To Your Health

Is your business killing you? How to break your bad habits and pick up better ones.
Magazine Contributor
15 min read

This story appears in the October 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It's safe to assume that you're pretty fond of your business. It's the salt on your pretzel, the sand on your beach, the water in your garden. It's what makes you tick. It ought to make you tick; after all, you've likely thrown yourself into it, body and soul, just for the wonderful feeling of being an entrepreneur and growing something from a mere seedling into a strong, healthy plant. What you might not realize is while your plant is busy getting strong and healthy, it could be killing you.

"Entrepreneurs are at a very high risk of compromising their health because of their jobs," says Gayle Reichler, founder and president of New York city wellness firm Active Wellness. "A lot of us feel we're invincible; we work long hours and feel it, but we keep driving and driving, and pushing and pushing. But it's critical for entrepreneurs to work [wellness] into their routines."

Reichler ought to know. As she pursued her graduate studies and prepared to become a nutritionist and health counselor, she spent years ignoring the effects of stress on her immune system, as well as her family history of thyroid and heart diseases. So when Reichler was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1991, it was like a cold slap in the face.

But Reichler saw her illness as an opportunity to better herself. Now the healthy, happy 35-year-old has made wellness part of her life, not just a fleeting fancy. You, too, can create a healthy lifestyle for yourself, provided you have the will and the knowledge to make it happen. So let's get you started. Are you intrigues? Psyched? Good. You've taken your first steps toward getting well. Now get out your highlighter.

Stress Less

For many of you, stress is so much a part of your daily routine that if you didn't wake up and have an anxiety attack within the first five minutes, you might start to wonder what was wrong with you.

Reichler notes that nine out of 10 of her individual clients are entrepreneurs, representing all stages of development. "Entrepreneurs are some of the people with the most stress," she says, "because they have the weight of a business on their shoulders."

The list of stress's effects is long and disconcerting. Stress can cause migraines, insomnia, a short temper, ulcers, high blood pressure, lethargy, loss of or increase in appetite, a weakened immune system and depression--making it critical for you to find ways to de-stress.

"Being an entrepreneur, you're inherently creative," says Reichler. "You created a business. It's important to leave some time to maintain that creativity so you have the ability to move your business forward. When you're stressed out and caught up in day-to-day [events], you lose that ability."

So how can you stress less? Exercise helps, but you need to release your mind, too. Try these techniques:

  • Listen to relaxing music and/or stress-management tapes.
  • Soak in a hot tub with lavender oil or sea salts, or simply take a long, hot shower.
  • Turn off your phone and have a "spa day" or a day on the links.
  • Take a stress-management class.
  • Get a massage.

The key to de-stressing--and to any wellness program--is to take it slow, or you won't stick to it. Start with five or 10 minutes each day, and work your way toward more and more self-focused time. "This is an evolutionary process," notes health expert Krs Edstrom, author of Healthy, Wealthy & Wise (Soft Stone Publishing), as well as a series of stress-management tapes. "You can't do all these things at once--don't do that to yourself. Just slip into it, and it'll become a habit."

Get Healthy

Typical entrepreneurial scenario No. 126: You've been up all night, you didn't eat a decent dinner, and you're going to start gnawing on your stapler if you don't get some food into your body. You're busy--very busy--and being healthy might get lost somewhere between your fax machine and your cell phone.

Instead of slapping down $6 at the local Greasy Burgers "R" Us for a 1,000 calorie combo meal, consider healthier, cheaper alternatives that you can stock on your own kitchen shelves. In general, you'll want to live by these mantras:

1. Cut the "bad" (saturated) fats and increase the "good" (unsaturated) fats. Sources of bad fats include coconut oil, butter, full-fat dairy products, palm kernel oil and animal fat. Good fats include olive, canola and corn oils.

2. Cut the buzz. Reduce your intake of caffeinated beverages.

3. Eat your fruits and veggies. Go for mostly dark green, orange, red and yellow ones.

4. Drink water. Get at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day.

5. Eat whole-grain products. Your best sources are whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta.

6. Drink alcohol in moderation. While several studies show that a little can alcohol can help protect you against heart disease, it has also been shown to increase your risk of cancer--not to mention add pounds--if you go overboard.

That's a lot to think about when you're hungry, tired and busy. That's why Edstrom suggests you take a break and get someone else--such as a housekeeper, relative or friend--to do the cooking once in a while. Another efficient way to eat healthier is to stop focusing on eating three square meals a day. Instead, stock up on healthy snacks such as almonds and apples.

And don't forget breakfast--it'll jump-start your metabolism, give you energy and control your hunger so you don't go overboard at lunch time. Again, you should stick to whole-grain breads and cereals, nonfat milk, and foods that are high in fiber.

"Learn to listen to what your body [is telling you]," Edstrom advises, adding that dieting of any kind usually doesn't work. "Go back to the basics, then feel what your body needs from there. Go to a nutritionist if you think you're still not clear. In general, start by eating less, then combine that with the evolutionary approach to cleaning up your act."

Get Fit

There are a million excuses for not exercising.

