop overarching goals, and create a plan to address them.  Some goals may be addressed by one professional, while others may include multiple team-members.

3.  Schedule

It is very easy for anyone to say, “I’m going to exercise today,” or “I’ll talk to my psychologist this month,” but then life gets busy, a meeting comes up, and those good intentions get pushed to the side.  Every health related interaction must be put on the executive’s schedule and should stay there. View it as a meeting with yourself and consider it as important as any client meeting or C-suite strategy session. When considering scheduling, focus on executive preference and efficiency.  When possible, have more mobile providers, like the psychologist or nutritionist, come to the office. If this is impossible, do your best to choose qualified providers that are close to the executives home or office. Choose times that don’t interrupt workflow. For example, if an executive is generally energized by their workouts, schedule them for early morning or over the lunch hour to boost productivity for the rest of the day.  With a further look to efficiency, emphasize the importance of timeliness with your team.  Sessions should begin and end as scheduled to avoid derailing the executive’s schedule for the rest of the day.

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