Madison Execs Vie for Fittest Title

It's never too late to live a life of fitness, according to health experts with Meriter Health Services, so what are you waiting for?

In gauging the attitudes of Fittest Executive contestants, whether they have entered the "Most Improved" category for novices or the "Fittest Executive" category for hardcore exercise buffs, it's clear that Madison executives who are taking stock of their health connect fitness with increased energy, vitality, and other requirements for improved business performance.

They are correct to think that way, according to health experts affiliated with Meriter Health Services in Madison.

Dr. John Moses, cardiology division chief for Meriter Medical Group-Wisconsin Heart, said there is a growing body of information in medical literature that shows a clear link between employee health and productivity. According to Moses, the factors that contribute to increased workplace productivity are increased alertness and focus, enhanced energy and stamina, and an overall enhanced attitude toward life in general – all of which are made possible by improvements to individual health.

"What we want for everyone is that they find a healthy lifestyle for themselves, one that doesn't seem like work, and one they will be able to maintain their entire life," he said.

Lisa Sanborn, lead exercise physiologist and wellness institute coordinator for Meriter-Wisconsin Heart, said exercise has not only proven to provide greater energy, it's also a magnificent way to reduce stress. "With their positions as executives, they need an outlet for reducing their stress," Sanborn noted. "Stress can certainly lead to fatigue, so when those people feel better about their fitness, they definitely see an improvement in their overall well-being and productivity."

The most common motivation is to lose weight, and given what health professionals call America's "obesity epidemic," which is linked to diseases like cancer and diabetes, Moses contends that maintaining an ideal weight – without taking up smoking to do it – is one of the best things an individual can do to promote his or her health. "When you talk about the core of healthy living, you always have to include the triad of daily exercise, nutritional eating, and maintaining a healthy body weight," Moses stated. "These three areas of focus are so closely tied to one another that it's hard to truly accomplish one without the others."

The guidelines include doing aerobic exercise – walking, running, jogging, biking – for 30 minutes on most if not every day of the week. Exercise newbies want to start slowly and build themselves up to five days per week because having a couple of recovery days is very important for the body.

Getting out and getting active, especially when you've been inactive for a while, means not trying to do too much, too soon. "Certainly, initially, when people are starting to exercise, they need to start with something they know they can do," Sanborn advised. "The no-pain, no-gain theory – throw that out the window. Start slow and build yourself up."

In terms of diet, the advice ranges from the very basic to the very nuanced, but the basics are: eat in moderation, choose fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain products, choose lean meat, and avoid saturated fat.

According to Moses, there never is a point where it's too late to benefit from good diet and regular exercise. "Never," he emphasized. "Studies have clearly shown it is never too late to live healthy. A healthy diet and regular exercise are what keep us feeling young and allow us to participate in the activities we enjoy."

Four Stories of Fitness

They exercise for different reasons, but all of the contestants in our "Fittest Executive Challenge" link being fit with healthy business performance.

Fit for Business

Contestant: Yvonne Evers
Category: Most Improved

As a business coach, Yvonne Evers occasionally has to blow the whistle on unhealthy corporate practices, but as a contestant in IB's Fittest Executive competition in the Most Improved category, she's starting to mentor herself on what she considers a business-related subject – personal fitness.

Evers, owner of YME Coaching and Consulting, LLC, is getting into high gear by biking on the hills outside of Madison, and she belongs to Princeton Club for the weight training and spinning (stationary bike) aspects of her new fitness program. Asked about the business benefits of this increased activity, she is matter-of-fact about the connection between good health and entrepreneurial success.

"I took a huge risk and changed careers mid-life, and it takes a lot of energy to make things happen and to be successful at something new," she stated. "I know that when I am feeling fit, I am more focused and have more energy. Having that focus and energy will help me work more efficiently and help me to reach my goals faster.

"More importantly, though, as an executive coach, I would like to be an example to my clients of what can be achieved if you believe in yourself."

