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Weight Off Your Mind

Guest Feature Article:

(Published in The Guardian, Wed 18 June, 2014):
Making time for exercise and healthy eating doesn’t just benefit your health. As Guy Clapperton finds out, there are compelling business reasons for staying in shape too…

You don’t have the walk to the train, or the bus stop, or the trudge from the station to the workplace. You do have access to the biscuit tin at home. So, how do you avoid putting on weight? Workplace specialist Annie Leeson, cited in The Smarter Working Manifesto, suggests obesity is a likely consequence of the home working boom. It needn’t be inevitable, though.

Basically, everybody knows what causes weight gain and the resulting health problems. People speak about glandular conditions, they claim to be big-boned, but the facts are relatively straightforward: eat and drink too much and don’t work it off and you’ll get fatter.

Tim Bean, a speaker on executive health and longevity, and co-founder of the Institute of Physique Management in London, believes that home business owners should have it easier than most when it comes to keeping the kilos off. “You don’t have all the temptations in front of you that you have if you’re working in the city,” he says. “People who are travelling get to a train or tube station and there are all these outlets all over the place, some offering healthy food, but there’s always the temptation to buy something that isn’t.”

This often means eating foods and taking in drinks that you wouldn’t otherwise have had, at non-mealtimes. Office vending machines are no help either.

At home, the temptations are limited to whatever you’ve bought in advance (so, mental note: good health starts by planning in the supermarket). Only having food in the house that will help you stay alert rather than high-sugar items is actually pretty easy.

“It does require planning,” says Bean. “If people are poor at planning their home agenda within their home setting, they may have problems planning their health and physique.” People need to diary in their meals in the same way that they diary in their calls and meetings, he says. “If I were to ring one of my clients today and ask what they’re having to eat tomorrow, they should be able to tell me what they’re having for breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon and dinner.” This needn’t be all that taxing, he says: leftovers from dinner often make a good lunch. Smoothies are good snacks, a good fruit bowl is indispensable, he says.

There are a few things to watch for. Dried fruit and nuts sound very healthy and in small amounts they can be; when you’re out you’ll buy them in small amounts. “At home, when you take them out of the packet, there’s no real discipline about the amount you have.” Grazing in the house, particularly when eating just to break up the monotony of a desk job, is a minefield without planning.

Bean regards exercise as a different issue for home workers. You have to eat, so eating healthily is a small step if you’re in the same shop that will sell you junk or fresh healthy food. Actively putting time aside to exercise is different. “It’s a good strategy to go five minutes down the road to the local gym; it’s a good mental break and gets you out of the office.” His ideal gym is the one that’s very convenient to your work or home. “The further away it is, the less likely it is to happen.”

Training at home is a possibility – but put it in the diary again. The biggest failing with home exercise equipment is that within weeks it becomes a very expensive clothes drier, says Bean. “I’ve seen it with ab machines, vibration plates and loads of things,” he says. Maintaining high energy and a healthy metabolic capacity is important if you’re going to be face to face with clients, they’ll assess you and your ability to work with them depending on what they see, consciously or otherwise.

“The equipment isn’t expensive; you can get a foldaway bench, a pair of adjustable dumbells and a balance ball for under £300,” he says. Aim for an exercise routine that will take less than 10 minutes, he suggests. “If you have calls coming in and you’ve scheduled in a run that’s going to take an hour plus shower time, it’s less likely to happen,” he says.

There are good business reasons for staying fit. Alertness and effectiveness are easier when you are basically well. Have a coronary or suffer diabetes and apart from the personal crises, you can’t perform at your best in business terms. In some cultures, they build exercise routines into the workplace; in the West we have a history of finding this curious, even amusing, although it’s difficult to understand why.

If you’re working from home a lot, it’s a good idea to treat yourself as one of your clients.

Taking care of your business means taking care of your self – and now is a good time to start.

*Guy Clapperton is co-author of The Smarter Working Manifesto