Mental & Behavioral Health

The Bulletproof Executive

"John D. Rockefeller Sr.'s obsession with work and worry while building his business led to stress, strain and very serious health problems by the time he was fifty years old. Had Mr. Rockefeller not made a number of life changes to enhance his health, he may well not have lived into his late nineties. The struggle he faced in balancing his ambitious striving with care of his health remains an ageless challenge for executives."

(From Managing Executive Health by J.C. Quick, C. Campbell, and J.D. Quick) You've painstakingly developed your C-suite and senior executive team, and your business is revved up, running on all cylinders, maybe pushing ahead of the pack.

But if a health crisis suddenly pulls any of those key people out of the race, your company's momentum could be lost, and you could be mired in a major disaster with a long recovery time at best. Let's face it: the health of managers, executives, and business leaders has a massive impact on the performance and prospects of the modern organization.

Will Executives' Ill Health Sink Your Company?

Being a high-level professional is often risky business, especially in terms of one's health. Modern executives' work and lifestyle extremes promote an "epidemic of stress" that leaves them particularly vulnerable to burnout and slow decline, as well as sudden medical catastrophe.

Depression, anxiety, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes-health issues in the C-suite can devastate both the affected executives and their corporations, as several well-known companies (e.g., Apple, McDonald's, EarthLink, Sara Lee, Pilgrim's Pride, and Clorox) can attest.

If any one of your top team members were sidelined, your firm would be facing a serious psychological loss, not to mention a blow to stock price and perhaps even financial losses in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions depending on how critical that executive is to your success.

What Price Success?

As type-A personalities working excessively, traveling frequently, and enduring extreme mental stress to reach the pinnacle of competitive success, executives are a different breed. Perhaps not surprisingly, this difference is reflected in health statistics: the risks of several life-threatening chronic diseases for corporate executives are higher than the already-elevated risks of the average American.

Unfortunately, with their companies' fortunes riding on their diligent shoulders, executives often ignore symptoms and put off check-ups in order to keep working at all costs-but pushing all these limits comes with a price.

Higher Health Risks.

For many of us, the odds of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, metabolic syndrome (prediabetes), and diabetes are high as it is, thanks to the increasing prevalence of lifestyle risk factors such as inactivity and obesity-and the health outlook for corporate executives is even worse. Of the 200 participants in the landmark Rippe Health Assessment Study of Senior Executives:

  • 73% were overly sedentary and therefore predisposed to heart disease, diabetes, and more.
  • 40% percent were obese.
  • 100% of the obese executives had at least one other risk factor for cardiovascular disease, 86% had two others, and 60% had at least three others-for context, consider that 55% of all heart disease afflicts people with a mere two risk factors.
  • Additional findings included a high number of executives with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure and a large waist circumference, boosting their likelihood of a coronary event.

Overall, it was concluded that senior executives incur a disproportionate heart disease risk-which endangers their companies, too.

A Healthy Bottom Line Starts Here

When illness compromises or eliminates trusted leaders, the consequences extend beyond internal demoralization and destabilization to an undermined reputation and uncertainty among investors and consumers. The implications of personal well-being for corporate well-being are clear: protecting valuable human capital is vital to business success.

To that end, executive health programs are becoming an increasingly popular benefits package inclusion at companies of all sizes. All things considered, prioritizing executive health through an additional investment in wellness beyond standard medical coverage seems a small price to pay for safeguarding leadership longevity. (Increased executive loyalty, by the way, is another return on this investment.)

How to Bulletproof Your Executives

It's undeniable that a hard-driving executive lifestyle takes a serious toll on body and mind. Without evaluation and maintenance, how long can even the most high-powered people sustain top performance without running out of gas or burning out entirely?

Attending to the complexities of executive health requires more than a quickie physical once a year-it requires an expertly designed program for moving from a high risk of disease or premature death to a high level of wellness. The best program starts from the inside with:

  • A comprehensive preventive medical evaluation that includes ultra-early detection techniques such as high-tech body scanning and measurement of biomarkers for health and disease in all the major organ systems.
  • Wide-ranging predictive and diagnostic blood analysis
  • Extensive physical assessments

The wellness program then progresses outward with development and implementation of a detailed lifestyle action plan encompassing:

  • Customized diet based on high-nutrient-density foods
  • Customized fitness training and on-body monitoring
  • Sleep efficiency monitoring and analysis
  • Stress/challenge optimization
  • A myriad of additional preventive and anti-aging strategies.

Bulletproof Benefits

To be truly effective, a corporate wellness initiative must take advantage of the best that preventive medicine now offers, with methodologies and measurable health goals tailored to the specific needs of this elite group. The result? A stronger, larger buffer between your invaluable executives and the possibility of a major health catastrophe.

It can be seen as an executive bulletproof vest, protecting against a potential assault, limiting damage, and increasing longevity. But an executive health and wellness program offers even more: a major shift in health status that results in higher levels of vitality, physical/mental performance, work engagement, and productivity for your company's leadership team.

People Make the Difference

If the people in your organization are what differentiate you from the rest, then every one of your employees and their families is important to your success-this includes their health and family life, productivity, and longevity.

Research shows that starting at the leadership level when developing a company-wide wellness initiative makes the most strategic sense, assuring the highest rates of employee engagement and positive health behavior change.

About the Author

Dr. Roy Vartabedian is a corporate wellness strategist with expertise in increasing longevity, productivity, and retention of senior-level executives.

He is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked in the field of health promotion and disease prevention for over 30 years, treating patients, managing programs, providing consulting services, and conducting speaking engagements throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Founder and President of Designs for Wellness, Dr. Vartabedian resides in Carlsbad, California.

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