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March 04, 2013 ABA Journal Podcast

On-the-go lawyer’s guide to keeping fit and healthy (podcast with transcript)

By Stephanie Francis Ward

Lawyers—are you really too busy to exercise?


Workouts and eating right require time commitments, exercise physiologists who coach executives tell ABA Podcast moderator Stephanie Francis Ward, but if you stick with them 90 percent of the time, you’ll feel much better.

Listen to the Podcast

Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Francis Ward: If you’re in trial or closing a deal, you might think you’re too busy to exercise–but have you thought about squeezing in 10-minute workouts a few times a day?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: When someone says ‘I never have time’ the question is always, never? I say even if you have ten minutes, ten minutes is better than nothing.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I’m Stephanie Francis Ward, and when we return, I’ll ask my guests how it works.

Announcer: This ABA Journal podcast is brought to you by WestlawNext, the legal platform chosen by over 40,000 legal organizations for the tradition of editorial excellence combined with the most advanced technology. Learn more at

Stephanie Francis Ward: I’m here with two Olympic-level exercise physiologists who coach executives on health and fitness. Sharon McDowell-Larsen was a researcher with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sports Science Division, and James Herrera coached the BMX cyclists at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

What I wanted to ask first: When you meet with executives, what are the most common reasons and what do you tell them when they say ‘I can’t exercise because I am too busy,’ what is some wonderful advice for them to find a way to fit it in?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: First of all when someone says I never have time the question is always, never? Is that really the case, that you never have time? Then I will probably follow that up with saying something like something is always better than nothing. I think if we have in our heads that if we don’t have an hour to exercise it’s not worth doing anything. I say even if you have ten minutes, ten minutes is better than nothing. If you do that consistently, consistency is the key when it comes to exercising over time. Ten minutes a day for a week adds up. If you have less time, also doing something of higher intensity can sort of compensate a little bit for less time.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I guess the main issue is finding a way to incorporate the fitness and healthy eating in your lifestyle that works for you so you stick with it and that’s the ultimate key, right?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: Yeah, exactly. Whether it is moving more during the day, make a point to get up every hour and move and take more stairs and so on, as well as taking 20 minutes or 15 minutes of some sort of continuous aerobic activity on a daily basis. Really over time it’s the consistency that adds up.

Stephanie Francis Ward: When someone decides to make the changes and exercise and gets absolute joy from it, do you get to see that a fair amount in your line of work?

James Herrera: Quite a bit actually.

Stephanie Francis Ward: James, you coach people too? Not just professional athletes, but executive types as well?

James Herrera: I do, I coach a lot of executives, work with different companies on their wellness programs. We do get a lot of emails from clients, people that we’ve met that have come through either the Center for Creative Leadership or independent clients I have worked with that have had tremendous amounts of success. It is always really gratifying, to me even more so than the elite athletes that I work with. They make major life changes, they get down to weights that were possibly less than when they were in high school, they feel great about themselves, they have more energy, much more clear headed. It really translates into their careers and into their home lives as well.

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: I think if they can figure out how to make exercise a priority and healthy living a priority and a lifestyle, the benefits have to outweigh the cons. When people start to experience the benefits of more energy and better sleep and just feeling better, that’s such a huge motivator to stick with it.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Have you guys ever advised someone, say a litigator in trial, what they can do in that trial period to make life a little bit less painful for them in terms of taking care of themselves?

James Herrera: I have worked with litigators during trials. I actually have a really good friend who lives here in town who is in that line of work. I have coached him for the last ten years. We try to do simple things just to keep him active whether it be a little bit of walking or more standing than sitting during the day. He does do some of the things that Sharon mentioned in increasing the intensity of his workouts because he doesn’t have the time to devote during the trial. He may only do something for 10 or 15 minutes, but he will really raise the intensity of that activity so he gets the biggest bang for the buck.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Can you give me an example? Would that be running on the treadmill at a six instead of a five?

James Herrera: When it comes to cardiovascular work, yeah. Someone will do a short, initial warm up of a couple of minutes and then maybe do some quick, 30 second, high intensity bursts of speed and then slow down for a recovery phase and then do it again repeatedly for maybe a set of six or eight 30 second efforts. The entire workout might take 10 or 12 minutes.

Sometimes I will have them do just core conditioning routines or body weight exercises like pushups or pulls up and things they will put together in a short circuit. All in all the workouts will take 10 to 15 minutes. Even when you are going through a trial or you have busy phases in your life, you can always get something done.

Stephanie Francis Ward: What about with eating during a trial? It is easy to get takeout food three times a day, but you’re not going to feel very good.

James Herrera: I typically condition people to institute good practices all of the time so when chaos strikes and you are under high stress or great time demands on your schedule, you have a lot of healthy practices that you’ve been implementing day in and day out so it doesn’t become much different. They’re eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and snacks, things like nuts and seeds.