An energetic business style is one motivation, but Evers also has more personal reasons for this fitness quest. Three years ago, her father underwent heart surgery and it was a scary time for her family because they almost lost him to heart disease. High cholesterol is a problem on both sides of her family; her own cholesterol level has been slowly rising over the last several years, and is in the "high" range. Evers is fully aware that people can't control genetics, but nine months ago her doctor advised her to lose 10 to 15 pounds and retake the test.

She has yet to accomplish that weight goal, but as an athlete when she was growing up, she's competitive by nature. Participating in the fitness challenge sounded like a fun and very motivating way to reach her goals. "I am at that age where hormone imbalances start to affect everything from your energy level, sleep patterns, and weight," she noted. "I also have high cholesterol, which I need to take more seriously.

"Being more fit would improve my sleep, increase my energy level, hopefully help decrease my cholesterol, and make me want to go shopping again."
Now, that's motivation.

Fit for Family

Contestant: Matthew Gonnering
Category: Fittest Men Under 50

Matthew Gonnering believes exercise will make possible the simple pleasures: family, fun, and fraternity. Gonnering is a very active man. From instructor-led fitness classes, time-based drills, and core work at the Monkey Bar Gym, to the six-mile trail run he does on weekends in the woods along the Yahara River in DeForest, he's usually working on fitness when he's not working as the CEO of Widen Enterprises, Inc.

Since he didn't want to miss out on the joys of fatherhood, Gonnering intended to get his fitness act together before his third child was born. "I originally set out on my fitness mission just before my daughter was born and with my two older sons getting to running-around age," he recalled. "I wanted to make sure I was in a positon to be a dad that could play sports with my children, run around the backyard, race them around the house, go on long hikes. I didn't want to miss anything."

Gonnering also preferred to do all those things, and more challenging stuff, as he got older without saying, "Slow down kids, your dad is out of shape."

In other words, he wanted to be an example for his children, and now he's trying to set an example for his employees, who have access to a corporate wellness program.

Wellness the Widen Enterprises way involves earning points for various wellness activities: preventive exams, health coaching, meeting biometric parameters, Widen corporate challenges, and more. As employees reach various milestones, there are rewards in merchandise and cash; merchandise selections are from $15 to $30, with a $1,000 cash reward at the top level. Along the way, Widen employees log their fitness interactions online to track points.

In addition to the family benefits – for both business and personal families – fitness brings a confidence advantage. That would be extreme confidence because Gonnering sees similarities in pushing oneself physically on the running trail, and intellectually in the corporate setting. "If you thought you were invincible before enjoying the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, you feel more invincible after you make healthy fitness choices," he stated. "Self confidence is a powerful engine to your productivity.

"Whether it's your next innovative thought, the production of more widgets, building rapport with your social network, or a customer conversation, the confidence you exude and how you portray yourself and your orgnization has greater impact."

Fit for Work

Contestant: Lori S. Veerman
Category: Fittest Women Over 50

For Lori S. Veerman, DDS, president of Madison Family Dental Associates, staying fit is not exactly like pulling teeth – it might be even harder.

To health experts, the link between dental health and overall health is becoming as clear as the dangers of secondhand smoke, and Veerman is now so committed to fitness that she didn't let an injury knock her off track.

Not only does Veerman run a dental practice, she exercises every day and her weekly routine includes a variety of activities: two days of strength training, yoga, TRX suspension training, running and biking and, unfortunately, rehabilitation from an injury.

In March, Veerman was rehabilitating from a pelvic injury and was unable to run, but she managed to soldier on with biking for her cardiovascular fitness. When not injured, she competes in two or three running events and a couple of biking events each year.

She also has multiple exercise venues, and variety in venues might be as beneficial as variety in exercise routines. Her strength training is done at Evolution Exercise and Spin Center, her yoga takes place at Inner Fire Yoga Studio, and her TRX training happens at Woodall Training at the Middleton Fire Station.

Veerman appreciates the increased energy level and overall sense of well-being that fitness brings, and the release it provides after a stressful day.

