Business

Thursday 2 October 2014

The business executives who are fighting fit

Ireland's top business leaders say that exercise and a healthy lifestyle keeps them at the top of their game in the workplace

Fiona McBennett

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

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Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O'Leary
Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O'Leary
Eamonn Quinn
Christine Ourmieres

The recent video of Barack Obama grimacing and sweating as he pumped iron in a Polish gym proves that even the busiest man in the world finds time to exercise.

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However, Obama is not the only high-powered gym bunny. Many of Ireland's top business leaders feel that keeping fit allows them to stay at the top of their game in the workplace.

Anne O'Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland, says that exercising is fundamental for managing a demanding job.

"You have to be like an elite athlete to run a company and motivate people. You need to be at your best all the time and make the right decisions."

A keen cyclist, runner and swimmer, O'Leary regularly takes part in triathlons. "For me to be at my best I need to be fit, so I try to do some exercise every morning," she says. "When I am not training, I don't sleep well or feel as good."

O'Leary's love of fitness means that she encourages her colleagues to be active.

"We recently built a well-being area in Vodafone, which offers everything from spinning classes to mindfulness courses. As we are a high-performing organisation, I feel it's important for our employees to take the time they need to look after their physical and mental health," she says.

Pat Cussen, regional director for Radisson Blu hotels in Ireland, is a keen runner and will be taking part in his second marathon this year.

An ex-smoker, Cussen is now passionate about following a healthy lifestyle.

"When I first started out in the hotel industry, the hours were so long that exercise fell to the wayside. Five years ago, I decided to get fit and healthy again, for the mental benefits as well as the physical," he says.

Starting the day with an early morning run allows Cussen to perform better at work.

"I work at a much higher energy level when I've been running. I run alone, without any music, and I find it a great stress release. Exercising sets me up for the day. I can face work and any problems that arise with a clear head,"he says.

CEO of CityJet Christine Ourmieres is a dedicated runner and has completed four marathons. However, the mother of three admits that it has sometimes been difficult to find the time to exercise.

"You need to be very organised when trying to fit exercise in. I have been very fit in recent years but at the start of my career I didn't exercise that much. As my responsibilities increased, I realised that stress can have an impact on your work, so I started running. However, when my children were young, it was a challenge to find the time again."

Nowadays, Ourmieres never misses out on a training session as she has a treadmill in her home.

"I love being outdoors. Getting fresh air, away from the office, is important to me," she says. "In the winter, when the weather is bad, having my own gym equipment is great, as it means I can always fit some exercise in."

Chairman at Kelsius and a dragon on Dragons' Den, Eamonn Quinn, says that setting goals is important to him when it comes to exercise.

"I've taken part in many sporting events, such as triathlons, ironmans and marathons and have always found that training for something and having a goal in mind keeps it more interesting than just doing an hour or two here and there," he says. "The race days are a lot of fun too, especially if you're in a group."

Quinn says that the goal setting involved in exercise is good practice for business.

"When a business needs to improve, you set out a plan. It's the same with exercise. The only difference is that with training you are guaranteed to get results, which isn't always the case in business," he laughs.

Personal trainer Karl Henry insists that even the busiest person can fit some exercise into their day and reap its many benefits.

"Exercise makes us more focused, driven and healthier," he says. "It helps to keep your waistline down and this is important, as the more stressed you are, the more dangerous fat you will store around your midriff."

Karl says simple changes are the key to being healthy.

"It's all about getting active in your day whenever you can, such as taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator, or walking to a meeting instead of taking a taxi."

A hectic work schedule can often mean processed food on the go. However, nutritionist Susan Jane White, says that this is a recipe for disaster when it comes to increasing productivity at work.

"If companies want to optimise employee performance, they need to start treating them like athletes. No professional athlete would compete on a ham sanger, a pack of Tayto and five coffees," she says.

White's advice is to stay away from the vending machine and, instead, go for fresh food that gives long-lasting energy.

"My greatest downfall in my former office life was the vending machine, which drank vats of my salary and my energy," she says. "Foods I frequently use now in recipes would include omega-3 rich nuts, chia and flax seeds, protein-rich hemp, dates and sweet potatoes and battery-boosting wholegrains like rye, quinoa, oats and chickpeas. Poor food will have you on your knees at work."

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