At the LIVEWELL 2018 Summit, we listened to experts in the medical, business and benefits industries discuss innovations in workplace wellness and employee benefits. The following highlights are extracted from Eat Move Think @ Work, a presentation by Leslie Beck, Director, Food and Nutrition; Dr. Andrew Miners, Director, Sports Medicine, Therapy and Rehabilitation; and Dr. Amanda Beaman, Registered Clinical Psychologist.
The Mediterranean Diet
Because of its enormous range of health benefits, the Mediterranean Diet is one of Medcan’s key guiding principles for our food philosophy. All of the food we serve, including Nourish by Medcan, adhere to Mediterranean Diet principles. This plant-forward diet includes fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, fish, poultry, and olive oil – its main source of fat.
The DASH Diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet maintains that eating foods that are high in potassium, magnesium and calcium can dramatically lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension. It has been proven to have many other health benefits as well.
The MIND Diet
A hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND Diet includes specific foods that have been shown to optimize brain function by providing nutrients that reduce inflammation and free radical damage. This diet has been shown to not only help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, but to promote a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults.
Focus on food
There are particular foods we can eat to boost our mental effectiveness throughout the day. Healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, brown rice, fruit, and even yogurt, are metabolized into glucose – the fuel your brain cells need to stay focused and alert. Glucose is also important to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help our brain communicate messages throughout our body.
Diet and mental health
If we’re not eating well or tend to skip meals, we might be irritable during the day. There’s also growing research to suggest that people who eat an unhealthy diet – one that’s high in saturated fat, refined carbs, sugars, and low in fruits and vegetables – have an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Anti-inflammatory diets can help to significantly reduce depressive symptoms.
The power of protein
The consumption of protein delays hunger longer, slows down digestion for a more sustained release of energy, and stimulates brain cells that can cause alertness. If you’re following a low-calorie diet in an effort to lose weight, you need more protein to help you maintain muscle while you lose body fat. Research suggests that 25% of weight loss on a low-calorie diet comes from muscle. This slows down your metabolic rate, making it harder over time to lose weight. It turns out that HOW you eat protein during the day is really important too. Studies suggest that dividing it evenly between your three daily meals at roughly 20-30g per meal is ideal for optimal muscle function and muscle strength, allowing a steady stream of amino acids into your body.
Hydration is key
Research shows that even mild dehydration can hinder our ability to perform tasks, affecting our memory, attention and psychomotor skills. The good news? Everything we drink in a day – with the exclusion of alcoholic beverages, which are dehydrating – counts toward our daily water target, which is 2.2 liters for women and 3 liters for men. This includes coffee, tea, and even soup!
From hunter-gatherer societies to the modern office age, our behaviour has become more and more sedentary over time. When we continuously sit in the same position for too long, we impose the same stress on the same tissues accumulatively over time, leading to repetitive strain injury. This can result in fatigue, discomfort, and sometimes in injury itself.
Prolonged sedentary behaviour
Sedentary behaviour isn’t a 9-5 thing. Rather, it’s important to think about cumulative sedentary behaviour – leisure time (watching TV), occupational time (sitting at your desk) and transportation time (daily commutes) – and how it all adds up. On any given day, we might rack up 10-15 hours of cumulative sedentary behaviour which, long-term, can increase our risk for chronic disease.
Inactive versus sedentary
To be considered active, you must commit to 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week – equivalent to a 30-minute jog, five times per week. Any less than this, and you are considered inactive. Sedentary behaviour, on the other hand, is considered any activity – lying down, sitting, reclining – that is burning less than or equal to 1.5x your resting metabolic rate. Here’s the kicker: If you are largely sedentary but get your 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, it still won’t eliminate the negative impacts of prolonged sitting.
Moving in the workplace
If you’re going to make changes at work to reduce sedentary behaviour, it must be across three domains: environmental changes, organizational changes and changes at the individual level. From the environmental perspective, you can reduce cumulative sitting time by investing in standing desks or chairs that better facilitate movement over time. From the organizational perspective, it’s about starting from the top down to encourage an environment of health and wellbeing. The culture of an organization must support these changes so employees are more inclined to adopt it. Finally, at the individual level, we can use fitness trackers and apps to remind us of our health goals for the day.
The best posture is the next posture
There really isn’t good or bad posture – just one posture for too long! Change it often so you’re not putting the same stress on the same tissues. Spending too much time at a standing desk can have its issues too: prolonged standing causes varicose veins, mental fatigue and back pain. The trick? Switch it up.
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.
Automaticity, neuroplasticity, flight-or-flight response & time travel
Our brains process an enormous amount of data (11 million bits of data per second), and the way our brain has adapted to cope with this demand is to automatize things. Our brains are also incredibly adaptable, with the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for spatial memory – capable of increasing in volume as we learn more. Our brains also keep us alive using the stress response, an automatic response that all mammals have to threats in their environment. Finally, our brains have a unique ability to transport us through time, allowing us to dwell on things that happened in the past and also project ourselves into the future.
Unfortunately, these 4 processes – automaticity, neuroplasticity, fight-or-flight response and the ability to time travel – can have a downside for us in today’s world. For one, the overuse of technology doesn’t require us to use our brains as much, affecting neuroplasticity. Our brain’s ability to time travel can also lead to catastrophizing: dwelling on the future and imagining bad things that might happen. When this occurs, our fight-or-flight response kicks in, as our body can’t differentiate between what we imagine is happening and what really is happening. Thanks to neuroplasticity, negative thinking, inattention and fear reactions can become more automatic the more we practice them, leading to chronic problems like insomnia, tension and digestive issues.
Take time out of every day to pay attention to the present moment. You can do this using an anchor like eating, breathing, yoga, walking, or even washing dishes. The mindfulness practice harnesses the plasticity of the brain using intentional exercises. With practice, we become more aware of the mind’s activities in the present moment and can observe more of what we’re thinking. Noticing what is happening in the here and now can help us make better decisions, be more creative, and strengthen our attention and focus at work.
The benefits of mindfulness
Research says that when we practice mindfulness, we see greater stability in attention, less mind wandering, and better resistance to distraction. Cognitively, we see improved working memory capacity and greater cognitive flexibility (the ability to think outside the box). We see that when people who have practiced mindfulness training are faced with an emotional challenge, they recover from it far more quickly on a physiological level than someone without mindfulness training. Other benefits include greater satisfaction and happiness, reduced depression, stress and anxiety, and a greater awareness of the connections between what we’re thinking, doing and feeling.
Mindfulness at work
Healthcare providers and managers who have had mindfulness training are rated more favorably by their patients and supervisors than those who haven’t. In terms of relationships at work, it is reported that people with mindfulness training are better listeners and less judgmental of their peers. We see greater team collaboration, with more respect and cohesion. And the employees of mindful leaders tend to report greater job satisfaction, higher levels of performance, better work-life balance and lower rates of exhaustion.