Blogs & Comment

What makes CEOs fit to lead?

A healthy lifestyle is the first step to excelling in the workplace.

(Photo: Anthony-Masterson)

The most important driver of how well you work isn’t your brains, your ambition, your connections or even your leadership skills. It’s your health.

You can’t perform ‘to the max’ unless your body is up to it. Your brain can’t be focused and creative if it’s exhausted and out of fuel. Your heart doesn’t care if you’re a hard-driving entrepreneur.

No surprise, it turns out that the three keys to maximum performance in work, as in life, are nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle. In other words, individual productivity, corporate productivity and national productivity are all connected to how healthy we are. Not how disease-free we are, though that’s important.

Performing at your peak in business demands that you first optimize your body’s performance. It’s no fluke that highly successful CEOs possess qualities found among elite athletes. They have laser-focused concentration, strong physical stamina and a high level of emotional endurance. These leaders–and there are more and more of them as C-suite executives in their 40s take the place of their predecessors in their 60s–not only understand this connection ; they work it to their advantage.

No surprise that they actively engage the advice of healthcare professionals to monitor and fine tune their bodies.

In my 10+years of medical practice focused on managing the health of business leaders, I’ve often wondered how some of my clients could have won multi-million dollar deals with their awful lifestyle habits. They were chronically sleep deprived (getting just four to five hours per night), ate jelly beans and coffee for breakfast at 430 a.m. (before catching a 6 a.m. flight), skipped lunch and opted for 4-6 cups of coffee through the day. They then went straight to dinner ordering a martini before a steak meal and red wine. They were proud to be a tough road warrior! Sadly, you can’t keep that kind of lifestyle up for long. In the short-term, your body and mind are operating at an impaired level. Longer-term, this kind of life leads to serious health issues and the onset of disease.

So if you’re acting even a little like those executives I just mentioned, here’s what’s in store for you.

Not eating and living on coffee during a vigorous day is literally not smart. The body secretes cortisol hormone as a response to physical stress due to a lack of food fuel. Cortisol stimulates adrenalin keeping your heart pumping and blood pressure high, so you won’t faint. These same chemicals bathe the brain, impairing it from retrieving medium and long term memory and preventing it from performing critical analysis, in an effort to save brain energy. This is not good when you’re in an intense day of brain work. Cortisol also has a longer term effect in stimulating insulin which prompts your body to store carbohydrates (especially starches and fruits) and turn them into fat. Starving makes you dumb and fat!

As we age, we sleep less and get fewer hours of REM sleep which is important in helping us integrate our day’s thoughts to make them retrievable in the future. Impaired sleep due to lack of time or using caffeine and alcohol affect our memory as well. Medical studies have shown that just 48 solid hours of sleep deprivation can cause abnormal blood sugar levels–an early sign of diabetes.

The reality is that Executives who are physically and mentally fit are able to deliver at a higher performance level than those who aren’t.

While they come from different backgrounds, have different expertise and are of different ages, they’ve all developed a routine around their health and nutrition which I’ll share.

Make sure you eat three meals a day. Those meals should be balanced with the right amounts of carbohydrates (40-45%), proteins (25-35%) and fats (10-20%) which will provide your body will 5-6 hours of steady energy. Schedule in exercise (aerobic and weights) time at least three to four times per week. Your body will secrete growth hormone, testosterone and endorphins which improve metabolism and mental acuity. Keep a routine schedule of at least 6-7 hours of sleep and allow your body a chance to adjust to time zone changes. This helps to keep your serotonin (a ‘happy’ hormone) level high which means you’ll be in a positive mental state and be happier boss rather than a moody one.

In the months to come, I’ll share more ideas on how to break bad health habits, replace them with good ones, and what you need to know to fine-tune your health to maximize your performance.

Elaine Chin, M.D., M.B.A., is a founder and Chief Medical Officer of Scienta Health, an executive health practice.