When CEOs improve their “bottom line” so does their company

Employees often watch and mimic what their leaders do. I coach my executives to lead from the front by taking care of their bodies.

During a recent training session, one of my clients recalled meeting the CEO of his company for the first time. “When he walked into the room, I saw that he was jacked!” he recalled. “I thought to myself, if this guy can find the time in his busy schedule to stay fit so could I.”

Many executives I train are noticing the workplace culture evolving from a “face-time equals productivity” mindset to one that encourages scheduling time for personal well-being, fitness and stress management. And it starts with them.

CEO fitnessA stressed out and unhealthy leader is just bad for business. In fact, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited data showing that de-conditioned (read, out of shape) executives are perceived as less effective.

A heavy executive is judged to be less capable because of assumptions about how weight affects health and stamina, says Barry Posner, a leadership professor at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. He says he can’t name a single overweight Fortune 500 CEO. “We have stereotypes about fat,” he adds, “so when we see a senior executive who’s overweight, our initial reaction isn’t positive.”

“Because the demands of leadership can be quite strenuous, the physical aspects are just as important as everything else,” says Sharon McDowell-Larsen, an exercise physiologist who runs an executive fitness program for the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).


Executives with larger waistlines and higher body mass index (BMI) readings tend to be viewed as less effective in the workplace, both in performance and interpersonal relationships, according to data compiled by CCL. BMI is a common measure of body fat based on height and weight.

As an experienced integrated health and fitness coach, I know that understanding stress and how it affects your body is critical to staying fit and maintaining maximum health and performance.

To give you a quick overview, when you experience acute stress your body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol. This prepares your body for either fight or flight.

It doesn’t matter if the stress is real or imagined. To your body, there is absolutely no difference.

Your heart rate increases, your lungs take in more oxygen, your blood flow increases, and parts of your immune system will temporarily suppress. That suppression reduces your inflammatory response to pathogens and other foreign invaders.

When stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes ever more desensitized to cortisol. Inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, which means decreased sensitivity worsens the inflammatory response. Inflammation gets out of control. Inflammation, in turn, is a hallmark of most diseases, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.

But body health isn’t the only thing compromised by chronic stress. Elevated cortisol levels affect your memory by causing a gradual loss of synapses in your prefrontal cortex. Stress may even trigger the onset of dementia. In one study, 72 percent of Alzheimer’s patients — nearly three out of four!—had experienced severe emotional stress during the two years preceding their diagnosis.

The bottom line

I alert executive and management level clients to the high level of ROI they can expect by investing time and energy in a sane, successful health and fitness program like System 7 Training.