Timothy NeCastro recalled the conversation he had with his wife in 2015, mulling their eventual retirement. It was a sobering one.

“Lisa said to me, in as kind a way as she could, that given my physical condition, we were more likely to spend a lot of time in doctors’ offices than on beaches.”

At the time of that talk, NeCastro, 57, was senior vice president and regional officer of Erie Insurance Group’s west region, a sales executive slot responsible for overseeing eight states. He traveled all the time, dined out often and was less conscious about his health. At 5 feet 11 inches tall, he weighed in at 235 pounds. NeCastro, Erie’s president and CEO since 2016, decide then to make some changes focused on building a healthier life.

Today, NeCastro, who works between 50 and 65 hours per week, is about 35 pounds lighter. While his CEO life is a busy one, he said he continues to remind himself of the balance he needs to maintain his physical and mental health. For him, this includes exercising and cooking healthy food with his wife. Family and church are important, too.

NeCastro believes work/life balance helps him to be more successful as Erie Insurance’s chief executive.

“Maintaining a focus on the balance of things in my life helps me stay sharp, and when I work out, and Lisa and I are at home cooking dinner, it keeps me from becoming too deeply immersed [in problems]. It enables me to maintain some objectivity,” NeCastro explained. “Those things…they provide a diversion from work. They keep work from overtaking my life, and I find that I am more effective at work as I keep it in perspective.”

Last fall, Erie Insurance held a campaign for United Way. The theme was all about Italian food and culture. The many nods to NeCastro’s heritage included a bocce tournament, an Italian buffet and a chance to learn the technique (but not the secret recipe) for his Grandma Salvia’s meatballs. Ten lucky employees won the experience with Tim and his wife, Lisa, at their home.

“Balance is very important to me,” he explained. “It is the mental construct that I have incorporated into my life for a long time. I know when my life is getting out of balance. If I am working too much, or eating too much, or not exercising, or not pursuing my [Catholic] faith, or not spending enough time with my family, something doesn’t feel right.”

The Routine

NeCastro, a married father of five grown children, said that cooking helps him relax and plays a big part in his life outside of the office.

“I love to cook, and cooking is a complete mental break from the day-in, day-out rigors of the job,” he said. “Food doesn’t talk back to you, and it doesn’t have issues, and it is fun to work with.”

Growing up Italian, “pretty much everything had red sauce and pasta,” he recalled. But now he’s trying new things in the kitchen. These days, NeCastro and his wife focus on healthier recipes, incorporating ingredients such as quinoa, kale and salmon.

“We’re venturing outside of our comfort zone with food,” NeCastro said. “Exercising my [brain] with something completely different is how I maintain mental health.”

NeCastro and his wife share a love of homemade manicotti as their overall favorite dish, but more often than not, a meal will include something like broiled salmon and vegetables such as asparagus, kale and Brussels sprouts—sometimes all three cooked together. Favorite seasonings: olive oil, salt and pepper. In the summer, there’s plenty of grilling with chicken and cod and stuffed pepper soup made with chicken and white kidney beans.

Both NeCastro and his wife still make the time to cook regularly, even though he has many evening and other events to attend as CEO. “If it is a dinner event, I typically eat very light and go home and eat something healthy with Lisa,” he explained. “I have found I feel better when I eat right.”

Exercise matters, too. NeCastro said he works out nine out of 14 days, or four to five days per week, and he won’t let himself do less than that. He and his wife, Lisa, have a fitness club membership, and he pursues activities including swimming, pilates, cross training or cycling classes. For more basic cardio workouts, he tries to use the company fitness center, something he had installed in 2016 out of a recognition that the health of his employees was important.

“There is nothing better for me at the end of a long day than to get to the gym,” NeCastro explained. “I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to the gym and as I am walking in, I am having the worst day of my life, and as I am walking out [afterward], it is completely neutralized.”

NeCastro’s assistant also helps to make sure he maintains his health and his balance, reminding him to go to the gym and make time for dinner at home with his wife.

NeCastro said he keeps church a regular part of his routine as well.

“My faith…keeps things in perspective for me,” the executive said. “I realize that there is a higher being out there that is really controlling things. It does help quite a bit.”

Becoming CEO Upset the Balance; A Support System Restores It

NeCastro’s initial push to lose weight and become fit brought him down to 195 pounds. But in his first year as CEO, he began to gain some weight again as he got up to speed in his new gig.

“I was so engrossed in what I was doing, and I let things get out of balance,” he recalled. But he refocused on the things that keep him centered over the last six months and is “back on track now.”

“Cooking is a complete mental break from the day-in, day-out rigors of the job. Food doesn’t talk back to you and it doesn’t have issues.”

How can executives stay focused when their jobs are so demanding?

One key is to have a support system that cares about your well-being, NeCastro believes. “You need to have those close to you understand the importance of maintaining [your health] and how you want to go about doing it,” he said. “Between Lisa and my assistant, and even some of the other executives here, they know what I am about and they keep an eye on me and help me with it.”

NeCastro said for other executives, exercise and life balance can go a long way.

“Don’t underestimate the power of exercise and the power of keeping balance in your life,” he recommended. “It is really liberating. While it seems risky at first, when you say, ‘Hey, I am going to cancel some meetings and go to the gym,’ once you get used to doing it, it ain’t so bad, and things work out fine.”

One of the drivers in NeCastro’s quest for balance is an uncle who he said had a big influence on his life.

“He had this saying: ‘You are never going to be laying on your deathbed saying, “Gee, I wish I worked a couple more hours,”‘ To me, this is a punctuation mark on the importance of keeping balance in your life.”