If you want to live a healthy life, you need four not-so-secret ingredients: quality sleep, nutritious food, physical exercise and a clear head. Seems simple enough, right? The catch, however, is making sure your life has all four elements—not just one, two or even three. So says physiologist Dr. Greg Wells—an exercise medicine researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and professor of kinesiology at the University of Toronto—in his new book, The Ripple Effect (Collins, $23). Our overall well-being is interconnected: in order to have clear thoughts you need adequate sleep; if you want to sleep well, you need to exercise. Making positive changes to each of these four factors will amplify the others, creating a (you guessed it) “ripple effect.” Here are eight easy takeaways from his no-nonsense book that will lead you to the path to health and happiness rill quick.
Small changes have big effects
Life-long health benefits can be achieved through “micro changes:” easy little adjustments to your day-to-day life. These simple tweaks can be swapping white bread for whole wheat, taking the stairs over the elevator and going on a brisk 15-minute walk after dinner instead of passing out on the couch. While these things may seem insignificant, they really add up over time and can have tremendous impact on your overall health, from improving your immune system to reducing your risk of colon cancer.
Sleep is v. important
You’ve probably heard about the importance of sleep, like, a zillion times, but there’s a reason why health experts keep stressing it. Almost 20 percent of the population is chronically sleep deprived, and our bodies are paying for it. Optimal health, and physical and mental performance, all start with a good night’s rest. If you don’t let your body properly restore itself through sleep, your immune system suffers and you become more prone to disease and illness, like heart attack, stroke and depression. You’re probably also going to be a grump, too. And, scary fact, researchers found that people who sleep less than six hours a night have increased mortality rates. Sleep or die—literally.
Find the best time of the day to work out for you
Contrary to what some fitness experts say, there’s no best time to get your sweat on. If you like waking up and running, do it! Prefer yoga after work? That’s good for your bod, too. Exercise has benefits regardless of the time of day. Morning workouts help boost your metabolism and improve brain function; lunchtime exercise can help you get over a midday slump; and evening sweat sessions break down all the stress from the day. The important thing is that you exercise, since regular physical activity can reduce your risk of cancer and helps improve your mental health. Win-win-win!
When you’re stressed out, try and keep everything in perspective
We’ve all been in unpleasant situations where the pressure gets to be too much. While stress isn’t good for the body long-term, a little temporary anxiety can be overcome with positive self-talk and perspective. We tell ourselves how to react to things through our thoughts: if we think we can do something, we’re more likely to actually do it. It’s also important to tackle problems in an active way, like talking out solutions, rather than waste energy venting or complaining about a situation. Plus, friends get sick of listening to rants. If you put your mind towards seeing the positive in any challenge, you’ll get better results. Life really is all about perspective.
Consume more nutrients and fewer calories
In order to get the most out of your food, you need to optimize your nutrient-to-calorie ratio. What is this magical formula you may ask? It break downs like this: health = nutrients per calories consumed, or H = N/C. Wells says you should eat nutrient-dense foods, like grilled chicken and broccoli, while avoiding calorie-dense foods, like a bagel with butter. Foods that have tons of cals and v. few nutrients won’t satisfy your hunger—or keep you fueled—long-term. Also, foods rich in nutrients improve brain function.
You can outsmart jetlag
While a globe-trotting lifestyle may seem glamourous, it can wreak havoc on your health. Luckily there’s some easy tricks to avoid exhaustion. If you’re travelling eastward, go to bed one hour earlier per night for three days before you fly out. For westward travel, delay your bedtime by an hour a night for three nights. One you’ve landed, take melatonin two to three hours before local bedtime to help adjust your body’s clock. Melatonin affects your body’s circadian rhythms and promotes sleep, which is helpful when you’re in a new time zone. Exercise and natural light exposure are also key to beating jetlag, so go for a walk outside when you land.
Create a personal power word
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of positive self-talk, and there’s science behind the hype. Wells encourages people to come up with their own power word or phrase, which is based off a dream or goal they have for themselves. For example, say you want to run a marathon: what skill or technique is vital to accomplishing this? A strong running technique would be necessary, so a short phrase that summarizes this could be “hold form.” Voila! This is your power word (or phrase). Every time you run, keep this in mind to push you through. Not only does it keep you focused on what you’re doing, it also eliminates your mind from wandering to that dark place that tells you you’re tired and ready to give up. Encouraging yourself and being cognizant of your goals helps you achieve them.
You can get into the zone and stay there
You know that feeling when you’re totally tuned-in to what you’re working on, super-focused and so, so productive? Words, ideas, or numbers just pour out of you and make total sense? It’s a great feeling when you’re in the zone, but these magic moments often seem few and far in between. According to Wells, however, you can make these states happen whenever you want. Based on the Yerkes-Dodson Law—a theory that describes the activation-performance relationship—when you’re tired or don’t care, you don’t perform well. And when your activation is too high, like when you’re stressed or tense, you don’t perform well then, either. The sweet spot is when you’re somewhere in between those two activation states: energized and focused. While your ideal activation state depends on what you’re doing (you wouldn’t want to be super-chillaxed before giving a speech, for example), you can map out an action plan before any activity so you get in the right zone. A professional skier, for example, has a routine before every race. They might wake at a certain time, eat a specific food, do various stretches and practice positive self-talk. This ritual gets their flow going and sets them up for success. You can do the same with any activity or task. Boom, you’re ready to take on the world.
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