As summer gives way to September, children get new backpacks and crisp notebooks that signal a fresh start to school. Meanwhile, envious adults dig out more serious work attire and prepare to return to desks heaped with a summer backlog (and a wall of new projects). While the air is charged with anticipation, it’s easy to lose track of personal and professional goals in the busyness of it all. How do we imbue our grown-up September with the same jet fuel that kids seem to have? The Globe’s Health Advisors offer tips on how to stay on track and make the most of the potential of the season.
GO NUTS, GO FISH
If you want your brain to work at full power, you want to manage two things: good fats and an even flow of glucose. Your best bet is to have nuts for breakfast with very low glycemic carbs and fish for lunch. Glucose is the fuel your brain burns but it is the good fats that build the cells in the first place. Most of us have too many carbohydrates in the morning, which pumps glucose to the brain, makes you feel awake but can make you feel foggy as your blood sugar drops after digestion. Don’t be tempted by caffeine; it can help briefly but it won’t overcome poor cell structure or sugar shots to the head.
Theresa Albert is a registered nutritionist based in Toronto.
ACTIVATE YOUR BRAIN
You can supercharge your brain with 15 minutes of exercise, so get active right before the most important task that you have to do. Go for a walk before a presentation. Do a few flights of stairs before meeting with your boss to present a new idea. If you need to solve a problem, block off some time to get focused and make sure that you walk, stretch or lift some weights in the hour before you settle in to work on the challenge. It might seem like you’re taking too much time away from the task, but the physiological science says that you’ll perform better and become healthier at the same time.
Greg Wells is an assistant professor in kinesiology at the University of Toronto and associate scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children.
DON’T JUST SIT THERE
We’re hearing it more and more: Sitting is the new smoking, and more people are “smoking” than ever, thanks to computer-based jobs. When I first retired from competing, I got the closest thing I’d ever had to a desk job. And I noticed it right away. My mood shifted and I felt lethargic. So, I took control. I made sure I did something active every day, and I also got rid of a chair that made me slouch. I asked myself: Would I ever be a smoker? And when the answer came back as never, I started to look at my desk differently. Then I stood up and stretched.
Gold-medal Olympian Simon Whitfield is the director of sports with the Fantan Group in Victoria.
Not getting enough sleep because of that big project? Feeling moody and tired during the day? Recent scientific studies suggest a bright idea – increase the light in your office. Normal office lighting is only about 300 lux, a unit of illumination brightness equal to one lumen per square metre. Compare that to 3,000 lux outdoors on a cloudy day and 100 lux for indoor light in your living room at night. A sunny day might be 50,000 lux or higher! Studies find that increasing office lighting to 500-to-1,000 lux can improve your mood, alertness and thinking ability. If you can’t raise your general office lighting, or add windows, you can just use bright desk lamps to optimize the light that gets to your brain.
Dr. Raymond W. Lam is a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and medical director of the Mood Disorders Clinic at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.
STOP AND DO 10
Every day, thousands of Canadians experience the repetitive strain of office work. To avoid wrist discomfort, use an open-contoured keyboard with a built-in wrist rest. Avoid compact rectangular keyboards, which keep your hands too close together. To relieve neck pain, every two hours do 10 neck rolls and flex and extend your neck fully 10 times. To avoid shoulder strain, do 10 slow shoulder shrugs, as well as shoulder rolls, forward and backward. Getting eye strain from staring at a monitor all day? Tilt the screen at an angle away from your eyes so the rays don’t hit you straight on; use a readable font size and large icons for text and documents.
Dr. Shafiq Qaadri is a Toronto family physician.
DARE TO ENTER THE NAP ZONE
It may seem counterintuitive to hard-working employees and their bosses, but napping at work makes good sense. One brief (10-20 minute) nap in the early afternoon boosts alertness, mood and performance. Persuading your employer to have a physical and temporal nap zone will be facilitated by evidence that naps pay off in terms of increased productivity. In the absence of an official workplace nap strategy, you can use the latter part of your lunch break to put your head down for a short snooze. Set the alarm for 20 minutes.
