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Practice Management

To Your Health

Sensible self-care can help CPAs maintain stamina in the run-up to those filing deadlines.

By Heather Johnson-Moreno
September 2003
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
LONG BUSY-SEASON HOURS GIVE CPAs so little time for exercise or regular meals that stress can build. This can weaken a person’s immune system and make him or her more prone to illness. The overload also can diminish employee performance and lead to low morale, absenteeism and high turnover among staff members.

CPAs CAN TAKE SIMPLE STEPS —both at home and at work—to develop healthful habits that mitigate stress, sustain energy and make staying fit throughout busy season an attainable goal.

TO SUPPORT STAMINA AND CONCENTRATION, a CPA with a heavy workload needs to eat when his or her body signals hunger and keep healthful, high-protein snacks in the office.

A CPA WHO CAN’T GET TO A GYM or hasn’t used one can relieve stress by doing small amounts of exercise such as 10 minutes at home in the morning and another 10 minutes after work. Simple, accessible activities such as a brisk walk, a bike ride or boxing/dance moves to upbeat music will work.

IN THE OFFICE, CPAs CAN USE SHORT BREAKS for stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, toe touches and other exercises that don’t require equipment. They also can take the stairs instead of the elevator or walk to lunch or to a client meeting.

A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER CAN PUT TOGETHER an exercise plan to help CPAs get the most out of their time and keep workouts safe and balanced. Once learned, routines can be done at work or at home.

HEATHER JOHNSON-MORENO, CPA, is president of PeopleFit USA in Huntington Beach, California. She is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise. She cohosts “Insight,” a television show for women, and is the recipient of the 2002 Fitness by Phone Coach Leader of the Year award. Her Web site is www.peoplefitusa.com .

ong hours, especially from January to April, take their toll on CPAs. Busy season leaves so little time for exercise or regular, balanced meals that what we eat when we get a break may make us more lethargic than energetic. On top of that, the nonstop deadline pressure triggers stress, affecting everyone in the firm—rom partners to staff—mentally, emotionally and physically. Such stress can lead to biochemical imbalances that weaken our immune systems, make us more prone to illness and confer a hidden—and high—cost of working in our profession. In the office environment, it contributes to diminished employee performance, low morale, conflicts, absenteeism and high turnover. Staying fit throughout busy season is attainable for everyone, however. Here are some helpful strategies I learned during my six years in the trenches at KPMG LLP.

FUEL FOR THOUGHT
Some things CPAs can do to mitigate stress are easier than you might think. For example, eating the right foods (particularly those high in protein) strengthens your immune system, lowers blood pressure and stabilizes your energy levels. To develop good nutritional habits that support stamina and concentration, try to

Eat when you’re hungry. This may seem obvious, but it isn’t common practice. Many busy people go to work in the morning without breakfast or work through lunch because they believe they don’t have time for a meal. Eating when you’re hungry—not starved—helps to lessen stress and control weight gain.

Keep it simple. Breakfast and lunch don’t have to be elaborate to maintain energy. The proteins and carbohydrates in protein bars, fruit, cheese, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs or peanut butter on toast are sufficient. Foods that are complete proteins, such as nuts, meat or eggs, have all the amino acids your body needs to construct new proteins. Studies say they tend to stave off hunger longer.

Don’t wait too long between meals. This leads to unpleasant hunger, characterized by headaches, fatigue, lack of concentration and irritability. If you wait until you feel starved, you’ll overeat at the next meal. Eat at regular intervals. Set an alarm or use a kitchen timer to signal when it’s time for a food break if you’re likely to become immersed in your work.

Move It or Lose It

Exercise can help to

Reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other health problems.

Build and maintain healthy muscles, bones and joints.

Reduce anxiety and improve psychological well-being.

Enhance work and productivity.

Stop eating before you feel stuffed. Learn to recognize when you’re no longer truly hungry. The stomach is about the size of a large baked potato, so a body has met its needs long before a stretched feeling in the stomach signals stop. If you get sleepy after meals, you’re overeating. If you’re eating the right amount, you’ll be hungry about every three to four hours.

Eat slowly. It is much easier to identify when you’ve had enough if you don’t bolt your food down. (A friend’s long-lived aunt used to chew each bite 30 times.)

Don’t use food to relieve discomfort. Many people indulge in nervous noshing when they’re tired, stressed, angry or bored. Regular meals make it easier to control this habit. If you need relief from the rigors of concentrating, take a few deep breaths or get up and stretch (see “ Deep Breathing ” and “ Stretching Tips for the Office ”).

Keep portable, healthful snacks handy. Small portions of vegetables with dip, fruit, nuts and raisins or cheese and crackers will assuage hunger and keep you going. Store snacks far enough away that you have to stand up and move to obtain them, which helps you not overdo it, too.

