When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Fit

Times are tough, financially speaking of course. Our greed has now become the very cause of the enemy we now face. But even in a troubled economy, there is a glimmer of hope; that things can only get better. While no one can accurately predict or guarantee when that will happen, one assurance we can all and should grasp is the one asset we have 100 percent control over — our health. Without our health, there is nothing but illness, decline, and darkness; much worse than any bad news that could ever come from Wall Street. That’s why even on Wall Street, they’ve taken matters into their own hands, physically speaking of course.

Exercise has numerous benefits, from improved cardiovascular health, to decreased body fat... the list simply goes on and on. But if there was one benefit of exercise that could prove to be priceless in today’s financial climate, it is to reduce stress. Amid layoffs and stumbling stock prices, concerns about staying fit could seem trivial to most. Yet, businesspeople wonder how a terrifying financial climate will affect their physical fitness and if exercise could help them weather hard times. A New York Times article published in October of 2008 reported on how business professionals in the financial district were leaning to exercise to be their beacon in a dark time. Popularity in so-called mind-body disciplines such as yoga, Pilates, and meditation have risen in response to recent economic uncertainties. Since the number one excuse for skipping exercise is lack of time, several health clubs in the financial district are even offering shorter, cheaper personal training sessions to not only entice more business professionals, but encourage them that they can ill afford to miss out on taking care of themselves.  There are those however, like Amy Sturtevant, an investment director for Oppenheimer & Company in Washington, who find themselves doubling down on conditioning for relief.

“Professionals are doing their best not to panic, but I know a lot of professionals who are panicking” about the markets, she said. “The only way to get away from it is to have some kind of outlet.” Ms. Sturtevant, a mother of four, is training for her fourth marathon. With brokerage clients needing more hand-holding, she said, she stints on sleep rather than skip her 5 a.m. daily boot camp and 20-mile weekend runs. Fitness matters more than ever if you’re laid off, career counselors advise, not just for health, but to network and stay positive. “The last thing you want is to gain 20 pounds during a job search,” said Dr. Jan Cannon, author of Finding a Job in a Slow Economy. “That just compounds that sense of, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” Exercise, she added, can also spur creativity. “You know how we always have those ‘aha’ moments in the shower?” Dr. Cannon said. In the same way, “a good brisk walk can be very helpful.”

Jenny Herring, a Des Moines financial writer, usually walks or bikes for respite from the fulltime job search she began in June, after being downsized as part of the sub-prime mortgage fallout. But one day last month, feeling frustrated when the phone refused to ring, she varied the routine: “I said, I’m going to get outside, and I mowed the front and back yards” for exercise.

For a motivated few, extra time for conditioning actually proves a rare upside of unemployment. “A lot of people who are between jobs are using this downtime to go after a goal,” like a triathlon, said Mr. Hanson of Cadence Cycling. Dr. Cannon recalled a client whose workouts last spring “got more frequent as time went on” to block out the disappointment, and to give her something to get up and do every day.  “She lost 40 pounds.”

No matter how the state of our economy unfolds, the importance of taking care and managing our health never decreases. Some will see fitness as an opportunity to do something positive; others will see it as something that just doesn’t take much priority or is where they’re going to cut their spending.  And for those who still want to make excuses for themselves, here’s a favorite quote from Edward Stanley to help reinforce the message: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”  Financially speaking, that is a deadly cost.