If you neglect your health, you are neglecting a crucial part of your business

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fitnessBy Leo Valiquette

Back in March I walked into an Ottawa Chamber of Commerce event and volunteered to be the male half of a 10-week fitness challenge.

It was an impulse buy. It was also great timing. I been watching the gradual inflation of that fellow in the mirror for some time and was ready for an opportunity to do something about it. Like most people, I just needed a little nudge.

That 10-week challenge has turned into an ongoing commitment. After four months of effort, I have dropped 26 pounds (and continue to lose), trimmed at least four inches from my waist and added muscle mass I didn’t even have in my youth. I look better. I sleep better. I feel better. I am more productive and focused throughout the day. And while my doctor will have the final say on this, I believe I have even eliminated the need for the entry-level blood pressure meds I have been on for the past several years.

I regularly engage with entrepreneurs, business owners and busy professionals and it’s often all too easy to see where the toll of too many long hours tied to a desk or on the road eating from a super-sized menu add up. It’s one thing to be a young code jockey trying to write that next killer app, sustained by a regular diet of caffeine, energy drinks and cold pizza, and quite another to be one of us guys past 40 now obligated to get regular prostate checks. But the habits that you develop in your 20s easily entrench themselves for the decades to follow. And the pattern is no different for the ladies out there, for whom cardiovascular disease is now the number one killer in Canada.

It’s how you can get more done

Of course, most people will complain that they don’t have time for any regular fitness routine, or claim that trying to keep up with their kids is exercise enough. I train at Free Form Fitness, a personal training gym where the staff has heard every excuse under the sun. But a large proportion of its clientele are those same busy professionals and business owners, who have realized that being fit and lean has allowed them to get more done in a day. In most cases all it takes is 30 minutes, three times a week.

In other words, a fitness routine doesn’t consume time. It creates time.

I sat down a couple of years ago with Steve Parker, founder and managing partner of Ottawa’s Parker Prins Lebano Chartered Accountants, and co-owner of the Ottawa Chito Kai Karate School.

His preferred fitness routine is martial arts, to relieve stress, improve focus and boost productivity. For a chartered accountant, stress goes with the job, especially in the months leading up to tax season. But no matter how busy his work schedule, he would work out six days a week.

“That’s what allows me to work till midnight when I have to,” he said. “Otherwise, I would be tired out and calling it a day by 8 p.m.”

What did he do? He brought his accounting firm and his karate school together under one roof and gave all of his staff the option to partake of daily classes with a certified instructor.

“We’ve seen a clear difference throughout the day in the productivity and energy levels of the staff who take part in the classes,” Parker said.

He also found that his female employees were the most willing to take advantage of the opportunity, while it was his middle-aged male employees who were not. Take heed, guys.

You just need someone to keep you accountable

At Free Form Fitness, CEO Jean-Luc Boissonneault and his team understand that it is the accountability that comes of having a personal coach and a regular schedule of appointments in the calendar (but not a contract) that keep busy business owners and professionals on track. In fact, several years ago he changed the format of the gym so that it only provided personal training because it was clear that this yielded the best results for clients over the long-term. The key is to engage in a lifestyle change and escape the vicious circle of chasing after a problem with fad diets and questionable exercise equipment sold via infomercials.

You are what you eat

Now many of you are going to say that engaging with a personal trainer carries a premium price tag and that is true. But any form of exercise that works your muscles and results in some measure of muscle burn will be beneficial if you do it several times a week. And two-thirds of the effort to be lean and fit isn’t exercise, it’s diet. You can eat your way through any amount of exercise. The problem for many people is that they eat too many carbohydrates and sugars. These drive your blood sugar levels up and down like a yo-yo, resulting in those brain fogs by mid-afternoon and those cravings that make you reach for another doughnut or salty snack. If you can cut back on the carbs and sugars, that alone will yield notable improvements in your energy levels, productivity and perhaps even your sleeping patterns.

My standard diet for the past four months has consisted of five meals a day: three meals that are meat or fish and veggies (but staying away from all of the starchy veggies, like potatoes, corn and peas), a protein-whey shake with berries, and eggs. Note the absence of any grains or pasta. Even fruit juices are off the menu. Fish oil, multivitamins and fibre supplements are crucial, but if my system demands it, I consume whole grains in the form of oatmeal, which has a far less drastic impact on blood-sugar levels than anything derived from wheat.

It may sound extreme, but as I have reduced body fat, increased muscle mass and increased my metabolic rate, I have found that I can, several times a week, treat myself to the fresh baked goods I love, and other favourites like chicken wings and poutine, and still continue to lose weight. As with all things, the key is moderation. If I eat too many carbs in one go, my blood sugar spikes, the cravings set in and I’m ready to chow down on a half-dozen doughnuts.

As a busy professional or business owner, the benefits of a healthier diet and regular routine of exercise cannot be overstated. Your business as a whole will most certainly benefit if you incent your team to also adopt better eating and exercise habits. Not only will it improve their productivity on the job and boost morale, it’s also likely to reduce incidents of absenteeism.

And now I really need to go buy some new clothes that fit.

Image: Your-small-biz-coach.com

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