For Executives

For Executives

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The executive’s lifestyle

The current economic turbulence and uncertainty, together with the added pressures of globalisation, intense competition and rapid rates of change within many sectors of commerce, mean that frequently executives are dealing with many challenges simultaneously. A company’s performance, image and future development is determined by a few senior executives. The executive leads a very different lifestyle to most other employees, and often experiences unhealthy levels of stress, long hours and excessive travel.

Many executives have health problems, some of which are unknown to the individuals concerned. Often these problems prevent optimum performance, yet frequently they are easily correctable. However, the common executive mindset of personal invulnerability frequently leads to denial of early warning signs or symptoms of health problems. For all their proven business and leadership abilities, executives often lack introspective abilities.

The high level of stress experienced by many executives increases the chance of serious illness. In combination with a sedentary lifestyle, extensive travel and often insufficient and poor quality sleep, the health risks are significantly magnified. For many executives, a high fat diet adds another layer of risk. Executive reliance on alcohol or tobacco for relaxation or escape is an insidious additional factor.

The main areas of concern within the executive’s lifestyle are:

  • chronic stress
  • workaholism and burnout
  • physical inactivity
  • anxiety and depression
  • unhealthy diet
  • obesity
  • use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
  • relationship problems through work/life imbalance

Executive health risks

Humans have evolved over millennia to respond to acute physical emergencies, mainly through the short-lived “fight or flight” response. However, we now activate our physiological systems through chronic stressors such as worrying about work, job security, finances or relationships. The results are often harmful and sometimes catastrophic.

Stress occurs when the pressures on an individual are greater than their ability to cope with those pressures. The resulting stress causes the body’s adrenal glands to release cortisol which increases blood sugar and suppresses the immune system, which means that the body becomes highly vulnerable. Sustained stress causes hypertension (raised blood pressure) and elevated levels of cholesterol. These in turn lead to significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Chronic stress increases anxiety levels and the incidence of depression, and also reduces memory function. A person under chronic stress will usually also suffer from muscle tension. Other possible effects that are not immediately apparent are an accelerated ageing process and a reduction in fertility level. There is also clear evidence linking stress to accident rates, whether within the workplace or whilst driving a car.

A strong correlation has been established between central obesity (an excess of abdominal fat) and cardiovascular disease. Abdominal fat produces a range of hormones, thereby increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes in obese individuals.

Many executives’ lifestyles increase the risk of hidden health problems, including certain symptomless cancers. Often, these problems are caused or exacerbated by unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
Obesity, diabetes and hypertension all increase the risk of aneurysm (a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel) as does excessive tobacco and alcohol use.

The likelihood of coronary artery disease is also linked with the number of hours worked.

Reducing risk and optimising performance

As noted earlier in this section, a company’s performance, image and future are heavily influenced by a few senior executives. Implementing measures to manage executive health is a wise investment which often has an incalculably high ROI. Personal health strategies for each executive can be developed with goals and guidelines for health optimisation and disease management.

The treatment of disease is often the final stage in a process of lifestyle-induced health deterioration. Through improving nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep quality and ergonomics, many health problems can be avoided or reduced.

The two key areas are:

  • Health risk assessments to diagnose health problems early
  • Preventive health measures to reduce the likelihood of future illness

The following health risk factors can be reduced by personal action:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking

As individuals are often vulnerable to disease within the weakest organ or system of the body, reviewing recent generational family history in terms of diseases, cause and age of death can reveal areas of possible health weakness.

The greatest single threat to executive health is coronary heart disease. There is a significant relationship between work-related stress and coronary heart disease. A lifestyle which is particularly aimed at maintaining heart health, regular health assessments and managing work and personal stress levels can pay personal and corporate dividends. The following measures are key elements of such a lifestyle:

  • Moderate physical activity of at least 30 minutes duration on 5 days a week
  • Healthy diet and weight control
  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • No smoking

Regular physical exercise not only significantly reduces the likelihood and severity of heart attacks. It also reduces the risk of certain cancers, reduces the chance of developing diabetes (and increases life expectancy in those who do develop diabetes), maintains musculoskeletal strength and flexibility, relieves anxiety and depression and improves mood.

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