Physical fitness is the basis for all other forms of excellence.
– John F. Kennedy
Growing up I was a pretty healthy kid. My parents did a great job of feeding me well, generally avoiding junk food, sodas, and candy. During high school I was on the swim team, and our family did a LOT of walking while exploring South America, where we lived for seven years.
Then came college, and the discovery of beer and pizza. I still remember the look on mom’s face when I came home after that first semester, appearing somewhat different than when I had left a few months earlier. Maintaining an acceptable weight, and overall good level of fitness, became a struggle for the next thirty years. I was never truly obese, just twenty to thirty pounds more than optimum.
I was aware that being overweight impacted my personal and professional leadership. It hurt my self-confidence, energy level, and complicated my life. Clothes didn’t fit right so business travel and presentations took more planning.
I would occasionally try diets, usually not well planned and lacking in key nutrients, with the weight coming back soon after I reached my goal. I did exercise regularly, especially during the last five or ten years. I even ran a full marathon to check one goal off my bucket list, but instead of taking advantage of the training to lose weight, I relished the fact that I could eat a whole pizza at night without gaining more weight! During times of extreme stress, even the exercise went out the window, further aggravating the problem.
Then my friend Paul Akers, a Lean leader that I have a lot of respect for on many levels and is about the same age as I am, told me about his physical transformation – including losing 50 pounds. He has since written a book about the process, Lean Health. As the title implies, Paul applied Lean concepts to his health. At the most fundamental level, your body is your customer, and having too much weight and consuming too much food is waste. He created accountability by using a fitness app and by sharing photos of what he was eating, which he calls the “photo diet,” and he standardized his routine – with standard foods, exercise, and eating schedules.
With Paul’s encouragement, I began applying those same principles, and soon discovered that just about everything I thought I knew about nutrition and portion size was wrong. Within three months I had dropped twenty pounds while also ensuring I met my balanced nutritional needs. Combined with the strength and aerobic conditioning I had already been focusing on for a couple years, I’m now, in my fifties, fitter than I have been since before college – over thirty years.
As important as exercise and nutrition is, don’t forget about sleep. Most people I know wake to an alarm each morning, and feel a bit run down the rest of the day – even with coffee. Most experts recommend eight or even nine hours of sleep each night, but that can vary considerably. In my case a little over five, coincidentally about two REM cycles, seems best. Unless I have an important meeting or flight I never set my alarm, and still wake naturally around four. I don’t drink caffeinated coffee, but feel very alert until noon. I’ll often take a quick thirty minute nap right after lunch, leaving me invigorated for the rest of the day. Even on weekends I rarely find I can sleep past four.
A fit body creates the foundation for a fit mind. Treat your body as your most important customer, reduce waste, gain energy, and create balance and harmony.