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The Health Habits of the 2020 Presidential Candidates

Illustration by Noah Baker. Images: Getty Images

HHow healthy should our president be? The campaign trail is notoriously stressful, grueling, and jam-packed — the kind of working conditions that make self-care challenging for anyone. Of course, the same is true of being the president of the United States.

Arianna Huffington has provocatively argued that exhaustion was likely a factor in Hillary Clinton’s campaign missteps: in particular, her notorious “basket of deplorables” comment. “Would she have served up such a petit cadeau had she not been running on empty?” Huffington asked. “We’ll never know — but we do know what sleep deprivation and burnout do to us.”

The Thrive Global founder and CEO, an evangelist for rest and company naptime, reminds us that losing sleep is correlated with a reduction in empathy and impulse control. In fact, she writes, “after 17 to 19 hours without sleep, which many if not most politicians would consider a normal workday, we start to experience levels of cognitive impairment equal to a blood alcohol level of .05 percent, just under the threshold for being legally drunk.”

How healthy should our president be?

Will Democratic voters choosing their candidate to go up against Donald Trump share this concern? Or will it be a factor in the general election? There’s no question that self-care is having a moment, especially among millennials, who drive the $11 billion self-care industry. There’s also a new consciousness about the cost of not caring for oneself on the job. Companies from Google to Nike to Goldman Sachs incorporate mindfulness training in employee development, and with good reason: Burnout is on the rise, with calls from within the medical community to declare it a public health crisis.

With that in mind, let’s look at the sleep, eating, and health habits of the ten Democratic candidates who, as of this writing, have qualified for the next round of presidential debates: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang — as well as the GOP’s presumptive 2020 nominee, President Trump.

One note on what’s not here: a survey of the candidates’ mental health habits. Presidential candidates — and presidents themselves — rarely talk openly about mental health, so there’s very little data to go on. The political journalist Alex Thompson has argued that the president should prioritize mental heath just like physical health, and that the executive office should be set up to support that choice. He cited David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, who told him: “‘The pressures [of the presidency] are beyond anything that human beings are designed to handle.”

Joe Biden

You may already know that former Vice President Joe Biden lifts — particularly if you remember that 2015 Vine in which Biden participated in First Lady Michelle Obama’s #GimmeFive challenge by doing five bicep curls. According to his younger brother Frank Biden, the 76-year-old former Veep can still bench 185 lbs.

Earlier this year, The New York Times interviewed each of the Democratic candidates about everything from their most recent embarrassing moment to how much sleep they get every night. Biden declined to participate, so we don’t have as much data on his health habits as we do on some of the other candidates.

But The Washington Post found some clues in Biden’s speaking contract and rider, which showcases a relatively health-conscious Italian-American-inflected diet: The former vice president requests mixed nuts, a fruit plate, and a meal of angel hair pomodoro, a caprese salad, and raspberry sorbet with biscotti.

Cory Booker

Senator Booker is one of the more physically active candidates, at least based on his Twitter feed, where he regularly posts details about his jogging and weightlifting routine. He works out in both the Senate gym and in his own home’s basement. The 50-year-old senator is notably vegan, and told the Times that his comfort food is “lots of veggies on the go.”

But he also told the Times that he’s a “bit of a movie and TV addict,” and that he was getting very little sleep during his presidential campaign. In May, Booker bemoaned the “culture of non-sleep” as “unhealthy.”

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete Buttigieg loves beef jerky. His favorite brand is Vigil’s Green Chile Jerky — as the supporters who bring it to his campaign stops know.

Like many of us, the 37-year-old Buttigieg spent the first half of this year relaxing to Game of Thrones. He told the Times that he and his husband Chasten were “going to be needing a new TV addiction” now that the series had ended.

We don’t have a lot of information about whether Buttigieg has an exercise routine, though he seems enthusiastic about bicycles, and he did help make South Bend, Indiana one of the most bike-friendly communities in the Midwest.

But Arianna Huffington might not approve of his sleep schedule which, well, “depends on the night.”

Julián Castro

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro doesn’t have a comfort food, but he does have a comfort drink: iced tea.

To relax, he says he likes to watch TV and spend time with his children. Castro, 44, hasn’t shared much about his exercise habits, but he told the Times that he doesn’t get a lot of sleep. “If I get more than five hours of sleep a night, I’m doing well.”

Kamala Harris

Senator Harris is a serious spinner: She told The Cut last year that she does either the elliptical or SoulCycle every morning and takes the more intense SoulSurvivor class (or, apparently, works out with the fam) on weekends.

The 54-year-old senator told the Times that she cooks to relax, and her favorite comfort food is french fries. She gets “not nearly enough” sleep.

Amy Klobuchar

Senator Klobuchar, 59, hasn’t shared much about her current exercise habits but she was at one point an active cyclist, joining her father Jim on his long-distance bike tours through the small towns of Minnesota.

Klobuchar told the Times that she gets six hours of sleep “on a good day” and that her comfort food is a baked potato.

Beto O’Rourke

Former representative Beto O’Rourke has famously held both campaign runs and biking town halls, during which he takes questions from any constituent that can keep up. He told the photographer Annie Leibovitz earlier this year that he also goes on hikes with his family every Sunday.

O’Rourke, 46, admitted to the Times, however, that his go-to comfort food is “any kind of fast food,” and that he doesn’t get enough sleep. To relax, he says he listens to music, which is only fitting for a guy who used to play bass in a punk band.

Bernie Sanders

During the 2016 campaign season, Sanders’s wife said that the senator chopped his own wood, but we haven’t heard much about his physical fitness routines since.

The 77-year-old senator did tell the Times that he didn’t get enough sleep; and wouldn’t specify a comfort food — but noted that he gained three pounds in four days on a recent trip to the West Coast. Maybe it was ice cream? Sanders has his own Ben & Jerry’s flavor: “Bernie’s Back,” which debuted this August, and consists of hot cinnamon ice cream with a butter toffee core, topped by a chocolate disc.

How does Bernie Sanders relax? He told the Times that he hangs out with grandkids, though he also likes to “watch a lot of old movies.”

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren is a walker. She told NBC News that she tries to walk six miles a day, including on the campaign trail, and she told the Times that walking her dog was her favorite way to relax.

Warren, 70, says she gets eight hours of sleep “sometimes,” which is the most that any of the top 2020 candidates reported.

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang commutes to work by bike and calls Kind Bars his comfort food. To relax, he spends time with his kids, who he says “have no clue that Dad’s running for president.”

Although 44-year-old Yang told the Times that his sleep “varies,” he has tweeted about the harm of sleep-deprivation: “This economy is making us into half-hearted waking zombies. We can do better.”

Donald Trump

In 2018, President Trump told Reuters that he’s in better shape than people who work out: “A lot of people go to the gym and they’ll work out for two hours and all. I’ve seen people… then they get their new knees when they’re 55 years old and they get their new hips and they do all those things. I don’t have those problems.”

Donald Trump has stated multiple times that he believes the human body is like a non-rechargeable battery and that exercise wastes energy that could be put to better use. However, there is one physical activity he enjoys: golf, his “primary form” of exercise.

The 73-year-old Trump gets very little sleep. His doctor, Ronny Jackson, claims that he is among the 1% of people who can successfully function on four to five hours a night.

Freelance writer at Vox, Bankrate, Haven Life, & more. Author of The Biographies of Ordinary People.

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