Dr. Judith R. Davidson is a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Kingston Family Health Team and Queen’s University in Kingston.
NEUTRALIZE THE BULLY
In Mean Girls, Tina Fey asks: “Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Regina George.” All hands go up. Every office has its Regina George. Bullies get their “lift” by putting down others, often with their typical tactic, the e-mail tantrum. Never take this passive-aggressive bait! Cool off then communicate directly. Anger control is a social skill. Accept that changing this insecure tyrant is unlikely, but know that you can control your emotions and behaviour. Always be professional, courageous – set an example. You can neutralize the bully’s toxic impact. (And … save those e-mails!)
Scott Schieman is a Canada Research Chair (social contexts of health) and professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH UNEASY
To me, feeling a little uncomfortable is a good sign. It means that I’m out of my comfort zone. When I work out and I feel that my muscles are burning, I’ve challenged them. They will adapt and grow. The first time I stood in front of an audience to do a presentation, I was very uncomfortable. But I was learning a new skill. When I travel, I sometimes feel out of place. Well, this is a sign of my horizons expanding. So don’t be afraid of a little uneasiness. It’s a sign that you are an evolving human being.
Gilles Beaudin is a registered clinical exercise physiologist at Cleveland Clinic Canada.
REALIGN YOUR MINDSET
To perform on demand, I aligned my mental, emotional and physical states. I did this by moving past my nerves and reframing the situation as an opportunity. Failure was not a possibility, which removed the negative stress. Instead, I focused on the thrill of facing the challenge. This allowed me to clear my mind, control nervous energy and go into a state of flow. I am no longer skiing down the moguls, but I still use this technique when I need to perform in challenging situations.
Jennifer Heil is a Montreal-based Olympic gold and silver medalist in freestyle mogul skiing and co-founder of the charity B2ten.
MAKE TIME TO THINK LONG-TERM
No time to exercise? High-intensity intervals and extreme boot-camp-style workouts are popular, but the demanding pace is not suited for everyone. What about a brief jog instead? A recent study examined the relationship between leisure-time physical activity and mortality in more than 55,000 adults. It found that running even five to 10 minutes a day at a relatively slow pace (less than 10 kilometres an hour) was associated with a markedly reduced risk of dying from many different causes. It seems that even small doses of running, which are below the current minimum guidelines for vigorous-intensity exercise, can help you live longer.
Dr. Martin Gibala is chair of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton.
START A FOOD JOURNAL
Gain insight into patterns happening throughout your day using a smartphone app such as eaTracker or My Fitness Pal. When clients tell me they feel sluggish or bloated in the afternoon, I encourage them to look back at what they had for lunch (large portions? lack of balance?). Keeping a journal helps you to be mindful of your eating choices and make positive changes. Paper journal versus app? It’s your call, but a recent review concluded that apps frequently lead to better changes in intake, and subjects were more likely to “stick with it” compared with other techniques. Either way, studies have shown tracking your intake leads to increased fruit and vegetable consumption and fibre intake as well as helping with weight loss. A study of 175 overweight adults showed that those using a food journal (digital or paper) more frequently lost significantly more weight over a six-month period.
Casey Berglund is a registered dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada.
BE IN THE MOMENT
If you want to improve your health this fall, simply turn off your phone and pay attention to your child or adolescent. If they are happy, you will be happy and if you are happy your health will be so much better. And the best way to promote resilience in kids is to effectively communicate with them. They need to feel that you are present and that you are fully engaged and actively listening to them. Make it easy and incorporate that time while taking them to school, at the dinner table or at bedtime. This will allow you to focus your energy and attention on your child or teenager and then afterward you can refocus on your work without worrying about them. With the click of an off button, such a simple act can have a huge impact on your family. You will strengthen your bond and will create a relationship based on trust and openness, which in turn will help shape your child’s future relationships. “Powering off” will pay off when you see your kid flourish.
Dr. Peter Szatmari is chief of Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at SickKids, CAMH and the University of Toronto.
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