Her business also benefits because she has increased strength to do her job and do it well. "The strength training, TRX training, and yoga all have greatly improved my core strength and my overall strength, which has been a key factor in being able to work comfortably," she noted. "Dentists often suffer from back and neck issues due to the sitting position we work in.

"Prior to doing this type of training, I suffered from significant back pain issues, which are no longer a problem."

Veerman also encourages her staff to be active, and Madison Family Dental sponsors events like the Purple Stride Run for Pancreatic Cancer Research and the Boys and Girls Club bike ride.

Fit for Life

Contestant: David Meier
Category: Most Improved

David Meier acknowledges his fitness story might be different than most. He's not the guy who wanted to shed 100 pounds or substantially change his diet. He was an athletic, fit, and active 53-year-old, and seemingly the picture of health, until an unexpected scare shattered any illusions he had.

Meier, CFO and co-owner of Badger Bus Transportation Group, almost died without warning last November from a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that formed in his lungs. His only symptom was a telling one – he could barely breathe despite great effort. He was rushed to the emergency department at St. Mary's Hospital and given a battery of tests before the shocking diagnosis came.

The truly frightening aspect of this unsettling situation was that he had no forewarning that anything was wrong. While he was caught completely off guard, he did have something working for him, an advantage that people with inactive lifestyles might want to consider. "A 53-year-old fit and active male is not the normal profile of someone with pulmonary embolisms," he noted. "The doctors told me that because of my [high] fitness level, I was able to work hard enough to get air past the clots and into my lungs. Many others are not so fortunate."

In short, being physically fit saved his life, and now fitness has taken on a whole new meaning. It's not just about looking good or having boundless energy, it's more about being strong enough and having the cardio capacity to spare one's life in the event of an unforeseen health crisis. It's also about the sheer thrill – and thankfulness – of being healthy enough to exercise and take his health to a higher level.

Judging from Meier's comments, he's as thankful for that as he is for life itself. That's why he warns even fit people not to be complacent, but to ratchet up the intensity of their fitness activities. "We are all one event away from losing our ability to exercise, and then we no longer have the choice and therefore will have limited ability to improve our overall fitness level," he said. "My message would be primarily to the many people who are currently working out and watching their diet, and that would be to encourage them to continue because it could save their lives."

Take it from a physically fit man who learned the hard way.

Meet the Contestants

Then tell us who you'd like to win on Twitter at #FittestExec.

Most Improved

Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison

Fitness regimen: When I'm on top of it, I ride my bike 15 to 20 minutes three days a week, 40 miles on Saturday or Sunday. I lift weights or do calisthenics for 45 minutes, working on one to two body parts each day, five days a week.
Meriter comment: There are three components to a good exercise program: aerobic exercise, strength and resistance training, and flexibility.

Lori Carlson
Madison Green Box, LLC

Fitness regimen: My current fitness regimen is sporadic. On rare occasions, I will attend a yoga, Pilates, or boot camp-style class. I do some heavy lifting and carrying on the job, though this is not every day.
Meriter comment: Exercise has proven to provide greater energy, and it's also a magnificent way to reduce stress. With your position as an executive, you need a consistent outlet for reducing stress.

Paul Cuta
Engberg Anderson, Inc.
Fitness regimen:
I'm a morning person, so Monday through Friday I start at Pinnacle's downtown location at 5 a.m. with a routine provided by trainers. My routines vary and include a combination of cardio and strength training.
Meriter comment: Make sure you incorporate daily stretching into your routine to loosen and lengthen muscles that have become short and tight.

Yvonne Evers
YME Coaching & Consulting, LLC
Fitness regimen:
Within the last two months, I've started spinning (stationary bike) class three to four times/week, and to lift weights at least two times/week. In the summer, I bike on the hills west of Madison three to four times/week.
Meriter comment: As you continue to exercise, proper nutrition will protect the joints from age-related degeneration, and daily stretching will be needed to maintain your flexibility.

