Why executives are afraid of the truth about their own health

by Karen Aroney11 Jul 2017
This article was contributed by Karen Aroney, Director of Business Development at OC Tanner.

There’s little time for self-care in today’s business world of cut-throat competition and rigid timetables. Back-to-back meetings mean we skip meals, and snack randomly throughout the day. An over-dependency on convenient processed foods, results in a reduced intake of nutrients, thereby leading to erratic sleeping schedules, weight gain, and make us vulnerable to depression, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Unfortunately, most executives are too afraid to confront the truth about their deteriorating mental and physical health, and too reluctant to tweak their busy lifestyles. This would mean taking time out to reflect, and work on the problem, and frankly, who has the time?

1) Prolonged and continuous stress results in elevated levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can be detrimental to our cardiovascular system, weakens our immune system, can trigger binge eating, and also exposes us to greater risk of heart attacks. Chest pain, feeling dizzy, and an irregular heartbeat, could be few of the warning signs of an impending heart attack. Executives often ignore the warning signs and dismiss these as exhaustion.

2) The inverted relationship between processed food and professional success
Processed foods are high in sodium, saturated fats, colourants, chemicals and preservatives, which may result in the risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance (think Type 2 Diabetes!), increases bad cholesterol, and generally spikes up fat accumulation, making you prone to fatal heart ailments. Whilst processed foods typically excite our taste buds through added salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats, the propensity to become addicted to such foods causes us to overeat them. For those of us working long hours, coupled with a dangerously sedentary lifestyle, this deadly combination leads us closer to the risk of disease. Other symptoms also include increased irritability, lack of energy and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Sugary drinks trigger an artificial spike in energy, however, we typically do not offset this excess energy intake by an increasing our physical activity to ‘burn the energy off’. Hence why sugary drinks are one of the key reasons for the increase in global obesity rates, diabetes, cardio-vascular anomalies, and even cancer.

Increased level of stress and reliance on processed foods, decrease our productivity and affect both our professional and personal lives!

Stay focused, and more productive:

1. Tweak food habits: Choose foods that are nutrient-dense - high in fibre, and low in saturated fat and sodium. Refrain from processed food in packets, and replacing these with fresh foods. Fruits such as apples, apricots, berries and oranges are loaded with nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamin K, to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure (great for managing stress-induced responses). Meats such as fish and chicken help you to keep full, help maintain muscle mass, and can include good fats for the brain.

2. Choose a quick exercise: Regular aerobic exercises such as cycling or brisk walking daily to the office, could significantly help in lowering your risk of heart problems. Include some strength training such as lifting weights on alternate days. 30 minutes is enough time to make a difference- try HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Exercising helps in burning excess fat, lowering LDL “bad” Cholesterol and boost the HDL “good” Cholesterol.

3. Monitor alcohol intake: Moderate intake of alcohol could be beneficial as far as heart ailments are concerned, however, this is not permission to start drinking! This typically applies to those that already have a healthy lifestyle. Excessive alcohol consumption could cause you harm, especially if you are already suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, history of stroke, and if you overweight. Limit your intake to the weekends only.

4. Destress techniques: Sometimes work issues are beyond your control, and prolonged stress contributes towards heart diseases and stroke, and can induce anxiety. Find ways to destress such as spending quality time with good friends/colleagues, taking regular short breaks, and having a hobby (i.e. listening to music, exercise, meditation, or a book).

5. Recognise and appreciate those around you: When asked what is the most important thing that a manager or company can do to cause employees to produce ‘Great Work’, a whopping 37 percent of employees said that recognition was the “most important thing [their] manager or company does (or could do), compared to extravagant perks and benefits. This type of personal appreciation has profound effects on stress levels, by increasing feelings of self-worth. Consider appreciating a peer by saying ‘thanks’ or ‘great job’ when you next see the opportunity and it will also make you feel good!

It may seem daunting to start gaining control of your own health to avoid the onset of chronic diseases. It’s a work in progress. Challenge yourself to apply a couple of the above tips today.

With over 15 years local and regional experience in business development, and corporate health and wellness, Karen now helps employers create the best places to work. How? By building engaged workplace cultures globally through  everyday recognition best practice!


  • by Tenbaum 12/07/2017 4:15:44 AM

    "Other symptoms also include increased irritability, lack of energy and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."

    A couple comments.

    1. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a disease, not a symptom. In fact the prestigious U.S. Academy of Medicine has recommended changing the name to "Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease".

    2. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has no known cause and no effective treatment. Again, see the 2015 U.S. Academy of Medicine report.

    3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome's primary symptom is not fatigue. It is "post-exertional malaise" (also called "exertion intolerance") where the patient's symptoms significantly worsen following exertion of any kind.

    4. Since roughly 75% of those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are too functionally disabled to work even a part time job, you probably don't encounter too many of them in stressful corporate life.

  • by Dr. Carl 13/07/2017 2:38:45 AM

    In my psychotherapy practice I see a great many clients with stress. There are two things that I would suggest to everyone dealing with stress:

    1. Meditate. You should meditate at least 2 times per day. Even if it is just for a short time. I recommend using a guided stress reduction meditation or mindfulness exercise audio like Mastery Over Stress at www.lightunlimitedpublishing.com. Also, nature recordings or soft music with nature sounds can be helpful. There are some of those there also. But first start with a stress reduction guided audio.
    2. Ask yourself this question whenever confronted with a stressful situation:
    “Is this worth dying for”?
    Because that is what you are potentially dealing with when the body becomes too stressed for a long period of time.

  • by Bernie Althofer 13/07/2017 1:01:29 PM

    For some, being surrounded by hazards and contributing factors means that it is difficult to see the wood for the trees. Others may feel as through they are surrounded by a fog that only lifts when they manage to extract themselves from that environment. Staying on and thinking that one is doing the right thing for the organisation may bring little to no reward or acknowledgement.

    A cold hard dose of reality delivered by a qualified person e.g. medical practitioner may be the wake up call that comes early enough to address those point identified in the article. Take the case of the manager subjected to upwards and then downwards bullying who lodged a work cover claim, was subjected to various medical assessments and was told 'the best thing you can do for your survival is to move from that toxic work unit'. An evaulation of personal health risk factors identified a need to address factors of alcohol consumption and weight management that combined with an exercise program and moving from the work unit and this in turn result in a clearance from the heart specialist. Not all managers or even workers will take the advice given.

    Understanding the need to look after oneself is difficult at times. However, unless one is physically, psychologically and spiritually fit, then it is increasingly likely that the person will be the one in need of attention. There are considerable internal and external pressures placed on managers and workers at all levels of organisations. However, unless one takes care of oneself, others may not do it for them.

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