Time to be Fit • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Time to be Fit

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Execs schedule their fitness activities, and hold to the schedule.

by Jerry Davich

Like so many busy executives in today's global business world, Miche Grant pumps out 12-hour workdays either in her office, via remote means or somewhere in between.

Over the past 20 years, Grant has worked in 28 countries while raising children, earning higher-education degrees and supporting her extended family.

“Yes, I do work a lot,” admits Grant, vice president of Data, Technology and Learning Initiatives at Center of Workforce Innovations Inc. in Valparaiso.

Still, Grant rarely misses a day without some form of exercise. So rarely, in fact, that it translates to less than one work week a year without doing at least 30 minutes of “something.” It could be an early morning run, weight machines at the Y or a DVD workout. But somehow, someway, somewhere she always squeezes it in.

“I HAVE TO PLAN AND SCHEDULE FITNESS” says Miche Grant, vice president at Center of Workforce Innovations.
“I HAVE TO PLAN AND SCHEDULE FITNESS” says Miche Grant, vice president at Center of Workforce Innovations.

If she has to wake up at 4:15 a.m., so be it. If she has to speed walk in between appointments, she does it. If she has to mix things up to deadlift the boredom from her routines, she'll get creative enough to make it interesting again.

“I have a very sedentary job, so I actually have to plan and schedule fitness into each 24-hour period,” says Grant after returning from a recreational run in Nashville, Tenn.

Grant's “plan and schedule” mission statement is echoed by many executives who, though they're hurried and harried on a daily basis, somehow manage to find time–and make time–to stay active.

“Life can get crazy and stressful, so sometimes it's tough to get that workout in every day,” says 54-year-old Kevin Coppinger, owner of Yo Amazing Yogurt Shoppes in Valparaiso and Schererville.

“I never plan a day off from working out because issues may come up at the stores and I might not get to the gym,” he says. “However, I put everything aside for at least one hour every day because working out helps to relieve stress and clear my mind.”

“WORKING OUT HELPS TO RELIEVE STRESS” says Kevin Coppinger, owner of Yo Amazing Yogurt Shoppes.
“WORKING OUT HELPS TO RELIEVE STRESS” says Kevin Coppinger, owner of Yo Amazing Yogurt Shoppes.

Coppinger, the longtime owner of Dari Dip in Portage, opened Yo Amazing with Courtney Crozier, who lost weight and gained fame on the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser.”

Similar to Crozier, he also was very heavy in his youth. The phrase “working out” was more an oxymoron than a daily mantra in his younger years. At one point, though, he got sick and lost 25 pounds, forcing him to realize how much better he felt overall.

“I began working out to keep the weight off, and I never looked back,” he says before heading again to Classic Bodyworks Gym in Portage. “As I got older, I came to realize that I could either spend time in the gym or time at the doctor's office. Seeing as how I hate doctors' offices, the gym was the place for me.”

There, he has two workout partners and a routine of lifting weights four days a week with cardio on the other days. “And when the weather's warm, I'll run outside, usually on the trails,” he adds.

LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo doesn't have a set schedule in her public office position, so her workout times constantly vary. She, too, has consistently bench-pressed the “squeeze it in” model of staying in shape.

“Typically, I just try to create openings in my calendar when I think I can squeeze in at least an hour,” says Milo, who began exercising as a college freshman in the U.S. Navy, “mostly to meet the required standards.”

These days, she meets her own required standards while navigating her city's residents toward healthier habits through the vessel of “Fitness Fridays,” an outreach program that's been expanded to all Hoosier counties.

Admittedly, she's not a morning person, especially for a run or workout.

“But I always feel great afterward, and I wonder why I fought myself so hard to get up,” she says. “That lasts until the next morning when I have the same internal fight all over again.”

As the high-energy mayor of “The Hub of Awesome,” she'd rather be creative with her workout schedule than do nothing at all. In order of preference, she enjoys running outdoors, hitting the gym or using DVDs, depending on the weather and her workout partners' schedules.

“Like anything that demands time, when you have a busy schedule, you have to make it a priority and set realistic goals,” says Milo.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has always prided himself on being in shape, staying active and competing in sports. “Exercise is important to me; it always has been,” says McDermott, who wrestled all through high school and joined the U.S. Navy scuba diver school in Panama City, Fla.

