Pulling long hours, juggling work and family demands, coping with time zone fatigue, always online – these are the realities of today’s top business executives. With such an on-the-go lifestyle, how is a busy executive supposed to squeeze in the time for that other crucially important activity – remaining fit?

As a global leader in executive search, we have found that most top-level executives do take their health and fitness very seriously. It is, to my mind, literally a matter of life and death. Not working out and looking after your diet when you have a hectic schedule in a highly stressful environment, is asking for a heart attack. It is also imperative for optimum performance levels – are 20 cups of coffee and no food apart from a bag of biltong grabbed on the run really the right fuel for someone leading a multi-billion rand organisation? You cannot possibly perform at your best if you are overweight and unfit.

The traditional corporate get-together on the golf course is not going to cut it, however. It’s probably good for your soul, but not necessarily good for your heart. In South Africa, we have so much opportunity to get out there and keep fit, there really is no excuse to miss a workout. An encouraging sign is that more and more executives are taking up sports such as cycling and running – sports in which the whole family can participate together.

When traveling, focusing on healthy eating is a good start. And wherever you are in the world, you don’t need a gym. You can do press-ups in your hotel room, or take the stairs instead of the lift. I sometimes combine meetings with fitness by arranging to meet on the treadmills – the opportunities are there, if one is determined enough.

Executives should lead from the front. If they are themselves the embodiment of wellness, it will encourage their employees to take action and do something about their own fitness levels. Besides setting an example, business leaders should support their employees in taking their health seriously by ensuring healthy food in canteens, introducing corporate wellness days, and encouraging team-building activities geared towards improving fitness. This will not only lead to a healthier and happier workforce, but increased productivity levels will help the business bottom line.

Building fitness into your daily routine as an executive is part of what it means to be a disciplined leader. From a military perspective, you have to be fit to fight. From a corporate perspective, you can’t do your job properly if you are not well and healthy. You wouldn’t dream of missing a management report deadline or a shareholder review, so why miss that gym session?

Leon Ayo

Leon Ayo is the CEO of Odgers Berndtson South Africa based in Johannesburg. He works within all industries and sectors in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Previously he was a partner in Odgers Berndt...

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