Flo Ziegler took advantage of an opportunity her employer, Stone Energy, offered to its executives in late 2008. “As a benefit to executives, my company sponsored executive physicals at Lafayette General. I thought I was generally healthy, did a little bit of exercise,” recalls Ziegler, who felt like she was doing well as she progressed through the thorough physical. “It was a fabulous experience, very personal,” she says, “but when Dr. Ben Doga sat with me and did my review, all of my levels were getting up there. I was going on the mid- to high-end, and I didn’t like any of it.”

Doga told her if she exercised, watched her diet and lost a little weight, the ranges would come down. “It was the wake-up call with the physical,” says the 49-year-old vice president of human resources. “I didn’t want to have to be on blood pressure medication or watch my sugar. It was about losing weight but not [entirely]. It was more being healthy.”

At the beginning of 2009 Stone Energy took another step toward employee health by sponsoring a “Biggest Loser” contest, which jump-started a lifestyle change for Ziegler. “I started exercising, eating right, really watching my intake. I was very successful in the Biggest Loser,” she says. “My team won.” At the conclusion of the 12-week program, Ziegler’s team of five lost a whopping 117.2 pounds. “It’s not a lot of weight. I lost just 17 pounds, but it made such a difference in my energy level at work. The difference is night and day.”

Stone has just launched another Biggest Loser contest, and Ziegler and her team, “2nd Time Around,” are off to a good start after week one. “We sure hope to win again,” she says.

For the most part, Ziegler works out at home, primarily fast-walking on the treadmill and lifting weights three to four times a week, typically for 30-40 minutes. “I exercise, but I’m not a fanatic. I have two kids, a husband, a huge job. Time is a big constraint for me, which is why I do most of my workouts at home,” Ziegler continues. “But if I can do something, even 20 to 30 minutes. I’ve done a little bit of everything, watching what I eat to a degree, portion control and adding some exercise.”

Ziegler, however, isn’t satisfied just yet. She is still setting goals for herself: this year she hopes to increase her workouts to an hour and average more days a week. Like anyone, she’s had ups and downs with the lifestyle change. “I do it. I slack off. I have to be honest. Holidays always throw you for a loop. I still have excuses: I need to cook dinner, wash the clothes, help with homework, or I stayed at work too late. But I return to it. The bottom line is the reward was so great that I always want to go back to it.”

Personally Fit’s Dawn Foreman says anyone with Ziegler’s attitude about health and fitness is on the right track to a long-term lifestyle change. The key? A realistic approach.

“When you’re talking to executive women who are struggling with making exercise a habit, make sure that whatever they set themselves up for is realistic,” says Foreman, whose health club caters to women exclusively. For example, no beginner should set a goal of working out six days a week for an hour each day. So instead of doing a full hour, just do 30 minutes three times a week, Foreman recommends. “One other thing people don’t think about is just to fit in 10-minute intervals each day. If you can do 10 minutes at lunch time, 10 minutes after work, just to get started and move a little more.” That makes it easier to gradually work up to getting in a half hour two to three days a week, then 45 minutes or an hour a few days a week. In other words, it’s best to just bite off little pieces at a time.

But not everyone has that kind of patience. Executives, in particular women who also balance much of the responsibilities at home, are usually very organized, Foreman says. “They plan and tend to do everything possible to stick to that plan,” she adds. “The key is to not be all or nothing with exercise. It is to make sure that they just move more than what they’re moving now.”

Foreman also advises anyone getting into a new exercise program to think big picture, long-term goals. “Don’t look at Jan. 1 and then look at Jan. 30 and think you’re going to have this great exercise program,” she says. “Look at the whole year. You’re building a habit you want to last a lifetime, not just to last four weeks or eight weeks.”

For many executives, Foreman says morning workouts are best. “Some of them will try to work out in the evenings, and it’s a great stress reliever for after work, but what happens more often than not is that things come up throughout the day, and it messes up their schedule.”

For some of Acadiana’s most fit execs, however, there is very little that interferes with their workout regimen. Himself a health buff, City Club Fitness Director Nate Pry says he’s consistently amazed at the level of balance and commitment he sees regularly from local executives. “That’s probably been one of the most eye-opening parts of my job,” Pry says. “At City Club we see a lot of the high-end executives in town. You read about these people in different publications. You see all of the things they have their hands in. And then you realize that person is out there that much and doing that much in this community and has time to be here six hours a week and cares that much about their fitness and their state of health. It’s really impressive.”

Pry says he’s come to understand how important these execs’ workouts are to their success in the workplace. “I hear about some of these high-powered people from people who work for them. I hear about their executive side. But I see them in here, busting their butts, talking to everybody. Sweating. They’re not in their suits; they’re in their cycling shorts,” Pry says. “It gives them a second to let their hair down. Especially Gerry Fornoff [president of Opelousas General Health System]. That guy runs an entire hospital, and he’s been doing it for years. The guy that’s in here [almost every morning about 5 a.m.] is just one of the guys. He’s talking trash to the trainers and just having a great time working out. The same with [Lafayette attorney] Frank Neuner as well. I’ve always been interested in law, so I read a lot of legal news. Laborde & Neuner is in there all the time. Frank comes in his suit and transforms in the locker room. When he comes out he’s a whole different person. It’s just fun to see.”

Though there are tons of individual stories about executives who have long been committed to their health and inspiring stories from newcomers like Ziegler, it’s more impressive when an executive steps up to plate for his entire company. According to Ziegler, Stone CEO Dave Welch has made a long-term commitment to employees’ health. In 2009 Stone hired a full-time wellness coordinator, Keith Thibodeaux, who helps employees with programs to meet their health goals. “We’re very fortunate to have a consultant who helps us. That’s a big part of our success,” Ziegler says.

Ziegler says Welch recognizes that healthier employees are happier and more productive — which can translate into a variety of cost savings for the company. “What we’re trying to do, ultimately, is lower our health insurance costs,” she says.

In November of this year, Ziegler took another executive physical at LGMC — again on the company’s dime. The results were astounding. “I’ve taken all those levels and slashed them,” she says. “I had a great physical. The point is it doesn’t have to be massive amounts of weight. A little bit can make a big difference.”

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