Worth the weight: What 3 hospital CEOs gained from losing

When you envision a CEO or leader, what do you imagine?

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, many Americans picture one thing: strength. Researchers at the University of California's Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses, the University of Portland (Ore.) and Stillwater-based Oklahoma State University found "both men and women associate the appearance of physical strength with leadership qualities and higher status, at least in men."

But even for executives who are not muscle-bound, fitness remains important. A study from the Center for Creative Leadership, a Greensboro, N.C.-based nonprofit, found executives with larger waistlines and higher body-mass-index readings "tend to be perceived as less effective in the workplace, both in performance and interpersonal relationships," according to a 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal.

The findings of these studies especially ring true in the world of healthcare. "There's an example to be set for people in healthcare organizations," says Larry Kaiser, MD, CEO of Philadelphia-based Temple University Health System, senior executive vice president for health affairs and dean of Temple University School of Medicine. "People who lead organizations should be demonstrating health if they can."

Three hospital and health system executives talked to Becker's Hospital Review about their fitness routines, successful weight loss efforts and the effects both have on their leadership. 

"Not for people who do not maintain good health"
Throughout his career in healthcare administration, John "Jack" Lynch III, CEO of Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Main Line Health, slowly put on more pounds than he wanted.

Although his weight fluctuated over the years, he kept returning to unhealthy eating habits. By 55, he'd hit 205 pounds — and he'd had enough. He didn't like his appearance and had high blood pressure and prediabetes. What's more, he wondered about the professional repercussions. "An overweight CEO talking about how to improve the wellness of a community is not credible," he says.

So he significantly changed his habits. Mr. Lynch visited a physician, began walking for 30 minutes each evening and adhered to a diet. Although everything he ate was home cooked, he resisted carbohydrates, sugar and the desire to snack between meals. He used technology — like a Smart Lid water bottle, a Fitbit and the MapMyWalk app — to track his fitness process.

The result? "Why would I ever let that happen again?" Mr. Lynch asks himself.  He's lowered his insulin levels from 104 to 94. In 90 days, his blood pressure dropped from 145/75 to 110/60. Between July and November of last year, Mr. Lynch lost 45 pounds, and he continues to maintain his healthy habits today.    

But the battle isn't over. Being a CEO is a demanding, high-pressure and high-profile job, according to Mr. Lynch. "These jobs are not for people who do not maintain good health," he says. While preserving good health is taxing, his position also enables him to have a built-in accountability group: his employees. "The reinforcement I've had from employees is almost like a drug," he says. "I have 10,000 people holding me accountable."

"Sam's program"
Sam Kaufman, CEO of Las Vegas-based Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, also has an accountability group. But it encompasses more than just his hospital's employees — it includes the citizens of Las Vegas. Mr. Kaufman, who's been featured in commercials and on television, has candidly discussed his weight loss journey with the public. "I've talked to hundreds of people — physicians, physicians' family members and physicians' patients — on the issues I had or didn't have," Mr. Kaufman says. "Everyone in the Las Vegas community has my cell phone number."

In late April 2013, Mr. Kaufman had weight loss surgery at his own hospital. Since then, he has served as an advocate not only for Desert Springs' Center for Surgical Weight Loss, but for bariatric surgery in general.

Despite trying a myriad of weight loss diets and programs, Mr. Kaufman struggled with his weight for years. As time went by, this dilemma evolved into more serious clinical issues, including sleep apnea, prediabetes, painful joints and cholesterol problems. He worried about how his weight would affect his future with his wife and four sons.

In 2013, he took the plunge and decided to go through with the surgery. Since then, his life has changed drastically. "I've been able to lose between 125 and 130 pounds," he says. Suddenly, his physical ailments disappeared. "I have a lot more energy and my outlook is different," he says. This fall, he'll become CEO of Henderson (Nev.) Hospital, which he claims he wouldn't have the energy to do had he not undergone bariatric surgery. "It truly is a life-saving procedure," he says.

Surgeons at the Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center perform 60 to 65 surgeries each month, and they've completed nearly 10,000 in sum. By being open about his own personal struggle and the benefits of investing in the surgery, Mr. Kaufman has influenced numerous individuals to consider surgery. "In the healthcare community, people say, 'That's Sam's program,'" Mr. Kaufman says. "I'm not the doctor, but I feel in some way I've had a hand in shaping the health of people in the Las Vegas community."

As it is for Mr. Lynch, it's been challenging for Mr. Kaufman to keep up his healthy habits. "The surgery is a tool. You have to change your lifestyle," he says. Making better diet and food choices have helped Mr. Kaufman keep the weight off, and he's been working to exercise on a more consistent basis.

Fitness first
For Dr. Kaiser from Temple University Health System, exercising is a way of life. Although healthy eating is essential to him, it's consistent exercise that's imperative to his lifestyle. Nearly every day, he wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to exercise for an hour, either using a treadmill or a stationary bike. But once a week, he revamps his exercise routine with something different: X-Force.

X-Force "uses a series of machines that actually provide 40 percent more force on the relaxation, or negative, phase," according to Dr. Kaiser. The exercise, which is done with a physical trainer, is so arduous that it can only be done once or twice a week to give one's muscles adequate time to recover.

How can someone who's already so busy squeeze in time to work out? He blocks time specifically for his exercise regimen in his schedule. "You need to be in good shape to be your best at all times," Dr. Kaiser says. "At a healthcare organization, one would like to think you'd set that example, that health and wellness are important."

Wellness initiatives
Prompted by the initiatives of their CEOs, these three organizations — Main Line Health, Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center and Temple University Health System — have taken steps to improve the health of their employees. In addition to removing sugar beverages from its vending machines and putting a smoking cessation program in place, Main Line Health opened a wellness garden, through which it educates children about healthy living habits. For Desert Springs, its weight loss center and Senior Advantage wellness program encourage overall wellbeing within the community. TUHS has a wellness program and a fully equipped gym for its employees.

In an age where healthy living is more important than ever, CEOs — especially healthcare CEOs — must consider the impact their health has on their organizations, employees and professional lives. In the words of Mr. Lynch, "If you're not physically fit, you're likely not going to be mentally fit."

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