Getting Healthy

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Each individual in a business plays an important role, but all the same, someone has to steer the ship. For the health of the company, its executives need to be at their best, both physically and emotionally.

To that end, many companies—and individual executives—are making efforts not only to avoid illness, but also to increase wellness.

“Our primary commitment is to prevent illness from developing,” says Dr. Hagop Mekhjian, chief medical officer of health system administration for the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “We identify risk factors and address those factors.”

Some factors are clear predictors. For example, it is well-known that obesity leads to a host of medical problems. Other factors may be more obscure and must be identified through screening tests and a little medical detective work. The result is healthier individuals and more productive, more effective leaders.

“Executives need to look at themselves as role models for their companies,” says Dr. Richard Lang of the Cleveland Clinic Executive Health Program. “The population working under them looks to them to see what they are doing.”

Some organizations begin to focus on wellness after a key player has a sudden, serious health problem. Leaders realize the cost associated with such events and may institute a wellness program across the board.

“A lot of employers are bringing companies like us in do screenings,” says Susan Baker, workplace health coordinator for Mount Carmel Health System. Screenings may include cholesterol levels, body mass index, waist measurements, blood pressure and more. “We give employees a snapshot of where their numbers are. If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what to work on.”

Many of these screenings are provided free of charge. For the topmost executives, the assessment often goes much deeper; the associated costs may be paid by the employer and insurance, or by the execs themselves. Ranging in price from $1,500 to $3,000, comprehensive assessments cover every aspect of physical, mental and emotional health, with special attention paid to the particular needs of a person serving in a high-level capacity.

Special Concerns

Every job can be stressful at times, but those at the top of the pyramid hold the future of their employees in their hands. Even the most savvy business leaders don’t always react rationally to such high pressure. They are, after all, only human.

Those whose high-stress positions call for excellent self-care often do just the opposite—eating poorly, skipping meals, getting too little sleep and forgoing the gym. “Executives are overworked and overtired, and they don’t take time eat right or see their doctors,” says Baker. Such behavior can take an early toll. Baker says she sees people in their 30s and 40s already on blood pressure and cholesterol medications due to problems brought on by self-neglect.

Food is a major factor. Dr. Michael Yaffe, director of the executive health and wellness program at OhioHealth’s McConnell Heart Health Center, says many leaders would benefit from a discussion with a dietitian. Business lunches and dinners, as well as the less-than-healthful options found in airports and on the road, can put businesspeople at a disadvantage. A nutrition expert can help educate executives about the best options, while a dietitian can help them take healthful eating habits home to the family.

Sufficient sleep is essential to any person’s well-being, but those who manage personnel in locations around the world may find themselves teleconferencing at 9 p.m., 2 a.m. and again at 9 a.m. and get little rest.

Doctors have found that women have special concerns. In addition to running companies, they still often feel pressure about the traditional roles of wife and mother, and their role as caregivers to their families, parents, neighbors and friends. “It is a challenge, working full time and being a wife and mother,” Yaffe says. “There are concerns that might be very different for women. They wonder if they are feeding their families the right foods, taking care of themselves well enough and being good mothers.

“One of the keys to wellness is helping people assemble balance in their lives,” Yaffe says. “Family needs, social and community needs, needs at work—we help them identify healthy behaviors and meet those needs in balance.”

Executives may find it is easy for work to consume the entire day. However, time must be carved out for other tasks or their candle will burn out too quickly.

Baker says exercise is essential, and it’s not difficult to work in. “The recommendation is 30 minutes most days of the week, but it doesn’t have to be a straight 30 minutes,” she says. “Three 10-minute sessions are just as effective. Get up from your desk and walk. Take your phone and return some calls. Do anything, as long as you are moving.”

Professionals must also be aware that emotional pressures can build up silently and eventually manifest themselves in all sorts of ways. Emotional health and stress relief are important, and part of the road to health includes admitting shortcomings in some situations. Lang, of the Cleveland Clinic, says patients often have a hard time admitting they need help or attention. “Executives live in a relatively lonely world,” he says. “Everyone comes to them with problems, and they don’t have places to vent and talk about their own concerns. They are role models for their families and employees, and they often feel they cannot show weakness.”

Ever-present technology can eliminate any hope of decompressing after a hard day’s work. “Busyness in our schedules is a concern now more than ever,” Lang says. “With all of the communication devices we carry, we are never away from the job.” Mental burnout can exacerbate the physical issues already in play.

