Anxiety, brain fog, insomnia, faster ageing, abdominal weight gain, fatigue, low energy, low immunity, high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are some of the common health issues Dr Menka Gupta sees with CEOs and senior executives in my practice.
CEOs face a unique set of challenges that can significantly impact their health and wellbeing. Their demanding role exposes them to high levels of stress, stemming from the immense pressure to make critical decisions and lead their organisation to success. This chronic stress affects telomeres, the protective caps on the end of our chromosomes that are associated with ageing and disease.
“Increased telomere attrition may be a common pathway through which chronic stressors contribute to age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer” (Epel et al., 2010).
The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes, causing several health problems.
A recent study conducted by professors at well-respected US universities found that the average lifespan of CEOs who lead their firms through “industry-wide downturns” decreased by 1.5 years.
Causes of Common Health Issues Among CEOs
Long working hours on the job often lead to sleep deprivation, burnout, and a compromised immune system. Data suggest that CEOs get an average of 6.7 hours of sleep per night, 24% less than the norm. Additionally, the sedentary lifestyle that comes with the job can increase the risk of obesity, cardiovascular issues, and other health problems. Irregular eating habits, lack of exercise, and poor work-life balance further contribute to the adverse impact on CEO health.
The public scrutiny and reputational risks associated with being a CEO can cause significant mental and emotional strain. CEOs may also face heightened performance expectations, adding to their anxiety levels. Furthermore, the frequent travel that comes with the role can disrupt their circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, leading to increased stress. An average CEO travels 4+ days per month, which accelerates ageing and increases disease exposure, risk of stroke and heart disease.
“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”
~John F. Kennedy
Effect of CEO Health on Organizational Success and Economic Growth
The significance of CEO health transcends individual wellbeing, exerting a profound impact on organisational success and economic growth. Just as a sturdy foundation supports a soaring skyscraper, CEO health forms the bedrock upon which a company’s future stands. Their vitality, both physical and mental, is the driving force that propels teams, shapes strategic decisions, and fosters a culture of innovation and productivity.
Research echoes this sentiment, revealing that CEOs who prioritise their health experience improved firm performance and enhanced employee engagement. CEO health serves as a powerful catalyst that ignites a transformative ripple throughout an entire company..
From an economic perspective, a comprehensive study by Christopher K. Stanton from Harvard Business School (2019) delves into the broader implications of CEO health on economic growth. The research reveals that the health of top executives can significantly influence firm productivity, investment decisions, and overall economic performance. Healthy CEOs are more likely to inspire confidence in stakeholders, attract investments, and drive sustainable growth, benefiting not only their own companies but also the broader economic landscape.
Given the importance of CEO health on organizational success and economic growth, it is critical to incorporate an approach that optimizes their health and wellbeing. The functional medicine approach empowers them to make informed decisions about their health and cultivate resilience, benefitting both their businesses and their communities.
Annual Executive Health Screens: Are they sufficient?
While annual health checkups are generally beneficial for detecting certain health issues and promoting preventive care, there is limited evidence to suggest that they bring significant changes in positive health outcomes.
Here are some science-based points to support this perspective:
False Sense of Security: Annual health checkups may give CEOs a false sense of security about their health status. These checkups often focus on basic screenings and may not capture underlying chronic conditions or stress-related health risks that are more prevalent in high-pressure executive roles.
Stress-Related Health Risks: The health risks faced by CEOs are often associated with chronic stress, which cannot be adequately measured through routine health checkups. High-stress levels have been linked to various health issues, including cardiovascular problems, metabolic disorders, and mental health conditions, but these may not be apparent in a standard health screening. Indeed, we see several cases in my practice where the hormone tests were “normal”, yet the patient had symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog etc.
Lack of Personalized Approach: Health is highly individualized, and a one-size-fits-all approach to annual health checkups may not address their specific health needs. Functional medicine acknowledges the importance of personalized care, considering each individual’s unique lifestyle, genetics, and stressors to create effective health management strategies.
Focus on Reactive Rather Than Preventive Care: Annual health checkups often focus on detecting existing health issues, leading to reactive rather than preventive care. For CEOs, early identification and management of stress-related biomarkers or hormonal imbalances are crucial for understanding health risks and promoting long-term health and wellbeing.
Functional Medicine: A Science-based Approach for CEOs Seeking Sustainable Health
Instead of relying solely on annual health checkups, CEOs can benefit from a more personalized and science-based approach to healthcare, such as functional medicine. This approach involves a deep dive into medical history, lifestyle choices, stressors, and specific health concerns. Every detail matters, as it forms the foundation of a personalized roadmap to optimal well-being.
Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease (e.g Alzheimer’s) and metabolic disease such as type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, insulin resistance are preventable. Being proactive and not waiting for signs and symptoms of chronic disease before taking vital steps towards optimising health is one of the key principles in Functional Medicine.