David M. Fink
Founder and President
Settlers bank
Fitness regimen:
A typical workout is 20 minutes of upper body toning with weights, plus 60 minutes of cardio. I need work on muscle flexibility, so I'm trying to find a yoga class that works for me.
Meriter comment: Looks like you have the three pillars of fitness covered, but remember that proper nutrition can help provide the nutrients needed to maintain physical ability.

John Hecht
President and CEO
WPS Community Bank, FSB
Fitness regimen:
Daily brisk walking, 25 to 30 minutes, and stretching. Benefits: better self-image, energy, and strength to better handle stress. Effect on business life: self-confidence and stamina; good example to staff to promote fitness.
Meriter comment: Good nutrition will enhance that sense of self-confidence. Our suggestion would be everything in moderation. Watch portion control.

Jody Glynn Patrick
In Business magazine
Fitness regimen:
Joined Weight Watchers and will be working out three days/week at a Madison area fitness center, but mostly walking – including walking dogs that put me through the paces. WALK, WALK, WALK.
Meriter comment: The guideline is for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days, and that's aerobic types of exercise: walking, running, jogging. You want to start slowly and build yourself up to the five days per week. Having recovery days is very important.

Angela Heim
President and Owner
The Employer Group
Fitness regimen:
Work with a trainer at Pinnacle three mornings/week for an hour – strength training and core work. Cardio on my own for 50 minutes three additional days/week (Bowflex Treadclimber.) If we go to our cabin, walks with hand weights; walks with kids after dinner and in golf league.
Meriter comment: Initially, when people are starting to exercise, they need to start with something they know they can do. The no-pain, no-gain theory – throw that out the window. Start slow and build yourself up.

David Meier
Badger Bus Transportation Group
Fitness regimen:
Work out five to six days/week. Each includes 30 to 40 minutes of aerobics, 15 to 20 minutes of strength training. On three days, jog between three and four miles, then weights. On non-jogging days, 12 to 15 minutes each on recumbent bike, elliptical, and treadmill.
Meriter comment: Rest and recover more often. All athletes need time off for recovery, whether it's rest only, a more active recovery, or a combination.

Sue Rather
Fitness regimen:
Health club for stretching, weights (ideally, three times/week); walk to health club (two-mile round trip, three times/week); running (ideally, five times/week for four miles); bicycling (100 miles/week in summer).
Meriter comment: Another varied program that should be augmented with proper nutrition. Examples: Vitamin C for collagen formation; omega-3 oils for anti-inflammatory effects.

Susan Thomson
Action COACH Business & Executive Coaching
Fitness regimen:
Jazzercise, one to three times/week; walk the dog, once/week; walk office steps, three to four times/day; treadmill (when the first two don't happen). Summer: bike around Lake Monona and downtown (sporadic); Rollerblade (sporadic); walk dog, several times/week.
Meriter comment: Sounds very active, but don't forget to rest and recover, maintain flexibility with daily stretching, and nourish yourself to facilitate exercise – antioxidants (selenium and vitamin E) to protect against damage from free radicals; omega-3 oils for anti-inflammatory effects.

Women Under 50

Christi Andringa
Candringa! Productions, LLC

Fitness regimen: When teaching yoga, I typically do half the class physically. Monday: two TurboKick cardio classes; Wednesday: yoga fusion and hot fusion; Thursday: turbo strength; Friday: hot fusion. Running two to three times/week.
Meriter comment: Rest and recover more often. While all athletes need time off for recovery, as we age we find that the off days are as important as the training days.

Jessica Laufenberg
SBR Coaching, LLC

Fitness regimen: Swimming, cycling, running, strength training, yoga. Depending on the time of year, the total volume of these activities varies from six hours to 20 hours per week. Training for my sixth Ironman distance triathlon.
Meriter comment: Gain flexibility through daily stretching. Repetitive movement involved in any sport results in muscular imbalances that get progressively more extreme.