“Our emotional world is not separate from our physical world,” Lang says. “They go hand in hand.” Sleep, diet, exercise, relaxation and relationships—all are connected. Physicians say healthful choices in one area beget healthful choices in the others, and vice versa. Eventually, all of these factors could affect the company’s bottom line.

“Executives must remember that they are their most important customer,” Lang says.

Getting Started

The first step on the road to wellness is to determine the patient’s starting point. A full battery of screening tests, biometric assessments and a detailed family history are in order. Here’s the rub: Those who need health advice the most often don’t have time to spend multiple days out of the office for medical appointments. So some health-care providers are providing one-stop shopping. In a single day, patients can find out virtually everything there is to know about their health.

Sara Miller, a nurse manager with the Wexner Medical Center, says the scope of the OSU executive health program is considerable. “For a new patient, we do a comprehensive panel of bloodwork and review their history, and the physician does a physical,” she says. “We also assess risk factors—nutrition, lifestyle management, cardiac health, stress management, emotional health and any other risk factors they may have.”

Virtually all of the work takes place in a private suite within the medical center, so it doesn’t feel like a hospital experience. Patients receive a written summary, and any follow-up is handled by nurses who serve as case managers.

OhioHealth’s wellness program includes a comprehensive examination of the patient’s physical health and lifestyle. Dermatology, body fat assessment, stress testing, fitness consultation, nutrition assessment, internal medicine, cardiology, immunization updates and a visit with a personal coach to discuss the psychology of wellness all occur during a one-day visit. While results are compiled, the patient enjoys a half-hour therapeutic massage that helps the medical team further assess tendons and muscles, Yaffe says. The day concludes with a 90-minute discussion of results and recommendations.

Dr. Ronald Miller of Olentangy Private Internal Medicine sees patients in his office, but also makes house calls. Patients pay a fee to keep Miller on retainer, and in return are guaranteed appointments within 24 hours and as much of his attention as they require. “We take a lot of time with patients, because preventive medicine requires time,” he says.

Miller has a dietitian on staff and employs exercise consultants to help his patients. He says he believes nontraditional practices such as his will become more prevalent as American health-care laws change.

When leaders want to integrate a healthy outlook into the corporate culture, they may bring in an outside company. Katy Henn, founder of the Wellness Collective, works one-on-one with executives and also designs fitness and wellness solutions for corporations.

Henn operates on the belief that health is happiness and is highly achievable. “We create convenient ways for people to move their bodies,” she says. Exchanging office chairs for balance balls, treadmill workstations or even standing workstations helps to increase fitness. Such options improve posture and alertness, burn more calories and increase overall well-being.

Henn says she also supports programs that encourage people to park farther away and choose stairs over elevators. “We are seeing a trend toward scheduling movement components in staff meetings,” she says. This can take the form of organized stretch breaks, or even walking meetings. “People tell us that they not only feel better, but they also feel more creative when they are moving,” she says.

Sometimes, managers arrange for lunch-and-learn meetings—midday seminars about cooking, relaxation techniques or other lifestyle topics. “Whatever is embraced up top will follow in the rest of the organization,” Henn says.

Patient Involvement

After the tests are complete and goals are set, consistency is the key to success. Mekhjian says OSU’s MyChart electronic records system gives doctors access to a patient’s history and past health issues, and also gives the patient access to records as well as the ability to reorder prescriptions online and email nonurgent questions to the medical team.

Miller says the system is ideal for busy executives. “There is no need to pick up the phone at all,” she says. “It is all electronic and very quick.” The greatest advantage, Mekhjian says, is that the online system engages patients in their own health care.

Katie Kinzig, employer health specialist for Mount Carmel, works to engage employees and boost morale through whole-office challenges. The 2012 winter challenge, called Maintain, Don’t Gain, includes weigh-ins prior to Thanksgiving and again after Jan. 1. A program during the Olympics had participants counting steps, donating blood and measuring their waistlines as they vied for medals. Corporate leaders often give gift cards or other small prizes to those who meet goals, in order to encourage staff members to jump on the wellness bandwagon.

Mount Carmel is seeing an increasing number of executives who are undergoing wellness screenings and referring their spouses and family members. Execs also are increasingly bringing wellness into the workplace, realizing that what works for top leaders can work for the whole company

“Wellness has definitely taken off,” Kinzig says. “Wellness activities reduce absenteeism and let people know their employers care about them. We are seeing more companies taking advantage of the many resources that are out there.”

Kristin Campbell is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the January 2013 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.