A little of what you fancy does you good

Moderation in all things (booze included) should be the mantra of any stressed executive. Roger Trapp reports

Aspirant senior executives have tended to focus on the good things about making it to the top of the pile: the power, the money, the car, the corner office. Understandably, less attention has traditionally been paid to the downside: the long hours, the endless international flights, the detrimental effect on health.

There has been more focus on stress in recent years, but this interest has done little to alleviate the problem. In fact, stress seems to reach further and further down the organisation: even junior managers can expect to feel it at some time.

Dr Michael McGannon, a medical practitioner who lectures on executive health at Insead, the international business school, is not convinced that stress is necessarily a bad thing. Unlike many of his fellow doctors, who advise patients to reduce stress even though this is usually impossible without a change of career, he accepts that young managers will see stress as part of the job. "They don't want to decrease their stress because they know they've spent a lot of time getting it," he says.

But this does not mean that it cannot be managed. A strong believer that many medical conditions begin in the mind, Dr McGannon maintains that by improving their understanding of how heart disease, strokes and the like can be prevented, and controlling their lifestyle, business people can become "urban warriors", rather than "health time-bombs".

Again breaking with his fellow medical practitioners, he does not solely preach abstinence and penitence in the gym. He suggests that it is possible to still wine and dine and have a good time - providing you compensate for it. The compensation can come in the form of running or circuits in the gym "if you enjoy it". But it can come in other ways, too.

Dr McGannon, who has founded a research institute on executive health and taught 16,000 managers from 500 worldwide corporations, believes that spending 15 minutes a day on his "Five Ws to Health and Safety" will go a long way to keeping the average executive in good enough shape to cope with his, or her, lot. The Ws are: water (two to three litres a day, in the form of fruit or juice as well as pure water, instead of coffee or the like); walking (especially after a heavy meal); wine (because it is associated with conviviality and relaxation); wind (deep breathing and/or meditation); and workout (a few minutes of vigorous exercise).

If that does not sound especially difficult, that's because it isn't. But Dr McGannon claims that it is effective enough to stop the recurring visits that so depressed him when he was practising gastroenterology in California a few years ago. As he explains in his book, The Urban Warrior's Book of Solutions, (Pitman Publishing, pounds 14.99), it is simply a matter of being able to put a little balance in your life, of being able to share a joke with colleagues or otherwise loosen up in the face of the wall of work and responsibilities that confront the typical high-flyer. "The data proves that anger kills you. Psychological isolation will kill you," he adds.

He makes the link between the body and the mind by imagining a man on horseback travelling along a road. The body is the horse and the mind the rider. "If you get the rider right, the horse will follow, and you'll get from A to B," he says. The solution is "to be selfish, to design a regret-free experience". As he says in the book, "Nobody on their death- bed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office".

And, since you are bound to ask, he achieves his own balance "through yoga, marathon running and fine dining".

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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