Healthy Choice

Entrepreneurs are: A) fit as a fiddle; B) keeping doctors in business; C) about to drop dead? The answer might surprise you.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the November 2000 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

It's no secret that many entrepreneurs put in long hours, have high stress levels and don't get a lot of downtime. It comes with the territory. But, in the long run, how does an entrepreneurial lifestyle affect your health?

When we sent questionnaires to Entrepreneur's Hot 100 business owners asking them to identify themselves as "healthy" or "unhealthy," everyone picked "healthy." Contrast those answers to the results of a recent study by James M. Rippe, a professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and you'll discover a serious inconsistency. Rippe's study indicates corporate executives are at high risk for serious health problems. So what gives? Are entrepreneurs really in good health? Or are they simply in denial?

"I work out every day," says Robert Blomstrom, 44, CEO of Workplace Interiors, an Irvine, California, office furniture company. "It makes me feel better about eating the inevitable cheeseburger that I grab at lunch, as opposed to the salad I'm supposed to eat." For entrepreneurs like Blomstrom, who quit smoking 10 years ago and runs five kilometers per day, good health is a way of life. For others, the issue is a bit more complex.

Ned T. Lester, 62, CEO and president of Maxim Systems Inc., a software engineering, system integration and computer development firm in San Diego, considers himself healthy and overweight-with an asterisk. Next to the box marked "overweight" he wrote, "According to my wife and doctor" (we can only imagine what a survey of the spouses and doctors would have yielded). "The main thing is that I feel great," says Lester.

Like Lester, most of the entrepreneurs surveyed feel great. But feeling healthy and being healthy are two different things. The truth is, almost everyone thinks they're healthy. "Over 90 percent of people rate their health as good or excellent," Rippe says. "But three-quarters of the population is inactive and 30 to 40 percent are obese. Those people carry enormous risks, yet they rate their health as good or excellent."

Rippe's study also reveals that, when it comes to health habits, executives are actually the same as everyone else. "The surprising finding from our study was that the executive population mirrored the rest of the country," he says. "Here's an affluent, highly educated group of people used to acting on data, but they run their own health at a much lower level of sophistication than they run their businesses."

But what about entrepreneurs? Are they any different from the Fortune 500 crew? Ninety-five percent of our entrepreneurs say they exercise on a regular or occasional basis, and only 14 percent think they're overweight. Conversely, Rippe's study found that only 27 per-cent of executives exercise enough and 36 percent are obese. An astounding 83 percent of entrepreneurs claim their weight is average. "They're probably telling the truth," says Rippe. "Because the average person in America is overweight."

The problem seems to be that most people don't even know whether they're healthy or not. "It's one thing to ask, 'Are you active?,' but if you start probing and say, 'How often do you get 30 minutes of physical activity on a regular basis?,' you start getting different numbers," says Rippe. "The vast majority of people who came into our clinic [for the study] thought they were healthy, but left understanding that even though they might feel healthy, in many instances, they were carrying one, two or three risk factors for coronary heart disease."

Early diagnosis is the key to reducing those risk factors, but only half our entrepreneurs see their doctors on a regular basis. The average age of those who get annual physicals is 42, while it's 36 for those who wait until something's wrong. Most young entre-preneurs claim they don't need to see a doctor, don't have time or are too young to worry. Clay Mazur, 29, co-founder and general manager of Interstate Resto-ration Group Inc., a fire and water restoration firm in Fort Worth, Texas, hasn't seen a doctor in the last five years. Why? "I'm rarely ever sick. Maybe a cold now and then, but I feel pretty good. I play soccer and work out once or twice a week."

While young entrepreneurs like Mazur may be in relatively good health, Rippe says, it's still important for them to take preventative measures. "Even if you're young and otherwise healthy, you should see a doctor at least every other year to get your cholesterol checked," says Rippe. "If you're a man, get your prostate examined, and if you're a woman, get a breast exam."

For many people, it takes a major problem to get their attention. In his early 40s, Lester, who played football in high school and was in the Navy for 20 years, didn't expect his health to be a problem. "In 1984, I found out I had an atrial fibrillation," says Lester. "It was a major wake-up call. Now I'm religious about going to the doctor."

For Lester, taking care of his health isn't just good sense-it's also good business. "My health affects my company," says Lester. "If I feel good, I do my job better, and the company runs better."

Rippe echoes the sentiment: "Seeing a doctor now is far more cost-effective and timesaving than treating a major problem later."

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