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Managing Your Appetite for Work

Balancing your life — and not being a workaholic — can do wonders for your health and fitness.

Much has been made in recent years about America's obsession with work. These days, many of us would be happy simply to have a job over which to obsess, but that's another story.

With our commutes, the unwritten rules of 24/7 electronic availability and the ubiquitous "doing more with less," we uphold our reputation as a citizenry that spends too much time on work.

But workaholism can take a big toll on families. Moreover, it is inconsistent with emotional health, which, in turn, is a critical part of overall fitness; hence, this discussion.

I haven't read a lot about the link between workaholism and obesity. Yet I have no doubt that it was my 12- and 14-hour days without any thought about exercise or health that led me to become morbidly obese (60-plus pounds overweight) over a 30-year period.

Like many Americans, I've always gravitated toward work and away from leisure. Thanks to advances in technology, it's been possible (and even tempting) for me to work anywhere, anytime. I often reach the limits of my husband's patience before I realize I've made one too many calls or written one too many e-mails. In response to his concerns, I came up with the following questions for myself and friends to determine if we're slipping into workaholism.

1. Do you suffer from leisure illness? Do vacations, weekends and holidays trigger withdrawal anxiety and loss of identity?

2. Do you go on vacation or spend time recreationally primarily to be more productive when you return to work?

3. Do you select your hotel based on the speed and accessibility of its broadband connection?

4. When you arrive at a vacation spot, do you set up your workspace and check e-mail and voice mail before you do anything else?

5. Do you boot your computer and turn on the coffee maker before you brush your teeth? Is your home an extension of your office?

6. Do you go on the blink when your computer or Internet connection is down?

7. Do your spouse or children need to "get on your calendar" to spend time with you?

10. When you socialize, are you not fully present because you are thinking about work?

This is my made-up-for-fun test. Workaholics Anonymous has one also. The more "yes" answers you have, the more out-of-balance your life. (I scored 17 out of 20.)

Here are some strategies for restoring balance.

Scheduling playtime: I schedule vacation, playtime and visits with friends on my calendar. When I get anxious about tasks left behind, I remind myself that my employers survived just fine before I came along and will no doubt do the same when I'm gone. They can live without me for a while. Everyone deserves a break.

Setting priorities: I make taking care of my body, including daily exercise, not just a "to do" on my list but my first priority.

Including creativity: I make sure there is some creative playtime every day. I might decide to try a new recipe, do some mending (which I love to do), read a book or just play cards.

Rest: I make sure I get eight to nine hours of sleep a night even if it means leaving the party early — or starting work late!

To lead a healthful lifestyle, we must commit to balance.

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