I have them do dry fruit at times, peanut butter and jelly on a really good whole grain bread as a meal or as a snack, fruit smoothies are a really great way to get lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet. I have them prep these things well in advance so when they’re under the gun and under huge time constraints they can continue to munch on healthy things throughout the day.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Are you seeing people who perhaps have eaten poorly for a long time and just started exercising, do they generally have success with their advice or is it something you have to have a better level of fitness to take it to the level you’re talking about?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: Yeah, sometimes people are afraid of making big changes, but sometimes it isn’t until you make pretty drastic changes that you actually start to feel the benefits. This is always a process but I think that when you look at the data on health and fitness and the data is so compelling on what it can do to your brain, what it can do to your cognitive function, what it can do to how you feel generally, what it can do for your energy. When people buy into that and commit to it, they find it’s easier than they think, but it really sort of takes an upfront commitment to say I don’t want to eat processed food or meat or heavy foods. And to make a clean break from that stuff so you lose the addiction from those foods and you learn to enjoy the healthy foods as well.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I was reading something you wrote about getting addicted to certain foods. You notes you were a big cheese fan at some point and it was hard to stop. Can you talk about that a little bit and tell us how you did it?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: Yeah. First of all, looking at the data on eating dairy and the negative health outcomes associated with that, it was very compelling for me. I made that commitment and the first step in that commitment was not to buy it. You tend to eat what you buy so I didn’t bring it home. When it wasn’t at home, it wasn’t there to eat.

And the second step was just sort of learning when I went out to eat, whether I got a burrito, whether I got a pizza, just order it without cheese. That took a little bit to sort of learn how to navigate the whole eating out thing.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Did you say you would get a pizza without cheese?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: Sure. Lots of veggies and it is surprising how good it can taste.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I think also, you know it’s February now and people that had a New Year’s resolution to get in shape have kept with it. It seems folks who start an exercise plan and say they fall off the wagon and have a double cheeseburger or whatever, do you think it’s important if you want to be fit to remember it’s okay, you are going to make mistakes sometimes? And that doesn’t mean you stop, you just try again.

James Herrera: Yeah, absolutely. We’re never going to be perfect. Even the people that are the most diligent and the most athletic, they are never going to be perfect 100 percent of the time. You are going to have a weak moment. You are going to go out to eat and there may not be something great on the menu that will fit within your particular dietary strategy.

The way I train people is if they can make good choices 90 percent of the time, that 10 percent will go and come. It will fluctuate a bit, they may fall off the wagon, but they may treat themselves or have a weak moment. But if you’re making good choices 90 percent of the time, you’re going to be pretty darn healthy.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay. Also, do you think, you mentioned sometimes you work with people they get to be a smaller size than they were in high school, that is what they want. That is wonderful but I am wondering for some people another thing that is discouraging is maybe they can’t run as fast as they did in high school when they get started or perhaps they’re not going to get – a man I guess this imagine of what society tell us is beauty. Do you see that get in the way of fitness as well, people get discouraged too easy?

James Herrera: Sure it happens. I think it is most difficult for people who were athletic in high school or college because they have this sense of how great they used to be and what a work out should consist of. It might have been two or three hours when they were in high school and college and now they really have 30 or 45 minutes or an hour available. A key to that in adult working life is redefining what your reality is today and figuring out what success you can achieve.

If an hour is all you have then we put that into play and find the best routine to get the biggest bang for the buck there. And then just coming up with good performance markers for exercise and healthy eating that they can attain on a pretty regular basis.

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: I would ditto that. Sometimes the hardest people that we sort of have to work with are the ex-athletes. Particularly if you come from team sports as well, that was their thing, they worked out with the team and played soccer or basketball. Now all of a sudden the reality is that is not so practical in executive life. In looking at our executive data, we find that most CEO’S tend to work out alone, likely because it is most time efficient. Changing that thinking of my exercise used to be with the team and now it’s on the treadmill, it’s not as fun and exciting as it used to be, but that is what I have to shift to in order to stay healthy.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Do you have ideas on how to make it fun and exciting or how to get you to come back? Or maybe a better way is look, I have to do this five or six times a week because it makes me feel better and it is what it is?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: Yeah, sometimes. I actually have worked with people – I had a woman who said every time she gets on the elliptical she gets depressed, but she makes herself do it every day because she knows she needs to do it and she feels better when she is done. Yeah, you have to figure out strategies to make it less erroneous as you can, whether it is music or videos. When I am on the stationary bike, I watch bike racing. My husband, when he runs on the treadmill, he plays Xbox. You have to figure out what keeps you occupied, if you have to do stationary indoor workouts.

James Herrera: For me it’s some of the clients I work with. They will do something on the weekend, with a friend or a spouse, with their kids. Waking up at dark 30 and getting on the treadmill or elliptical and lifting weights is a tool so they can be in better shape to go out on the weekends. They might sign up for a 5K or a 10K and have a carrot hanging out that there that encourages them or scares them to exercise. They don’t want to show up on the start line and be so fit that it’s an unpleasant experience.