Julie Mueller
jamgraphics & design, llc
Fitness regimen:
Work out an average of 10 to 12 hours per week. Fitness regimen includes strength and conditioning. Focus on triathlons – conditioning heavily involves swimming, biking, and running.
Meriter comment: Proper nutrition protects the joints from degeneration. The following nutrients are of particular importance: vitamin C, omega-3 oils, sulphur containing amino acids, and antioxidants.

Becky Pelnar
Fitness regimen:
Teach Zumba and Piloxing fitness classes six times a week; run four times a week (training for first full marathon). It's also important to include weightlifting and resistance training to keep muscles toned.
Meriter comment: Remember to rest and recover. Allow time to recover between demanding training sessions. The extra time can be given to rest only, active recovery, or a combination of both.

Renee Wilson
Rockweiler Insulation, Inc.
Fitness regimen:
Walk dogs two miles every day. Running at least three miles, three to four times/week (more if training for a race). Pilates two to three times/week to strengthen core and increase balance and flexibility.
Meriter comment: Strength training for joint health. Athletes in sports that don't require tremendous strength – swimming, biking, and running – are particularly susceptible as they try to get by without resistance training.

Women Over 50

Joan Collins
Joan Collins Publicity
Fitness regimen:
Tennis (singles) five to six days/week, usually at 6 a.m., 75 minutes minimum. Commute by bicycle until snow and ice come; commutes and errands by bike usually are not far away; average 60 miles/week.
Meriter comment: The older you get, the more important strength training becomes. One of the more crippling effects of aging for athletes is the gradual loss of muscle mass, and the loss of strength it entails.

Karen Curran
Executive Director
Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association
Fitness regimen:
Running year-round, four to five times/week, plus several 5K and 10K runs, and trail races each year. Benefits: more energy at work – no more 2 p.m. slump!
Meriter comment: Again, strength training becomes more important as you age due to the loss of muscle mass. Typically, most of the muscle mass lost in the aging process is classified as Type II, or fast-twitch muscle fibers. These Type II fibers are faster to contract and give us our strength and power.
Mary Ann Drescher

Attic Angel Association
Fitness regimen:
Exercise at least an hour, four days/week, attend yoga/Pilates class, power walk, Rollerblade, tennis, stationary bike, Wii fit/dance routines. Summer – walk to/from work (eight miles total) once/week.
Meriter comment: Importance of strength training: in contrast to Type II muscle fibers, Type I or slow-twitch muscle fibers are slow to contract and contribute to muscular endurance. Loss of muscle mass and strength causes joints to bear greater stress during exercise.

Susan Schmitz
Executive Director
Downtown Madison, Inc.
Fitness regimen:
Strength training three times/week. Ride my bicycle to work every day, year-round, five miles each way. Feel healthy mentally and physically; have a lot more energy.
Meriter comment: Loss of flexibility is a natural effect of aging that can be counteracted through a program of daily stretching. These require targeted efforts to loosen and lengthen those muscles that have become short and tight.

Lori S. Veerman, DDS
Madison Family Dental Associates
Fitness regimen:
Daily exercise, including: strength training two days/week; hot yoga one to two times/week; TRX suspension training two to three times/week; run or bike two to four times/week. When not injured, compete in two to three running events/year.
Meriter comment: Proper nutrition is protection from age-related degeneration: vitamin C for collagen formation, omega-3 oils for anti-inflammatory effects, sulphur-containing amino acids for joint cartilage health, antioxidants to ward off free radicals.

Men Under 50

Dan Paulson
InVision Business Development

Fitness regimen: Work out four times/week; times range from 60 to 120 minutes and are a combination of strength training and cardio. Time is spent on core muscle groups with 30 minutes devoted to cardio. Diet focus is calorie management.
Meriter comment: Strength training is important because extra stress to the joints commonly leads to athletic injuries such as tendonitis, ligament sprains, musculo-tendinous strains, and arthritis. Loss of muscle mass causes joints to bear more stress during exercise.

