Words of Advice for Flabby Fat Cats

Adopting a pet, keeping your nails short and clean, and smiling as much as possible are among the many secrets to a happy, healthy life for the bureaucrats who run Russia.

So says Sergei Mironov, the Kremlin's chief doctor, in a new 350-page book, "State Employee: Professional Health and Longevity." The book contains numerous recommendations for overworked officials on everything from sex to drinking to the importance of a clean shave.

Mironov, who was President Boris Yeltsin's doctor when he was in power, wrote the book with his deputy, Dr. Albert Artyunov, and Dr. Pyotr Turzin, deputy head of postgraduate training for Kremlin physicians.

"Employee" offers pearls of wisdom about maintaining a robust physique, sleep habits and contending with disease, and includes dozens of tests for identifying physical and psychological ailments.

Take this passage on combating stress. Officials are advised "to rest well and sleep six to eight hours, have a family, maintain good relations with their parents, take part in sports, have a hobby and pets, and not smoke or abuse alcohol. In addition, officials are advised to be optimistic, enjoy every day of their lives, smile and laugh more often."

They are reprimanded for often resorting to casual sex and gambling to sort out their problems. And for the overly lubricated, the doctors have the following suggestions: Keep tabs on the number of drinks you consume, and do your best not to drink at least three days per week.

And it's very important not to work too hard. Slaving away at the office can actually lead to one's mind degenerating -- into what, no one knows.

Battling or preempting illness, the book contends, also entails meditation, "self-massage," breathing exercises and making sure that when you're stuck in that dingy, fluorescent-lit office all day long stamping permission slips and shuffling important documents you sit in an ergonomically correct chair.

And it doesn't hurt to look and smell good, either. State employees are advised to get a regular haircut and always have fresh breath.

Apparently, the Kremlin isn't too keen on too many people staying alive longer: The publisher, Print Atelye, has issued just 1,000 copies.

That's a shame, authorities suggested. Health problems faced by government officials are real, many said.

"I remember my days in the Cabinet -- very little sleep, no sports, receptions almost every night," said Boris Nemtsov, the deputy prime minister from 1997-98 and a former leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces.

Grigory Sysoyev / Itar-Tass
On a school visit in May, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spent time in the gym -- as Dr. Mironov would advise.
"During my time in the government, we were fighting with oligarchs and selling Svyazinvest, and that time was indeed very stressful," Nemtsov recalled, referring to the state-controlled telecom giant. He added: "As a rule, state officials abuse alcohol and overeat and, in general, have rather unhealthy lifestyles, and no Kremlin doctor can change this."

But the former deputy prime minister, once considered a possible successor to Yeltsin, was doubtful that most officials are confronted with much pressure. "Most state employees are not responsible for anything and therefore have no reason to be stressed," Nemtsov said.

A longtime state employee backed up Nemtsov, saying that most bureaucrats spend hours dozing in meetings and doing a lot of monotonous, pointless paperwork.

Alexander Levchenko, deputy rector of St. Petersburg's National Health Institute, added that state officials faced no more stress -- and stress-related illness -- than do people in other walks of life.

"Obviously, there are more stressful jobs," Levchenko said. "What about pilots, bus drivers or laboratory researchers who have to handle dangerous substances?"

Yury Levada, whose Levada Center has conducted surveys of public attitudes toward state employees, said many Russians tended to view bureaucrats as thieves and bribe-takers blessed with the perks that come with a government post.

Mironov, who did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, disagrees, arguing in his book that the plain-faced, cookie-cutter bureaucrats who run the ministries, agencies, departments and divisions of the sprawling Russian state must contend with pressures like none other.

The doctor has some insight into the toll a day at the office can exact on high-ranking officials, if not their subordinates. From 1996, when Yeltsin underwent heart bypass surgery, until the president abruptly resigned Dec. 31, 1999, Mironov regularly appeared on television to reassure Russians their leader was not at death's door.