June 15, 2009, 1:15 PM — The stress of the recession has literally driven some executives to total exhaustion. And yet in times like these, it's more important than ever to exercise, says Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist who is also director of Women and Heart Disease at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "Exercise does release endorphins in the system and can really help" reduce stress, she says.
Too busy? "All of us are right now in this situation of not having enough time in the day," Dr. Steinbaum says. "But if we realize how much time we're putting into being nervous about that, we're not being as effective as we could be" if we took time out for exercise.
Chuck Sperazza, CIO and senior vice president of Herbalife, a nutrition and weight-management company based in Los Angeles, is serious about fitness. A triathlete, Sperazza won his age group in the 2002 Ironman competition in Hawaii, and is now trying to qualify for the 2009 event. But maintaining his exercise commitment means making sacrifices.
[ To read more on this topic, see A Few Tips for Staying Healthy in a Stressful Job and 10 Ways to Stay Motivated During your Job Search ]
"Staying fit makes me more effective. I have more endurance, more energy and I'm more alert," Sperazza says. "If I want to continue to enjoy those benefits, I have to get up early" to exercise before work, he adds, because "once I get to the office, I never know what's going to happen."
Herbalife operates in 70 countries, which means Sperazza spends a lot of time on planes. But he still finds time to exercise, either by swimming in the hotel pool or running in a nearby park. If he can, he also likes to take a 30-minute run after checking in, which he says delays jet lag. "It jump-starts my aerobic system. I'm able to go for six or seven hours after that," Sperazza says.
Of course, your own exercise regime doesn't need to mean training to be an Ironman. Even CIOs who haven't exercised for years can reduce their stress by following these simple tips.
1) Breathe. You don't even have to get up to do it. "One of the most effective breathing exercises is inhaling to the count of six and exhaling to the count of four, and doing that three times," Dr. Steinbaum says. "It really helps in decreasing your blood pressure and heart rate." How often? "If you're feeling anxious, just do it," she says.
2) Shake a leg. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park a little farther away from your destination. Even an extra five-minute walk can make a huge difference, Dr. Steinbaum says.
3) Sleep. "The most perfect amount of sleep is 7.5 hours per night. I don't know how realistic that is for everyone," Dr. Steinbaum says. If you're getting less than that, "you really need to incorporate some kind of stress management into your day," like those breathing exercises.
4) Think twice before coffee. "When you're about to nod off, walk down the stairs and back up. The extra circulation is going to give you more benefits than a cup of coffee," says Dennys Passeto, owner of Achieve Fitness, a personal training company based in Germantown, Md.
5) Get your heart rate up--safely. If you're not used to exercise, check with your physician first. If you're good to go, find your target heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying the result by 87 percent. Ideally, you would hit that heart rate for 150 minutes a week, by exercising half an hour a day, five days a week, Dr. Steinbaum says. But the 30 minutes doesn't have to happen all at once, she adds. "You can do it in 10-minute increments."
Joan Indiana Rigdon is a freelance writer based in Maryland.