Competitive advantage — that extra mile an organisation and its leadership are willing to go that keeps them one step ahead of the present or potential competition.

Once the benchmark is raised, it becomes the new norm. The convenience store chain 7 Eleven experienced this accidentally in 1963 when they established their first 24-hour store in Austin, Texas. Located very close to the university campus, one Saturday night after a football game the store was so busy that it never closed. Encouraged by the increase in revenue, the store changed its standard opening hours from 7 am to 11 pm to a new schedule: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Soon this became company policy, and before long it became the benchmark for all convenience stores. If you wanted to succeed in the industry, it was impossible to do so without being open 24 hours a day. This trend later extended to supermarkets, pharmacies, and gyms. 7-Eleven established a new benchmark, and before long their innovation was the norm.

For the executive, the benchmark was raised during the economic uncertainty of the 1980s. White-collar workers began logging more hours, trying to make themselves stand out from the nine-to-five set. Workplace cultures rewarded those who worked all hours, devoting themselves entirely to the job and blurring or erasing the lines between work and personal time.

The effects of this were long-lasting. In a 2011 Regus white paper, ‘A Study into the Length of the Workday and its Impact on Employee Health’, 45% of Australian workers reported taking home their work at least three times a week. This is simply what it takes to maintain a competitive advantage.

It is the new normal.

The Age of the Unhealthy Executive

If the symptoms of executives’ work habits were the product of an infectious disease, that disease would be quickly eradicated. The government would spend millions of dollars and deploy all the resources at its disposal to contain and eliminate the disease.

The problem is that the health consequences of the executive’s lifestyle are not as obvious as those of, say, Ebola. Deterioration is so slow that the consequences are nearly invisible, and the damage is self-inflicted. Plummeting energy levels, constant pain, and restricted movement are ignored until they reach a crisis point. Until the health issues become impossible to ignore, they are swept under the carpet with the words, “I am getting old”.

Age is, indeed, an uncontrollable variable, but it doesn’t account for the overwhelmingly poor state of today’s executives. According to a recent Apollo Life study:

  • 71% of executives are obese.
  • 48% are in hopelessly poor physical condition.
  • 35% have stomachs that are larger than their chests.
  • 30% take daily medication.

The statistics become even worse if you are a CEO:

  • 82% are obese.
  • 77% have stomachs that are larger than their chests.
  • 69% are in hopelessly poor physical fitness condition.
  • 62% are unable to do one push up or sit up.
  • 59% are unable to touch their toes.
  • 56% take daily medication.
  • 28% have not exercised at all since they were children.
  • 10% have had a heart attack in the last 12 months.

It is hard to get your head around these statistics. Executives possess all the elements that, when combined, create success. They have all of the resources and knowledge, and they’ve got the track records to prove it.

These track records show that they know how to identify and solve problems before they become catastrophic. They understand cause and effect, but for whatever reason, they have been slow to apply this knowledge to their physical health. It appears that it is a sacrifice they are prepared to make.

It’s not just a matter of executives not eating right or exercising. They are also not managing their stress in remotely effective ways. The Apollo Life study describes how 84% of executives and a staggering 100% of CEOs suffer from stress-related ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, abnormal heart rhythm, stomach ulcers, frequent headaches or insomnia. Throughout their careers, executives have put their mental and physical health on the line.

Although they might be rewarded with the lifestyle that is a testament to their professional success, they are sacrificing their ability to enjoy this lifestyle. They pay this cost because they have ignored the warning signs, prioritizing their competitive advantage over their health.

They don’t act until it’s too late.

The Age of the Unhealthy Executive is well and truly upon us. Stress, unhealthy diets and a lack of exercise have resulted in a staggeringly high number of overweight executives. Since it is unlikely that the pressures of the job will ease anytime soon, executives need to take responsibility for their health.

They need to realise that their very lives are at stake.

If you would like to read more about how deconditioned executives can turn into athletes If you want to learn more about the program that allows deconditioned executives to turn into athletes you can download a free chapter sampler of my book here or on the website.