Eat what you enjoy. If fast food already is part of your lifestyle, for instance, it’s OK. Many such eateries now offer healthier, lower calorie meals. Besides, it’s a myth that fast food makes you fat. The only way to gain a pound is to consume 3,500 more calories than you burn. If you frequently order desserts or supersized meals, you do need to moderate your habits. For example, to save 350 calories, remove the cheese from your Quarter Pounder and order a small side of fries instead of a large. (After 10 trips, that’s one pound.) To learn the exact food value of what you’re eating, request nutrition facts at any fast-food restaurant. Most post such information on the Internet. One easy-to-use Web site for locating data about a wide range of franchise entrées is www.nutri-facts.com .

MOVE WHENEVER YOU CAN
A self-care regimen must include exercise as well as managing food intake. If tax season has you thinking about putting your gym routine on hold, reduce rather than postpone your program. Half a workout is better than none, and a modified schedule helps you avoid the danger that a hiatus of a week or two will run into weeks or months, making it difficult to get back on track and causing the best thing to relieve stress to become another source of it.

Deep Breathing

If you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious in the office, use the following breathing techniques to relax. The process is called “square breathing.” Repeat it any time you feel pressured.

Inhale as slowly and completely as possible as you expand first the belly (below the navel), then the diaphragm and, finally, the chest to a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of four before exhaling.

Exhale in the reverse pattern to a count of four, slowly emptying the upper chest, the diaphragm and the belly.

Hold for a count of four before inhaling again.

Make sure you exhale as fully and completely as you inhale.

Repeat 10 times.

Incorporate deep breathing into your daily routine and add more repetitions as you become comfortable with the process.

—Michael Hayes

MICHAEL HAYES is a senior editor with the JofA . Her e-mail address is mhayes@aicpa.org .

If a gym hasn’t been part of your lifestyle or you can’t get to one, do just 10 minutes of exercise at home before your morning shower and another 10 minutes after work. Choose something simple and accessible such as a brisk walk, a bike ride or boxing/dance moves to upbeat music. Regular activity makes it easier to get back to a workout routine when your deadlines are over (see “ Avoid the All-or-Nothing Trap ”). Don’t try a “weekend warrior” approach, which will only exhaust you and may lead to injuries.

Work out anywhere and everywhere. At work, use short breaks for light exercise (see “Stretching Tips for the Office”). Push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, squats, lunges, calf raises and back and abdominal stretches are good for you and don’t require equipment. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to a client’s office in lieu of a cab ride or walk twice around your building. Use your body weight for resistance strengthening; simple toe touches limber you, strengthen back muscles and increase circulation, for example.

If you’re new to exercise, a trainer can help. For those not familiar with proper form and technique, a professional can help you put together an exercise plan to get the most out of your time and keep your workout safe and balanced. When you’ve learned a routine, you can do it at work or at home. As an in-office morale booster and stress reducer, ask the firm’s partners to bring in a yoga or Pilates instructor to lead a staff stretch class. If you’re the managing partner, offer such an option to employees. Flexibility exercises require only a mat and are excellent for relaxation and reenergizing.

“Toys” help make exercise fun. People are more likely to use fitness machines at home or at a gym, but portable equipment can go anywhere the business culture permits. Affordable devices that can fit in an office corner include stability balls, hand weights and resistance tubing for strength exercises and a slide for a cardiovascular workout. Put together a circuit, alternating two minutes of strength exercises and two minutes on the slide. Or substitute jumping jacks or a jump rope for the slide. Once you get the hang of it, increase what you do in small increments. Away from the office, you also can use videos and indoor cardiovascular equipment such as treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes.

Avoid the All-or-Nothing Trap

When work pressures build, it’s hard to do everything, so most people do nothing. All fitness efforts count toward long-term health results, however. Here are some tips:

Exercise for 10 minutes as soon as you get out of bed.

Park in the spot that’s farthest away wherever you go.

Shun the office candy dish.

Get outside and walk to get your lunch.

Stand up to talk to clients on the phone.

Always take the stairs.

Do Billy Blank’s Tae Bo eight-minute workout.

Spend five minutes before bed stretching and breathing deeply.

—Heather Johnson-Moreno, CPA

Use feedback to increase motivation. If getting yourself going is a challenge, it helps to set goals and record your progress in a diary or a day planner. Note which exercises you did, their duration, frequency and, for strength training, the amount of weight used. Documenting your activities makes you more aware. Feedback devices such as a heart rate monitor will ensure you get the most from your exercise and do no harm to yourself. An accelerometer will measure how many calories you burn so you can change your activity level to meet specific goals. Such data increase motivation, and once you get a taste of success, good habits tend to follow.

