My mantra for 2012 is “me first.” Self-care is something I struggle with, since I usually define myself as the person who takes care of others. In fact, somewhere deep down, I believe that doing something for myself is selfish.

As difficult as this may be, you do need to prioritize yourself. Otherwise, you will not be as effective in any of your roles in life. If you need some excuses to put you first, here are a few:

You will live longer. Research shows that regular exercise, not smoking, drinking in moderation and eating at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits a day will add 14 years to your life. (Think you don’t have time to exercise? Hey, you’ve just added 122,640 more hours to your life. You can squeeze it in.)

You won’t be as cranky. Exercise improves your mood. Need I say more?

Your brain will work better. An article in the New York Times promotes physical exercise over “brain exercises” like computer games or sudoku to boost our brains as we age.  In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Take a break for a noon workout or come in later, so you can hit the gym. You don’t need a better reason than enhancing that all-important executive function!

You will do more in less time. Corporate fitness programs have been shown to improve productivity. Ironically, the very executives who institute these programs are often the least healthy of the bunch. The excuse? They’re too busy. Your productivity as a leader matters as much as that of your employees. Don’t shirk your responsibility to bring your best self to work each day.

Exercise, eat right and get enough sleep. It sounds simple, yet is profoundly hard for many of us….myself included.

I’m following the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines for fitness, which means at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week, plus strength training at least twice a week. I’m tracking my food intake, and I’m pausing at the end of each and every day to be thankful. What really makes a difference for me is public accountability. I am connected with a group of dear friends (and friends of friends) on Facebook who are mutually committed to support and kick each other in the behind as needed.

Take the plunge and put you first. Self-care isn’t selfish. It is a wonderful gift to yourself and others.


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