It took Christy Krames 25 years to muster the wherewithal to leave her desk. She admits she's a "bit of a workaholic," as a successful self-employed medical illustrator. She never dreamed of peeling herself from her sketch pad during the day--much less, leaving for an exercise break.
But after a back injury two years ago, her physical therapist suggested she consider working out at a gym to regain her strength. Krames, 52, had taken tai chi for years and thought she was relatively active, but she always put work first.
Most mornings these days, Krames happily leaves her home office for an hourlong group exercise class. Now, with greater energy and clarity and reduced stress, she has a different perspective on her career and personal life. "When I leave my house at 9:30, that's peak work time for me. For 25 years, I never would have dreamed that I could do it, " she says. "I never thought I could leave, put myself first, work out and then adjust. But I can."
Krames is among an increasing number of people who recognize the benefits of exercise for a healthy work life. She's seen how exercise invigorates her, helps keep her focused and directly contributes to her professional success. She no longer believes being productive means packing as much work as possible into her workday.
Research backs up Krames' experience. A 2004 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that people who increased their physical activity also improved the quality of their work and overall job performance, says Mark Faries, with the Fitness Institute of Texas, part of the University of Texas-Austin department of kinesiology and health education. Those with lower body mass indices (BMIs) also got along better with co-workers and missed fewer days of work, he says.
Absenteeism from obesity alone cost employers $2.4 billion in 1998, according to a study in Obesity Epidemiology, and Faries thinks the figure has increased in subsequent years. "The kicker is that these risk factors are modifiable, and physical activity--even in minimal amounts--can have a positive impact."
Strengths from sports
Jennifer Azzi, an entrepreneur and former WNBA player, believes disciplines learned on the basketball court and through exercise in general helped fuel her success in business. Now a fitness trainer, life coach, author and speaker, Azzi says she learned long ago that exercise made her more productive in school and at work, and sports taught her confidences, communication and goal-setting skills. She also learned how a winning attitude and vision can translate into success.
When she firs went to Stanford, she was a star on a team with a mediocre record. "We didn't even pull out the bleachers. I didn't blame people for not coming," she remembers. "But I grew up in east Tennessee where we had 10,000 people come to our games in high school. What I loved--winning in basketball--wasn't going very well."
But Azzi's coach instilled in her a motivation to make her team better. In an empty arena, Azzi and her coach pictured the team three years later as the national champion. Another coach further inspired the team. "He said, 'From this day forward, you are national champions. You take action--what you drink, what you eat, how you sleep--all this is going toward winning that national championship.'" The team was transformed, and Stanford won the national championship Azzi's senior year. Coincidentally, they secured the title a half-hour from her hometown in Tennessee.
"Athletics helped me develop leadership skills. I learned to work together as a team and how to handle both success and failure. And, as a business owner, 1 have to have discipline and balance," she says. "All these things, 1 learned from my athletic …