The Advancing Leadership Blog

Habits for a Healthier Executive Lifestyle

Ken MacLeod – TEC Canada President & CEO

This month we focus on health and wellness – something that, unfortunately, is still all too rarely integrated into our work environments. Yet, the experts tell us that it is one of the most vital investments that a company can make. Rather than focus on workplace wellness in this article though, we wanted to explore a few individual steps that each of us can take to be healthier every day. To help us with that we interviewed two of our most popular Vistage/TEC Canada speakers on the topic of health and wellness.

Dr. Alok Kalia is a clinician, scientist and medical school professor at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston, TX who has de-mystified the principles of losing weight and nourishing the body for thousands of medical students and for readers of his book “Don’t Take Dieting Advice From A Skinny Person.” Dr. Michelle Robin is a passionate and committed international wellness advocate, the Chief Wellness Officer and Founder of Your Wellness Connection and the author of “Wellness on a Shoestring – Seven Habits for a Healthy Life.”

TEC Canada: Dr. Robin, let’s start with you. What challenges do busy, stressed business people have in their lives in terms of health and wellness?

Dr. Michelle Robin: I would say that the biggest challenge busy people have is being present. When we are not being present in the moment it creates anxiety and depression – we are anxious about the future and depressed about the past and this can change our hormonal and metabolic make-up and cause us to have a range of issues, from digestive and weight issues to trouble with sleeping and even pain. We tend not to prioritize our well-being and we take it for granted until it’s gone.

TEC Canada: What motivates people when it comes to wellness?

Dr. Michelle Robin: The real question is why don’t people do what they already know they are supposed to do? We need to figure out why it’s important to be well – the motivation is deeply personal. For example, if they are a parent they usually are motivated by their kids – they want to be around on their wedding day. It’s about finding that passion for wellness inside.

TEC Canada: Can you provide some habits that translate to a healthier executive lifestyle?

Dr. Michelle Robin: In my books I talk about the four quadrants of well-being. Think of it like running a business where you have quadrants for marketing, operations, finance and leadership. The first is mechanical – you need to move. It’s not about going to the gym necessarily, but ask yourself – can you do a minute or two of movement every hour. The next is chemical – you need to get more real food in your diet, especially fruit and vegetables. This is what your body thrives on so if you eat 20%, try and make it 30% and so on. The next is energetic – what type of attitude or energy are you bringing to work situations? I would say do one minute of deep breathing every few hours. Taking 5 deep breaths is like taking valium and walking into a meeting in a more Zen-like state as opposed to being in a state of anxiety or negativity can really transform the meeting. Finally, there is the psychological/spiritual aspect and this can be as simple as being grateful. Gratitude is the gateway to well-being. All these concepts are very simple but when you have them all working together it can make a huge difference to your overall health and wellness.

TEC Canada: Dr. Kalia, what are the main dietary issues that you come across in your practice?

Dr. Alok Kalia: The main problem is we are surrounded by food that is very tasty but not healthy so we have to make choices all the time. Eating correctly requires self-control and willpower but if a person is tired or stressed then it’s hard to eat correctly. On top of it, executives eat out often and it’s hard to eat healthfully in a restaurant.

TEC Canada: Can you give us a couple of tips for busy, stressed-out leaders relating to healthy eating?

Dr. Alok Kalia: The first tip is to eat something before you eat something. In the office fridge make sure you always keep a couple of apples and a couple of pieces of hard cheese. Then every day take a few unroasted almonds or walnuts with you to work. At about 11 am eat the nuts and the fruit or cheese. Even a little bit of food makes hunger disappear in about 20 minutes, so by the time you get to the restaurant, you’re not starving anymore. Not being hungry makes for better food choices!

The second tip is when you do get to the restaurant, make a promise to yourself that you will eat no bread in any form, including buns, chips, or pita. The problem is that even whole-grain bread is still mostly made of flour that has been ground very finely. Flour is 90% starch, and finely ground flour is digested quickly into glucose. The glucose floods into the system causing the blood sugar level to spike and this spiking of the blood sugar level is an important cause of obesity and diabetes.

TEC Canada: Are there any new developments in science that we need to know about?

Dr. Alok Kalia: Two of the new studies that should make us sit up and take notice involve the bacteria that live in our colon. The studies are preliminary, so we need a lot of follow-up studies before we fully understand their ramifications. We are now beginning to understand that the bacteria in the colon impact so much of what happens in our body. One study, done in mice and small groups of humans, found that eating sugar substitutes actually makes the blood sugar go up by changing the types of bacteria in the colon! So, artificial sweeteners may actually hinder your ability to keep your blood sugar under good control.

The other study was one done with twins, one slim and one heavy. The investigators seeded the intestine of mice with the colonic contents of each twin. Mice seeded from the heavy twin got fat, with no change in diet. Amazing! So the bottom line is the bacteria in the colon are becoming big news when it comes to diet and obesity. In order to have good bacteria in the colon, we need to feed them well. These bacteria live on fibre; having a broad-based diet high in fibre will encourage the right type of bacteria to populate the colon.

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