Frankly, though, "I don't have time" just doesn't cut it anymore. You don't need to spend hours at the gym to get fit; you just need to have willpower--and maybe a decent pair of athletic shoes. You're right--you don't have time. You have to make time, even when you're caught up in the excitement of growing your business.

That's something Kirk Perron, CEO of San Francisco-based Jamba Juice, has had to learn through the years--even though wellness is what his company is all about.

"I was out of balance for a long time," says Perron, 35, who recently completed the 600-mile California AIDS bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. "When your business is growing at such an incredible pace, you don't have time for yourself. It wasn't until I'd made substantial progress in building the management team at Jamba that I was able to take more time in terms of exercising."

It's amazing what exercise can do for you, both physically and mentally. It strengthens the heart, increases metabolic rate, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, enhances immunity, improves self-esteem and mental attitude, and reduces stress. And with just 30 minutes a day--or 200 minutes a week--you can get there.

Remember, though, start slowly; steal a few minutes here and there to do some desktop push-ups, run up a light of stairs or take a short walk around the building. "Take baby steps," says Edstrom. "For your mind's sake as much as your body's you've got to start small. Instead of beginning with an hour-long aerobics class, start off with a walk to the mailbox or a noontime walk with a friend or colleague."

As with nutrition, there is no one program for everyone; once you start a fitness program, you'll learn what works for you. Many fitness trainers offer step-by-step personal fitness programs that can be tailored to your individual needs; such a program could be a good starting point.

The best approach is to trick yourself into getting fit. Find exercise that's fun for you, whether it's running, tae bo, biking, basketball or swimming. Perron's favorite exercises include spinning, biking and lifting weights.

Basically, you have to make your exercise program fun, or you'll quit before you even get your heart rate up. And if anyone can keep things interesting, it's you--an entrepreneur. In fact, your entrepreneurial status just might lead you to the perfect exercise. "Entrepreneurs are the ones to seek out the alternatives first," notes Reichler. "They're the risk-takers--that's their very nature."

Get Comfy

Just when you though we were done . . . yep, we gotta bring it up: repetiitve stress injuries.

You might not have carpal tunnel syndrome; you might not even wince once from staring at your computer screen or remaining glued to an uncomfortable chair all day.

But as with unhealthy nutrition and fitness behaviors, repetitive stress can catch up with you and leave you with chronic pain. New Milford, New Jersey, ergonomics firm ErgAerobics Inc. recommends evaluating these elements of your work station:

1. Desk. It should have rounded edges and be large enough to accommodate your keyboard, mouse, monitor and any documents you're working on.

2. Monitor. It should be at or below eye level, an arm's length away from you, and positioned so that it's not directly beneath any overhead lights.

3. Keyboard and mouse. Get wrist rests and, if possible, a split keyboard.

4. Chair. A good one will have adjustable back and seat cushions and padded arm rests, lumbar support, the ability to swivel, five wheels, and an adequate space beneath the chair and the desk.

5. Your body position. Your arms should be positioned on the armrests or resting on your desk, with your feet resting on the floor or on a footrest. Keep your lower back slightly arched with the help of a lumbar support cushion.

Remember, too, that you should take breaks at least once or twice an hour to stretch and give your eyes a rest.

Money Talks

If being well isn't enough of an incentive for you, take your business into consideration. Without a healthy, happy leader, it will suffer. "In fact," says Edstrom, "you can't afford not to take care of yourself."

Make your health equally as important as the project you have to complete by Tuesday or the bill you have to pay tomorrow. Schedule it into your day just as you would an important business meeting.

Reichler is proof positive it can be done. With patience and perseverance, she's become much more conscious of effective healthy habits. She eats low-fat, healthy meals; regularly exercises and meditates; practices yoga; and attends a weekly support group for the release of emotional stress. "When you're an entrepreneur, you live your work," says Reichler, who also suggests making wellness part of your company philosophy. "If you're living your work, you might as well make part of what you do living well, because then it will sustain you for years to come."

Cool Ideas

  • "How can I live without my french fries?" you ask. With fat-free fries from Candace Vanice, you don't have to. For ordering information, visit
  • At Santa Monica, California, marketing communications firm The Phelps Group, CEO Joe Phelps, 49, insists on maintaining a healthy environment for his employees. Under the guidance of a nutritionist, Phelps brings in healthy eats for his bi-weekly lunches with associates.
  • When Amy Krakow, owner of New York City public relations firm AGKrakow & Associates Inc., participated in the recent Avon Three-Day Walk for Breast Cancer, she got her clients psyched by sending them letters to request contributions. Krakow, 49, even got one client to do the walk with her.

Healthy Links

Surfing can be great exercise, too. Check out these Web sites:

1. InteliHealth Inc. ( great step-by-step health and fitness information from Johns Hopkins University

2. Aerobics and Fitness Association of America ( the latest research, personalized answers to fitness questions, fitness counseling and more

3. The Network ( total mind, body and workplace wellness, as well as downloadable guided-meditation software

4. Learning Meditation ( three- to 10-minute meditation sessions

Time Constraints

Do you have a minute? Krs Edstrom, author of Healthy, Wealthy & Wise (Soft Stone Publishing), suggests these quick exercises in her "No Time to Exercise" program:

1. Desktop push-ups. Stand about three or four feet away from a desk or counter top. Place the palms of your hands on the edge of the desk. Keeping your body straight, bend your elbows until your chin almost touches the desktop or counter top while lowering your body. Straighten your elbows and lift your body back up.