Jason Jensen
GM-Canada, VP-New Market Development
Parts Now
Fitness regimen:
Strike a balance between cardio workouts and core strengthening. Winter: three runs a week, four to five miles, one five- to six-mile run on weekends. Summer: longer races, including Crazy Legs, Blue Mounds Trail Run, and the Madison Mini-Marathon.
Meriter comment: The older you get, the more important it becomes to train for strength specifically, no matter which sports you participate in.

Thomas Dott
Senior Vice President
Associated Bank
Fitness regimen:
Offseason: stationary bike for 30 minutes, less than five days/week, plus upper body and core strength weight program. Spring/summer/fall: compete in several cycling events/ races. Average outdoor cycling mileage – 3,000 miles.
Meriter comment: With that level of activity and repetitive movement, stress flexibility to avoid muscular imbalances, espcially by strengthening short and tight muscles through stretching.

Daniel J. Bertler
Supreme Structures, Inc.
Fitness regimen:
Four- to five-mile run twice/week; Nine- to 13-mile run on weekends. Spring: master swim classes twice/week. Summer: lake swimming, one to two miles; cycling to work (22 miles one way); 40- to 80-mile weekend bike ride.
Meriter comment: Don't neglect strength training, especially in sports that don't require tremendous strength. Bikers and runners are particularly susceptible as they often try to get by without resistance training. The older you get, the more important it becomes to specifically train for strength, no matter what sport you happen to take part in.

Matthew Gonnering
Widen Enterprises, Inc.
Fitness regimen:
Weekdays: strength-endurance classes at Monkey Bar Gym three to five times/week; yoga for exercise warm-ups; variety of core training, mix of time-based drills. Weekends: six-mile trail run along Yahara River in DeForest.
Meriter comment: Proper nutrition will be needed to protect the joints from degeneration, maintain flexibility, and prevent loss in range of motion.

Men Over 50

Donald Briggs
Briggs Architecture & Design, Inc.

Fitness regimen: Adaptable and often changes with the seasons. Variety of activities: martial arts training, resistance and weight lifting, kettle bells, running and biking, stretching, and occasional yoga. Hiking, mountain climbing (when living in Montana).
Meriter comment: You mention stretching, which is good. Since loss of flexibility is a natural effect of aging, it's important to counteract that with daily stretching.

Corey Chambas
First Business Financial Services
Fitness regimen:
Typically work out seven days/week. Cross training with alternating strength training and cardio. Strength training: standard training, TRX suspension, kettle bells, heavy rope. Cardio: elliptical or stair climber, biking.
Meriter comment: More advice to engage in daily stretching to maintain flexibility. Muscular imbalances require targeted efforts to loosen and lengthen muscles.

Mike Dillis
Vice President
J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.
Fitness regimen:
Three components: cardio, strength and conditioning, nutrition. Switched from running (ex-distance runner) to cycling. Ride about 2,500 outdoor miles/year; about 500 miles indoors/year. Other cardio: kayaking, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing.
Meriter comment: Rest and recover; the extra time may be given to outright rest, active recovery, or a combination.

Dennis J. Hilgendorf
Automation Plus
Fitness regimen:
Waking at 3:50 a.m. to prepare for Dustin Maher's boot camp, Monday through Saturday, supplemented with an additional boot camp Sunday morning, followed by five- to 10-mile run. Personal trainer, one to two days/week.
Meriter comment: Proper nutrition in older athletes may also protect the joints from age-related degeneration. Aging causes the joints to become less flexible and lose a range of motion.

Mike Whaley
TURIS Systems, LLC
Fitness regimen:
Basic nutrition with balanced, Mediterranean-style diet with whole grain, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, yogurt, nuts and (kiddingly) "copious" amounts of wine. Regular exercise: boot camp at Hybrid Fitness, three times/week; stationary bike one to two times/week in winter.
Meriter comment: Strength training will mitigate the gradual loss of muscle mass, and the loss of strength it entails. Also, as you well know, the Mediterranean diet calls for moderate wine consumption.

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