Functional Medicine testing offers a proactive approach by identifying slight changes in body systems’ functioning. Some of the cutting-edge tests that are useful in this preventive approach are:
- comprehensive stool analysis to test the gut microbiome, digestion and absorption;
- nutritional tests to check functional values of vitamin, mineral & antioxidant deficiencies;
- hormonal tests like the DUTCH test which includes stress hormones, melatonin; and
- nutrigenomics, based on the science of how what we eat influences our gene expression. For example, checking for genetic predisposition for cholesterol issues or diabetes and making a personalised program based on it
- Food sensitivity tests to help reduce inflammation in the body
Through these specialized tests, CEOs can gain a deeper understanding of their unique health profile and potential stress-related risks. By focusing on a narrower lab range, known as the optimal lab range, functional medicine practitioners can detect dysfunction at the cellular level before overt diseases present, enabling a preventative approach to healthcare.
Five Pillar of Health & Patient Empowerment
Functional medicine takes into account the interconnectedness of various body systems and recognizes the influence of lifestyle, diet, stress, and environmental factors on health. By considering the whole person, including physical, mental, and emotional aspects, functional medicine provides a more holistic approach to optimize CEO wellbeing. Nutrition, sleep, movement, stress management and community are the five pillars of health – and they’re all crucially important in functional medicine.
Functional medicine avoids a one-size-fits-all approach. There is no single cause of fatigue, for example. “It may be hormonal – thyroid insufficiency, or adrenal stress. Or it may be linked to a gut health problem, or a deficiency of important vitamins or minerals such as B complex or magnesium.”
In the same way, an obviously gut-based health issue like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is often related to a biochemical imbalance that may have any number of root causes in the gut microbiome, digestion or even stress hormones.
Interventions are designed to address specific imbalances or deficiencies identified through testing. CEOs can benefit from personalised nutrition plans, targeted nutritional supplementation, hormone optimization, and other personalized lifestyle interventions that support their specific health needs.
By incorporating stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness practices, meditation, and relaxation exercises, CEOs can effectively mitigate the detrimental effects of chronic stress on their health.
Sleep is an important pillar of health and it is especially crucial for CEOs to optimise their sleep. It is the best remedy for improving energy levels, focus and cognitive function and yet sometimes it is elusive. By understanding the root cause of the sleep issues, be it hormonal, gut or melatonin deficiency, functional medicine practitioners can create a custom plan to address this significant health driver.
Functional medicine practitioners often work in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team, including nutritionists, health coach psychologists, and fitness experts. This integrated approach allows CEOs to receive comprehensive care, guidance, and support tailored to their unique needs.
In my functional medicine practice, I believe in a therapeutic partnership with the client, empowering and educating them to play an active role in transforming their health. This collaborative and ongoing relationship between the CEO and healthcare practitioner ensures continuous monitoring, adjustment, and support. This sustained care fosters lasting lifestyle changes that positively impact wellbeing and life expectancy over time.
A study called the LIFEHOUSE survey was conducted in a corporate health setting to explore the impact of personalized lifestyle interventions and functional evaluation on health outcomes. The study included 369 participants and used a unique design that allowed for personalization of the program and categorization of the data. The analysis of the data revealed interesting connections between functional health issues and specific interventions based on the principles of Functional Medicine. Additionally, the study found that personalized nutritional interventions led to improved detoxification function based on genetic biomarkers related to metabolic processes.
The functional medicine approach has been found to improve health-related quality of life (QoL); thus, it may have a propensity to improve global health. The lead author of this study mentioned, “Functional medicine practitioners have suggested that their patients are improving with a systems-based approach to chronic disease. Now, they have evidence that their approach is associated with improved quality of life.”
By embracing a functional medicine approach, CEOs who are genuinely committed to improving their wellbeing and life expectancy can take proactive steps to optimize their health. If you want to take control of your wellbeing, you can start with a free health assessment. Functional medicine empowers CEOs to identify and address the root causes of health issues, implement personalized strategies, and create a sustainable foundation for long-term health and vitality.
CEOs face a unique set of challenges that can significantly impact their health and wellbeing. In particular, they are exposed to chronic stress due to the demanding nature of their jobs and this has a profound impact on their physical and mental health. Annual executive health screenings are generally beneficial for detecting certain health issues and promoting preventive care, there is limited evidence to suggest that they bring significant changes in positive health outcomes.
By adopting a functional medicine approach, CEOs can better understand their health, address underlying imbalances, get empowered to work on their health in a therapeutic partnership with their practitioner and implement sustainable lifestyle changes. This comprehensive approach promotes long-term well-being, reduces the risk of burnout, enhances cognitive function, and supports optimal performance in leadership roles. Ultimately, functional medicine empowers CEOs to achieve sustainable health, allowing them to thrive personally and professionally.
Dr Menka Gupta is the first Institute for Functional Medicine certified practitioner in Singapore and India. In her 20 years of practice, she has helped over 5000 patients with chronic health issues.