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Road warrior health hazards

It's not easy staying healthy when you eat out for every meal and spend half your life on the road. How to stay fit, fresh and fully functional.
/ Source: Forbes

As an engineer, Howard Lance liked analyzing data. But after he turned 50 last year, he realized he was becoming a statistic. Now CEO of defense contractor Harris, Lance was overweight most of his adult life. As the clock ticked onward, his blood pressure and cholesterol level also ticked upward. It was an alarming trend, especially since Lance’s father had suffered a heart attack at 55 and died a decade later.

In June, with the help of his wife, Lance decided to make a change. "Like most executives, I always used the fact that I traveled, and was very busy, and ate out a lot, as my excuse for not being particularly healthy," Lance says. "But I found that I just needed to apply the same kind of discipline in my eating and exercise habits as I do in my business."

Easier said than done. Eating right in this age of abundance is difficult for almost everyone, as the obesity statistics grimly illustrate. Almost two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, and 30 percent are obese. Unlike many Americans, executives generally have money for gym memberships, yoga classes, nutritionists or personal trainers. What they don't have is time. Often, exercise and eating right just don't make it onto a CEO's to-do list.

But Lance and other CEOs say that's no reason to give up on a healthy lifestyle. By picking the right exercise routine, developing healthy habits and taking a little time to focus on stress relief, CEOs say they're able to maintain their health and their companies at the same time.

Lance and his wife found their solution in Florida, the mythical home of Ponce de Leon's legendary Fountain of Youth. Instead of drinking from a spring, however, they spent a week at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Aventura. They exercised, took nutrition classes, ate healthy food; by the end of the week, Lance had lost weight and lowered his cholesterol. Since then, he's been walking four times a week on a treadmill, at a four-mile-per-hour pace, even when he travels. He eats small meals and avoids high-fat ingredients like butter. The effort has paid off; Lance has lost 30 pounds, and his cholesterol fell from 210 to 157.

Often, taking some time away from work to focus on health can help executives stay on track. One solution is an executive health retreat, run by hospitals like the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Instead of scheduling a series of appointments and screenings throughout the year, executives can schedule them all at once and stay at a luxury hotel. "It really fits my time constraints to be able to get in there, make sure everything's copasetic, and then go," says Shawn Price, 43, CEO of software firm Savvion.

For a CEO, staying healthy requires efficient scheduling. Lance makes time in his schedule for exercise — but he also allows himself a lunch hour, so he doesn't become famished and overeat at dinner. Charles "Chuck" Ledsinger, 56, CEO of Choice Hotels International, ran "religiously" for 20 years, until his knees started to deteriorate. To fit it into his schedule, he would jog on his lunch break, then shower in the office fitness center. He still jogs occasionally and compensates by taking the stairs every day to his fifth-floor office.

None of these CEOs deprive themselves of all luxuries. At a recent 10 a.m. business meeting at Olives restaurant in New York, Robert LoCascio, CEO of software firm LivePerson, ordered peanut butter and jelly pancakes with banana-flavored whipped cream. (He had already eaten breakfast.) "It's OK. I'll spend two hours sweating later today," said LoCascio, 38.

LoCascio works up a sweat by practicing Capoeira, a Brazilian sport that's part dance and part marital art. He spends half his time on the road, but he can usually find a Capoeira class in any city he visits; otherwise, he can always practice on his own. Exercising also allows him to step out of boss mode. Though he's usually the oldest person in class, he's still a beginner. At the end of one recent session, a 22-year-old offered him advice.

Unfortunately, travel can kill even the best-laid exercise plans. It's difficult to get on the treadmill at 7 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, when you're exhausted from a red-eye flight and rushing to get to a breakfast meeting. "Being a road warrior makes it exceptionally difficult to think about health," says Randy Fields, 59, co-founder of Mrs. Fields cookies and CEO of Park City Group.

When he's on the road, Fields tries to sleep well and keep stress to a minimum. Bad habits reinforce each other — stress can lead travelers to overeat, which just makes them sleepier — so Fields always arrives early for flights to avoid the rush. And at the end of a long day, he spends a half hour decompressing in his hotel room — meditating, doing yoga or just answering e-mail — before going to bed. "If I go to bed stressed, I don't sleep as well," Fields says.

Frequent travelers develop tricks for managing stress and fatigue. Fredrik Halvorsen, the CEO of videoconferencing firm Tandberg, uses noise-reduction headphones to help him relax on the plane and special socks that improve circulation. His company has two headquarters, one in Norway and one in the U.S., so he travels about 60 percent of the year. By establishing a small routine on the plane, he can rapidly adjust to his new environment. But his routine is humbling. "They're not the most sexy socks," admits Halvorsen, 32. "They stay pretty high. It's typically an odd moment when you're putting them on inside the plane."