2. TV fat burner. Three nights a week, get up and move around during every TV commercial break.

3. Isometrics. Tighten and release the muscles in your stomach, buttocks, thighs and biceps one area at a time while working at your desk or driving your car.

4. Walk stairs. Resist the urge to take the elevator.

Label Smarts

What's in a label? Pay attention to the following:

1. Serving size: Watch out for sneaky food-makers who claim, for instance, their small box of macaroni feeds six.

2. Total fat: Most guidelines suggest eating a diet with 30 percent or less of calories from fat. Of that, saturated fat should be no more than 10 percent.

3. Fiber: Look for foods with at least two grams of fiber per serving.

4. Vitamins and minerals: If a food has no RDA percentages above 10, it's probably just a bunch of calories.

Total Wellness

One entrepreneur's quest for good health

"Some people say that to be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to let it totally consume you," says Mark Freitas, 42, president and CEO of Altiga Networks, a Franklin, Massachusetts, provider of virtual private networks. "I don't subscribe to that theory. My venture capitalists don't own me body and soul."

An avid runner who makes wellness a big part of Altiga, Freitas understands that to grow his young company--which he started in 1998 with co-founders Greg Marcotte and Keith Mader--he and his employees have to stay healthy.

"I learned a number of years ago that to be productive, I had to be physically active," says Freitas, who squeezes in five- to 10-mile runs at lunch time and, when traveling, selects hotels based on where they are and whether there's a fitness room with a treadmill. "That 45-minute period [when I run] helps me connect with some of the thorny issues I'm dealing with. I come back to the office ready to rock and roll."

To encourage company-wide wellness and peer support, Altiga sponsors an internal golf league, and the office kitchen is kept stocked with low-fat snacks.

And Freitas--who also finds peace by playing the trombone for a couple of community bands--likes to link up with other runners in 69-employee company for things like New Hampshire's annual Mount Washington run--a 7.6-mile uphill climb. One of the reasons Freitas chose Altiga's location was its proximity to a 900-acre state park, where employees walk, run and mountain bike, and he was sure to equip his building with showers.

"It's nice running a company because you can instill a healthy culture," says Freitas. "It's been positively received by my employees; you can see there's a lot of pride in being part of Altiga."

Reference It


1. American Heart Association Quick & Easy Cookbook: More Than 200 Healthful Recipes You Can Make in Minutes (Times Books)

2. Healthy Eating: For Extremely Busy People Who Don't Have Time for It (self-published by Christine Hoza Farlow, D.C.)

3. The Wellness Nutrition Counter (Times Books)


1. "Tae Bo Workout," with Billy Blanks

2. "The Firm: Total Body--Body-Sculpting Basics," with Susan Harris

3. "Living Yoga: A.M./P.M. Yoga for Beginners," with Rodney Yee

The Truth About Fad Diets

Fad diets might seem like a great way to lose weight quickly, but they can actually do more harm than good. The American Heart Association recommends adopting healthy eating habits instead. Here's why:

  • Fad diets deprive you of essential nutrients. They tend to overemphasize one type of food, undermining the principle of maintaining a balanced diet. Granted, you might lose weigh if you cut something from your diet, but you're probably also cutting something your body needs.
  • Fad diets are boring. Hence, it's virtually impossible to stick to them. Besides, food should be enjoyed, as long as it's enjoyed in moderation and satisfies nutritional needs.
  • The only way to lose weight without depriving your body is to eat less and increase physical activity. Period.

Don't Be Myth-Led

Myth:High-fiber means high-calorie.

Truth: High-fiber foods like whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetables are actually lower in calories than most other foods because they contain very little fat.

Myth:All vegetable oils are heart-healthy.

Truth: It depends on how they are processed and the type of oil used in a dish. Unhydrogenated oils lower cholesterol more than hydrogenated ones. And monounsaturated vegetable oils, like olive and canola, are recommended over polyunsaturated oils, such as corn and safflower.

Myth:Vitamins provide energy.

Truth: Only calories from carbohydrates, protein and fat provide energy.

Myth:People who are out of shape sweat more than fit people.

Truth: The reverse is true. The more fit you are, the more heat you produce and the more your body becomes efficient at cooling itself--hence, the more sweaty you are.

Myth:The more out of shape you are, the longer it will take to see results from an exercise program.

Truth: Again, the reverse is true. The greatest gains come in the first few weeks and months.

Source: InteliHealth Inc.

Contact Sources

Active Wellness, (212) 496-3991,

AGKrakow & Associates Inc., (212) 343-3626, fax: (212) 343-3629

Altiga Networks, (877) 4-ALTIGA,

ErgAerobics Inc., (800) 689-9199,

Jamba Juice, (415) 865-1100,

The Phelps Group, (310) 752-4400,

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