This is a post by Good Mood Dudes, a company on a mission to create healthier, happier corporate cultures through evidence-based health solutions.
Whilst many of us will be kicking off the new year with resolutions related to improving our health through diet or exercise, not many of us will be thinking of how our work impacts our health and vice versa.
What can we do to ensure we’re bringing our healthiest selves to work each day, to deliver our best work whilst looking after our physical and mental wellbeing?
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1. Forget the fads, calories and food groups
Don’t get caught up in counting calories or trying to eat like a caveman. Dr Kieron Rooney from the University of Sydney says these methods are flawed and instead points to the latest research in nutrition which is the NOVA system from Brazil.
Using the NOVA system to select foods at home or at work will give you optimum nutrition and maintain your health in the long-term.
It classifies foods by their degree of processing into one of four groups:
- Group 1 – unprocessed or minimally processed foods, e.g. plants and animals eaten raw or minor processing like roasting or boiling
- Group 2 – processed culinary ingredients, e.g. oils and preserves. Obtained from Group 1 but more highly processed to make products used to cook with
- Group 3 – processed foods e.g. cured meats, canned fruits, cheese
- Group 4 – ultra-processed foods typically with 5 or more ingredients e.g. breakfast cereals, muesli bars, packet sauces
Put simply, we should be eating mostly from Group 1 and rarely, if ever, from Group 4. It’s easier to do this if you’re not standing at a cafe or shop at lunch trying to discern the ingredients on a menu, so try making more meals at home using items from Group 1 and Group 2 and take leftovers to work for lunch. For snacks, be prepared with fruit, nuts and veggie sticks.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep
Your productivity at work is largely impacted by the quantity and quality of the sleep you’re getting. Dr Sun Bin, a sleep expert from the University of Sydney hopes that during her career the discussion of sleep’s part in health will become as recognised as fitness and nutrition is now.
Her research has shown that lack of sleep has been proven to have multiple negative effects on cognitive performance including inability to focus, poor decision making, negative impact on memory and learning, and more lapses in attention which leads to more potential for error.
In fact, lack of sleep has the same effect on performance as being over the legal alcohol limit in people that have been awake for 17 hours. Sleep-deprived workers are more impatient and irritable and have higher levels of absenteeism.
When considering your optimum sleep habits to maximise your health and productivity it’s important to recognise your natural sleep type and organise your day and work accordingly.
Morning larks are freshest first thing in the morning around 8am, whilst night-owls only hit their peak after midday. Night-owls are more intelligent and creative generally than larks but perform worse academically and are more susceptible to unhealthy habits.
Regardless of your sleep type, Dr Bin suggests you’ll get the most out of your sleep if you get 7-9 hours sleep a night and keep the same sleep pattern (i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same time) every day including weekends.
3. We all need strength training in our lives
Muscle mass and muscle function are critical for physical and metabolic health. Strength training should be prioritised for all age groups regardless of your health goals.
Muscle mass is especially important as we age to maintain physical strength that allows us to stay engaged with society, which is critical for mental health outcomes, and to protect against injuries and falls.
Dr Tony Boutagy is an exercise scientist with over 25 years of practical training experience. He suggests to optimise muscle mass and function we should all be scheduling a minimum of three resistance training sessions into our weekly schedule as well as two high-intensity interval workouts.
Look at gyms or classes near your work where you can train before work or at lunch, or try to find a training buddy or two that you can follow a training program with to motivate each other. Mornings and lunch times, for most people, work better if you find your life is unpredictable.
Assuming you’ll have the energy or time to exercise at the end of the day is often setting yourself up for a fail. Some time away from your desk will not only aid your physical health, it will also clear your mind and make you more productive when you return.
Alongside the training sessions, Dr Boutagy recommends integrating 0.4g of protein per kg of your body weight into your diet daily. Some natural sources of protein are eggs, lean meat and fish, seeds, nuts, beans and legumes.
4. A mentally healthy workplace is everyone’s business
Professor Nick Glozier, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Brain and Mind Research Institute defines a mentally healthy workplace as one where:
- psycho-social risks are recognised and suitable action is taken to prevent or minimise them
- strategies exist to reduce the risk of mental ill-health and promote resilience among its people
- the culture facilitates early identification of mental illness
- employees who do develop mental ill-health are supported and receive quality, evidence-based interventions to promote recovery
It is everyone’s responsibility to monitor and maintain their own mental health and that of their colleagues. And it’s not just once a year on R U OK Day but everyday, as it’s common for people to move along the spectrum of mental health and mental ill health at any time. Check in on your colleagues regularly and give them the opportunity to talk.
5. Recognise and utilise the power of mindset
Our mindset, or the way we think about and approach the world, has the power to shape our experiences.
Ben Colagiuri is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney. His research explores how expectancies influence human behaviour, with a specific interest in placebo and nocebo effects.
Ben’s research has uncovered some of the mechanics behind the placebo and nocebo effects which have seen athletes achieve PBs whilst believing they were using performance-enhancing drugs.
The placebo effect occurs when the patient believes a treatment will help them to feel better. These beliefs trigger biological changes in the central nervous system, such as the release of neurotransmitters in our brains, that actually cause improvement.
The power of mindset can and should be harnessed by everyone – how we think and what we experience are intricately related, so try to use your mind to its full potential and see what improvements you can make in your everyday work life by stretching what you think you can achieve.
If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!