Outrunning the Tiger

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When Dave Taylor moved his company, Intuitive Systems, to a new office, he purposely chose a place two and a half miles from his Boulder, Colo., home. It’s close enough to walk, but far enough to qualify as exercise. Regular exercise.

“If I try to do something separate as exercise, it’ll always be overtaken,” says Taylor, who has three children and a management consulting startup.

His situation is hardly unique. Business and family constantly compete for entrepreneurs’ attention, leaving little time for exercise. You won’t find research that says your business will go belly-up if you don’t work out. But exercise and the associated health and fitness benefits – more energy and stress relief – help entrepreneurs balance work and family, and contribute to success.

A Tiger on Your Tail

Exercise increases energy and improves concentration; people who exercise regularly are more productive and are better able to manage stress, says Dr. Alan Christianson, a naturopath and CEO of Integrative Health Care in Scottsdale, Ariz.

When your mind is constantly working and you’re under psychological stress, your body responds as if a tiger were chasing you. “In the absence of physical activity, that stress response doesn’t turn off,” Christianson says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises adults to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week – or for longer periods three days weekly. Your workout should include a mix of strength, aerobic and flexibility training, Christianson adds.

Ironically, when Christianson was busy starting up Integrative Health Care, which is dedicated to teaching others about the health benefits of proper diet, exercise and wellness, he didn’t make time for exercise. Only when he was forced to buy bigger pants did he realize that as the boss, he needed to lead his 13-employee practice by example.

Integrating Fitness and Business

It has become more common for companies to include wellness and smoking cessation programs, nutritional counseling and health club memberships in their employee benefits packages. Some corporations even offer on-site personal trainers, massage therapy, yoga classes and free flu vaccinations.

Every dollar spent on corporate wellness results in improved attendance, reduced health-care costs and happier, more productive employees, for an average return of $3.50, says Dr. Don Powell, CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Simply put, he says, “You do better when you’re healthy.”

He adds that the rise in company-sponsored fitness programs and the link between regular exercise and a healthier lifestyle have prompted researchers to study how a healthy workforce impacts a business’ bottom line.

Start Small and Build a Habit

Scheduling exercise just as you would a meeting is one way entrepreneurs squeeze exercise into a busy workday. Others commit to working out first thing in the morning to ensure they day doesn’t get away from them.

Lisa Earle McLeod, an Atlanta-based humor columnist and motivational speaker, exercises before she checks her e-mail.

She got serious about exercise when she could no longer juggle work and family. A mother of two, McLeod would return home after leading a three-day seminar and collapse on the couch. She didn’t have any energy left for her children. So she made a vow: No e-mail before exercise. For the most part, she says, it’s worked.

If you’re interested in making exercise a part of your routine, Christianson suggests starting out slow and making small, incremental changes to your schedule.

“It’s all habits, so when someone’s making the change, it can seem overwhelming,” he says. “When you put it out as a big project, you create mental blocks. I tell people starting out, ‘Walk a minute a day.’ They’ll always end up putting in more time.”

The Invisible Workout

Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work up too much of a sweat. Spending half of your lunch hour walking with a colleague counts as exercise. If you can walk to and from work, great; if you can’t, park farther away from your building. When you take a break from work, get up from your desk, walk around the office and stretch your legs.

And don’t forget, routine housework and chores also rev your system and burn calories. Mowing the lawn, lugging laundry around the house and dancing with your kids in the family room all count as exercise, Christianson says.

Travel doesn’t have to interfere with exercise, either. Taylor tracks his steps by keeps a pedometer in his pocket.

“When I’m traveling, I’ll walk around the airport,” he says. “I went to Las Vegas [for a recent convention] and at the end of the first day, I had walked seven miles.”

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