Support is the best reinforcement. Exercising with a friend or mate is ideal for getting and staying motivated, but such help isn’t always available. In the office, a program with a coworker can offer support, or a personal trainer can substitute. Some coaches will work with clients by e-mail or phone (see “ Get Fit Over the Phone? ”). Virginia Polytechnic and Stanford University studies found that people who received weekly phone reinforcement were more likely to stick to their program than people who didn’t. The important thing is to find the support that fits your schedule, health needs and personality.

CPAs WHO JUST DO IT
Marlys Green, CPA, Costa Mesa, California, draws on a few techniques to keep fit year-round. She says she maintains endurance during her company’s yearend audit and tax-return season by

Doing five-minute workouts on a Stairmaster in her garage, once or more daily.

Getting up to move around every two hours.

Keeping instant oatmeal at the office.

Working with a fitness coach.

Even when his workload is intense, Steven Kerkstra, CPA and consultant at Estrada Strategies, Upland, California, relies on several proven strategies for keeping fit during busy season. He

Puts on workout clothes as soon as he gets up. Having them on motivates him to exercise even on days he doesn’t want to, he says.

Connects exercise to something he likes a lot. Music inspires him, and playing a few bars on the piano in the morning gets him going.

Buys enough fruit for snacks for an entire week and never buys junk food, so it’s not even an option.

Tells his colleagues about his fitness program. It lets them know he takes it seriously, and they give him reinforcement to keep at it.

Get Fit Over the Phone?

As a practicing CPA, I made time for exercise no matter what. This wasn’t true of many of my colleagues, whose sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits amplified work stress and wreaked havoc on their bodies. Many busy professionals know they need to exercise but lack a strategy to fit it into their lives. Phone coaching at home or the office gives effective support to people with tight schedules. The cost for a program of 20-minute, weekly Fitness by Phone sessions ranges from $150 to $397 per month. To research other fitness-by-phone resources, type telephone fitness coaching in any Web search engine.

—Heather Johnson-Moreno, CPA

Jennifer Waltzer, CPA and marketing director for Brakensiek Leavitt Pleger, Santa Monica, is in the happy position of getting support for health habits from her firm. She says: “Our firm’s partners make exercise a priority. During busy season, having a routine in place made it easier to modify weekly goals as needed.” Here are her tips:

Avoid junk-food machines.

Get out of the office for 10 minutes and get some fresh air.

Use a heart rate monitor to work out at the right intensities.

Set activity goals.

In our hectic lives, the hinges that squeak the loudest get our attention and other commitments fall by the wayside. Whatever your particular challenges, keep your eye on the prize: getting through tax season with better health, increased energy and reduced stress. Make a commitment, which someone I know defined as “the ability to carry through on a worthy decision once the emotion of making the decision has passed.” Healthy habits aren’t something to pick up when your schedule allows. They should be practiced every day and fit into your life with practicality, fun and—yes—self-discipline.

Stretching Tips for the Office

Do these at work or at home whenever some part of you feels tired or your muscles feel tight; a few of these stretches are for strengthening. It’s a good idea to walk around for a few minutes to warm up your body before doing them.

Head and neck.
Tuck in your chin and turn your head slowly to the left until your chin is over your left shoulder. Now come center. Do the same to the right. Repeat this five times.

Lower your chin to your chest, then slowly look up and stretch your neck back until you see the ceiling. Repeat this exercise five times.

Tuck in your chin, relax the neck and lower your head to the left until your left ear is close to the left shoulder. Do the same to the right. Repeat this five times.

Back.
Sit upright in your chair and place your left arm behind the left hip. Twist to the left, and with your right hand, gently pull on the back or arm of the chair and hold. Do the opposite side. Repeat this five times.

Abs (to strengthen as well as stretch).
Sit very straight in your chair. Contract abdominal muscles (pull belly button toward the spine). Breathe deeply and hold for count of 20.

Sit toward the edge of your chair. Extend arms front. Keeping your back straight, contract the abdominal muscles and slowly lower torso toward the back of the chair. Slowly return to start. Repeat.

Shoulders (to strengthen as well as stretch).
Draw your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count of five. Relax. Repeat exercise five times.

Roll your shoulders forward, then back. Repeat in each direction five times.

Wrists.
Hold both of your arms forward at shoulder level. Make slow circles with your hands in each direction. Repeat five times. Rest arms at sides and gently shake your hands.

Extend your left arm forward, palm up, and gently grasp your fingers with right hand. Gently pull the hand toward the floor to stretch the forearm. Do the same with the right arm. Repeat five times.

Legs (to strengthen as well as stretch).
Stand with your abdomen in, spine straight. To stretch your left leg, lift it forward and out and rest your heel on a chair. Bend forward slightly, keeping your shoulders back and chest up. Hold for a count of 10. Do the same thing on the right side.

Stand with your abdomen in, spine straight. To strengthen, lift your left leg to the side a few inches above the floor. Hold it for a count of five. Now do the opposite side. Repeat five times.

—Michael Hayes

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