“However, after eight years of being mayor, I found I was losing the battle with my waistline,” he says, noting that his weight once ballooned to 230 pounds.

Like so many time-crunched execs, McDermott rationalized that he was too busy, too stressed and too much in demand for work-related duties. “I regularly had heartburn, backaches and other medical problems,” he recalls. “I was getting old quickly.”

After elected to his third term, he vowed to change his workout habits. Instead of taking business lunches, he met with the same people in his office, away from food, drinks and cop outs.

“I took charge of my calendar and scheduled time for working out,” he says.

Some days it's a two-hour bike ride to work. Other days it's an hour at the gym or a 30-minute run outdoors. Regardless, whatever gets his heart racing and sweat flowing.

“This time for me is just as important as the most important meetings I hold,” he insists. “Somehow, even though I added this extra appointment into my daily activities, I still manage to finish the appointments I covered earlier without the workout being involved.”

McDermott, 45, agrees with the other execs that an added bonus of working out is the ability to hurdle work-related mental obstacles while challenging their physical bodies. “While I'm running, riding or working out, I find I can work through the most complex of problems in my mind while straining my body to its limits,” he says.

Mark Heckler, president of Valparaiso University, typically gets up by 5 a.m., checks his email, and then goes through his 90-minute workout routine. It begins with a 20-minute full-body stretch he learned from the Cleveland Clinic's Executive Health Program.

“Then I do between 15 and 40 minutes of cardio, coupled with either abdominal strength conditioning or strenuous strength conditioning of my legs or arms using a balance ball and free weights,” he says.

Heckler tries to get in five workouts each week and he's “religious” about it when he's not traveling. On the road, if time allows, he either uses a hotel's fitness center or outlined exercises from the book “Your Are Your Own Gym” by Mark Lauren.

“Many times, my travel does not permit a full morning workout, and I can feel the effects of skipping a workout almost immediately,” he says. “This provides greater motivation to keep my workout regimen intact.”

Heckler understands that physical activity is only half the battle for staying in shape or losing weight. Nutrition is key, making “all the difference.”

“For me, it took eliminating as much sugar as possible from my diet, including those carbs that quickly convert to sugar,” says Heckler, who still enjoys an occasional cocktail or glass of wine. “But as far as food is concerned, I have wiped sugar from my diet.”

Heckler's lesson plan to others is to set aside time–any amount of time available–for yourself and “under no circumstances” allow anything else to take up that time.

“It is really a matter of personal discipline,” he insists, noting that he was overweight well into his college years. “If you bring the same discipline to your body as you do to running your organization, you can absolutely get on top of this and feel great about your physical self. And you'll have more energy and will be more productive at work.”

Milo agrees, suggesting these three tips: Make exercise a priority, set achievable goals and have a partner or group to help keep each other accountable.

“It becomes easier for me to prioritize exercising because I'm not just doing it for me,” she tells herself. “I do it so I can maximize my contribution to our team. Accountability to another can be a huge motivator.”

Another motivation is having a specific and achievable goal in mind. Otherwise, it's a dusty treadmill ride to old habits and older rationalizations.

“After a couple days build up where I just couldn't make this happen, I notice that my attitude, my work and then my team suffers because I'm not releasing negative energy and rebuilding positive energy,” Milo says.

Coppinger says to write “workout” across your upcoming calendar just as you would for other appointments. And do it today.

McDermott suggests adding distractions to your workout, such as upbeat music or the stock exchange ticker, “as a background visual to add to your sensory overload.”

Grant's multi-step advice is to first schedule some sort of movement, no matter how small, into every 24-hour period. “You can do this if only walking the school hallways during intermission of your child's basketball game,” she says.

Next, be creative by giving yourself several options to choose from. “Before the start of the day, plan the when, what and where by time, activity and location,” she says. “Just a small mental note by way of acknowledging what you plan to do and for how long. This is not a pass-fail, simply something you do for yourself.”

Her last piece of advice is the one she lives by: Any day you can come up with an excuse or reason to not exercise or be active is a day you must exercise. “That works best for me because I could come up with an excuse not to exercise every day of my life,” she says, ringing a bell familiar to most every executive.


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