Little things like that sort of help to motivate when you have to get have the dark 30 workouts, when you’re watching TV by yourself on the treadmill.

Stephanie Francis Ward: I am sort of curious with your research, do lawyers tend to be in better or worse shape compared to executives as a whole?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: James and I were talking about that question. I wouldn’t say they’re worse, but as a whole of professionals, it’s such a mixed bag when it comes to executives and professionals, some are in really good shape, some are in worse shape. I would probably put health care professionals at the bottom as being in worst shape, which is unfortunate. I think they have pretty similar challenges in terms of time and stress.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay. Have you noticed the difference between corporate lawyers and litigators?

James Herrera: I think litigators, the ones I have dealt with probably have a slightly greater stress level. I think the benefits of exercise help them so much to just cope with the stress and sleep better and deal with the things they are dealing with day in and day out. The ones I have worked with versus the people that sit in office and do less of the litigation, they tend to be more adherent to the workouts we prescribe and tend to eat better.

Stephanie Francis Ward: What is your advice if someone wants a personal trainer or coach for your exercise routine? How do you find someone who works well?

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: That is a great strategy, having someone you are accountable to, somebody who can guide the workouts, you don’t have to think about what to do. You have to find someone that you work well with. Personally, I would say look for someone who has some sort of background, has some years of experience, someone who can provide references. Someone who is a little older and has some sort of degree or certification in sports science or sports medicine. I would interview them just as you would any other employee and get some references as well.

James Herrera: I used to work in that field a number of years ago. Two of the biggest organizations of certified trainers, at least in the U.S. that are the most credible are the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. Typically if you get a trainer certified from either one of those places, you are ensuring they are going to at least have a college degree. They have had to do some study in sports science so they know a little bit more about exercise physiology, biomechanics.

Like Sharon mentioned, I would look for a slightly older trainer, someone in their possibly 30s, 40s, even 50s that has been doing it for a long time that has a good client history and has dealt with professionals. They will have a lot more strategies on how to implement good workouts into a busy executive life than someone who is 20 years old, fresh out of high school or college doing it as a side job.

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: I was going to differentiate between personal trainer and coach. A personal trainer is someone who is more hands on that you would need at the gym and they would put you through a workout. There is obviously benefits associated with that in terms of techniques and variety. A coach is someone you could work with that is not necessarily close to home. You email every week and say this is what you have done. This is a lot of what James will do, write work out for the next three weeks and you will report back from what you have done and haven’t done. A slight difference between the two.

Stephanie Francis Ward: If someone hasn’t exercised for a few years, what are a few initial things they should so they don’t hurt themselves and it is a relatively pleasant experience?

James Herrera: You are always going to start slowly and progressively adapt to increasing exercise loads. If we were going to have someone start off with a program that ultimately wanted to start running, I would have them spend some time walking and increasing that to a jog or mixing jogging and walking together so they can get their legs musculature sort of sensitized to the demands of running. And then progressively increase the volume of exercise as well as the intensity. It’s always about sort of leading into it slowly so you’re not overdoing it and hurting yourself.

Sharon McDowell-Larsen: I think that is where the ex-athletes run into problems is they probably try to do too much too soon, too quickly and they are not patient with the process. It takes about six to eight weeks to see endurance adaptations kick in. We have to err on the side of progressive overload I guess.

Stephanie Francis Ward: For people who have been out of shape and want to get in shape, is there one common behavior trait and action you see?

James Herrera: They possibly decided to make it a priority in their lives. That is a big thing for anyone who is going to adhere to a program. You’ve got to prioritize your health, physical fitness and nutritional excellence just like you would prioritize your career or family. It has to be a big thing in your life in order to be successful with it long term.

The clients that I deal with, they buy in and they stick to it, they made it a priority and recognized the benefits. Once you get the ball rolling, it is almost impossible to stop and then you wonder how you ever lived any other way. I have been relatively active for long enough now that I just couldn’t fathom my life any other way. Same thing with good nutrition, I couldn’t possibly think about eating something I would consider unhealthy, it doesn’t cross my mind at this point.

Stephanie Francis Ward: Okay, that’s everything I have for you guys today. I thank you so much, this has really been an enjoyable conversation for me.

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In This Podcast:

Stephanie Francis Ward
James Herrera, an exercise physiologist, coaches the U.S.A. Cycling BMX team. He’s also the founder of Performance Driven, a business that focuses on athletic performance and exectuive health and wellness. He’s based in Colorado Springs, Colo. He can be found on Twitter @poweredbyplants.

Sharon McDowell-Larsen is an exercise physiologist with the Center for Creative Leadership. Based in Colorado Springs, Colo., she helps businesses design and implement fitness components in leadership training. Her training includes quick, healthy recipes,. Previously she worked with U.S.A. Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s sports science division.