The one thing I will never apologise for as CEO

A group of women in a reformer Pilates studio

By Dr Robyn Littlewood, Chief Executive Officer, Health and Wellbeing Queensland

The thing I am criticised the most for as a CEO is not my decision making, my strategy or my communication – it’s that I exercise. 

I go to Pilates nearly every day and run or walk 3 to 4 times a week. 

These are activities that I love and have become fiercely protective of in my routine so much that it is quarantined time in my diary. 

This time dedicated to being physically active improves my physical, mental, social and emotional health and wellbeing.  

It makes me a better mother, partner, daughter, friend and leader. 

Yet this time away from my family and my work has been labelled by some as “selfish” and “self-indulgent”. 

As CEO of Health and Wellbeing Queensland, the state’s prevention agency, it’s my job to make healthy happen for every Queenslander and reduce the record rate of obesity in our population. 

I love my job, but it’s almost impossible to keep up with and maintain the level of energy and passion required in government leadership positions like mine. 

I am scheduled all day, every day, and travel often. 

My diary directs me to where I need to be, how I’m going to get there, where to park, when I can eat, and even when to take travel sickness tablets. 

I need to be present and active in every meeting and remain present and active for my family at home. 

That’s the life that comes with the role, and I adore it. 

But like any critical machine that’s required to perform with the same level of output, intensity and credibility, there must be maintenance.  

For me, that’s scheduled, quiet, relaxed brain activity. I need an hour to not make decisions, to not clear a brief or chair a team meeting. I need that hour to be flexible and responsive to what my brain, my body and my emotions need. Over time I’ve learned that Pilates and walking are it. 

I enjoy Pilates because it’s indoors, warm, comfortable and I can work at my own pace. For 40 minutes, someone instructs and supports everything I do; my only responsibility is to take care of my body as I work my muscles and increase my heart rate. When I leave the studio, my cup is full. I feel empowered, stronger and more flexible, ready to take on whatever life throws at me. 

With walking, I can choose my own pace as my brain fires impulses to my often tired and sore body, advising me whether to walk and relax, or run at speed. Either way, I’m outside enjoying nature alone with my own thoughts, or accompanied by my dogs or the narrator of an audiobook for company.  

Over the years, I’ve needed this time more regularly not only to harness my energy for the next daily schedule of events or activities, but to preserve the vitality that is lost when neglected in ageing. 

Look after your wellbeing because you’re going to need it: find what works for you, understand why it’s important to you and the people around you, and defend it. 

Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive, and I don’t wish to impose what works for me on anyone else. That’s why I introduced a daily “hour of power” in my workplace so all staff can have the time to do what they need to feel restored. 

For me, physical activity improves my health, both mental and physical, and wellbeing more than anything else. It ensures my family has a balanced and supportive mother at home and my workplace has a highly engaged, enthusiastic and passionate leader. 

I know that my abundant positive energy spills over and influences the world around me: I want nothing less from my exercise. 

I can only hope for acceptance in my quest to protect my wellbeing, and for the strength to continue to defend it.  

I will never apologise for prioritising my health and wellbeing – and neither should you.