The Corporate Athlete | Spire Perform

News and blog

The Corporate Athlete

Perform Press Office
22 January 2014

To keep the pace and meet high expectations, leaders need to be in the best possible shape. Yet too often personal wellbeing is neglected, posing serious risks to health and putting the brakes on performance.

Whereas most sportspeople must perform at elite level for a fairly limited time, successful corporate athletes are running a long-distance race. To stay at the top they need to consistently perform at their best over what can be a career spanning some 40 or 50 years.
The football manager, meanwhile, experiences both sides of the coin, often having played professionally before transitioning to a leadership role. This means monitoring and developing not just their own performance, but that of a team of high-profile players, many with a hefty price tag. Add to this the need to bring on board new talent, manage coaches and other personnel, plan transfers, manage budgets and cope with intense pressure and it's no wonder that their own well-being is often sidelined.

The Manager MOT
There are a number of factors that corporate athletes and all managers must consider if they are to look after their well-being and stay in peak performance, first amongst them being stress. If left unchecked, stress can have many negative effects on health, including high blood pressure, which in turn may increase the risk of heart problems and strokes. Stress can lead to elevated blood sugars, raising the risk of diabetes, and increased production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, causing potential stomach upsets and even ulcers. It can also cause changes in blood cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease and a host of other issues, including dangerous heart rhythms that could be life-threatening.

Lack of moderate exercise on a regular basis is another risk area, helping to clog up the system, particularly the blood vessels, and creating the potential for blockages in the heart and brain. However contrary to popular belief, high-intensity and exhaustive exercises are not the best antidote, as they can carry their own health risks, particularly if you are not in the best physical shape. Settle for more moderate intensity exercise, which will boost endorphins with their cardio-protective benefits.

Red Flags
Corporate athletes and football managers must know their key health numbers, just as they might know their team performance stats or key financial data. These include blood pressure, cholesterol and all its sub-fractions, and blood sugars. There are also some less common numbers that include inflammatory markers such as C Reactive Protein and Homocysteine. Monitoring your heart rhythm with an ECG is also valuable to check for any rhythm disturbances or lack of oxygen going to the heart during exercise. An echo-cardiogram to check for any structural or functional abnormalities of the heart wall is also a good idea. Corporate athletes who ignore the warning signs that all is not well do so at their peril. I recently worked with several high-performing CEOs of major international companies who, like many of their peers, had an air of invincibility. However, they discovered the high cost of not looking after their health, enduring quadruple and quintuple coronary artery bypass grafts. Luckily, after successful surgery, they are back at the helm of their respective businesses. Listening to your body and staying alert to the warning signs is vital.

Happy balance
Poor nutrition and hydration also has a cost to health and performance. It is advisable to eat three meals a day, with five hours in between as a fasting period and no snacks. Juicing, mixing fruits and vegetables, and taking the right multivitamin supplements are also recommended.

Finally, the importance of happiness shouldn't be overlooked (Shawn Acor's work on happiness medicine offers valuable advice – Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb 2012). Practicing three random acts of kindness by being benevolent to others has been found to promote good endorphin release in your body, as has laughter. While it may sound like soft medicine, there is good research to show that tension release and heart health benefits from this approach, even in the most challenging circumstances. Jose Mourniho paid tribute to this in a recent documentary on his career, citing the ability to laugh at oneself and with others as key to successful management. Double Olympic champion Michael Johnson also echoed the importance of the happiness factor in his book Gold Rush. As Jonathan Austin, CEO of Best Companies, says, “The end game has to be lasting the distance as a business leader or football manager with health happiness and success; this surely is the mark of a true corporate athlete.”


Eight steps to staying power

  1. Learn to relax for ten minutes each day, using deep-breathing techniques that help to regulate heart rhythms and promote good heart health.
  2. Start your day with three gratitudes, boosting good endorphins and their cardio and cancer protecting effects.
  3. Make time in your diary for regular moderate exercise, two or three hours each week.
  4. Know your own well-being profile by measuring key health numbers on an annual basis.
  5. Listen to your body and be aware of your internal warning signs, then act rather than ignore them.
  6. Eat nutritious food that is low in saturates and transfatty acids, with a balance of protein and complex carbs for slow and sustained energy release.
  7. Drink 8-10 glasses of still, cool water every day. Monitor hydration by checking the colour of your urine, (it should be light and transparent in appearance, not dark).
  8. Allow laughter and happiness into your day and practice three random acts of kindness, showing benevolence to those who work with you. It helps builds teams and protects health.

By Dorian Dugmore,
Director of Corporate Wellbeing, Perform at St. George’s Park