The concept of continuous improvement is a no-brainer when it comes to keeping any business moving forward. But what about in your personal life? Does your brain switch off every day as you walk out the office door?
Imagine how your life would be if every day you tried to improve your health, relationships, ability to focus, resilience, and energy levels just one little bit? In my job, I regularly see the after-effects of corporate men and women who have focused solely on their careers, letting their health and fitness levels deteriorate. This often remains the status quo until a major health scare ensues, ranging from diabetes to heart disease, and even some cancers.
Why is it that we spend our health accumulating wealth and then retire and spend our wealth trying to get back our health?Ralph Norris
"Why is it that we spend our health accumulating wealth and then retire and spend our wealth trying to get back our health?" asks Ralph Norris, the former Commonwealth Bank CEO. It's a question that percolates in my mind on a daily basis - why wait?
Adopting an approach of continuously improving your body and brain is a proven way to reduce risk of disease and illness including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, numerous lifestyle related cancers and dementia. Let's look at 10 simple ways to apply the concept of continuous improvement to your body and brain.
1. Do one thing
Working on an important project and stopping every five minutes to reply to email interrupts workflow and crashes productivity. A study at Kings Psychiatry College in London showed "multi-tasking can be incredibly stressful on the brain, it impairs short-term memory and concentration by more than 10 per cent," says Dr Glenn Wilson, the psychologist who carried out the study. Minimise distractions by focusing on one task at a time, turning off email alerts and pop-ups, and working in a quiet space where nobody can find you for a few hours.
2. 10,000 steps
The 2011 Australian Health Survey highlighted only 19 per cent of adults achieve the recommended guidelines of 10,000 steps per day. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for many chronic diseases, so it's important to move as often as possible. Take the stairs instead of the lift, get off the bus or train one stop early, turn your normal meetings into walking ones, mow your own lawns and take the dog for a walk.
3. Stretch it out
Slouching over your desk for hours at a time leads to rounded shoulders, neck tension and poor posture. It also zaps your energy. Counteract 'sitting syndrome' by getting up every few hours and stretching. "Focus on stretching the hip flexors, glutes and chest muscles, as these get short and tight from prolonged sitting," says exercise physiologist Sarah King of The Performance Clinic. Taking a break to reset into a better posture also gives your brain a break so you can concentrate better when you return to your desk.
4. Fuel up for breakfast
Have you seen how much sugar is in breakfast cereals? Added sugar abounds in many breakfast cereals and wreaks havoc on blood sugar levels. Start your day the right way with traditional rolled oats, or wholegrain/sourdough bread paired with protein such as eggs, milk, yoghurt, or even smoked salmon. These choices are more in line with the new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of their total energy intake (approximately 12 teaspoons per day).
5. Overload on omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, walnuts, chia seeds, and enriched eggs are key for optimising brain function. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is especially important and reduces oxidative stress and enhances synaptic plasticity, learning and memory. Salmon is the most abundant source of DHA, so aim to eat one to two serves per week.
6. Breathe s-l-o-w-l-y
According to a 2014 Survey, 44 per cent of working people identify the workplace as a source of stress, but mindfulness and deep breathing can be the perfect antidote. Slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing decreases your heart rate, lowers blood pressure and induces the relaxation response. Aim for 10 minutes of slow, deep breathing each day for the best benefits, but even a few minutes will help.
7. Switch it off
A study by found technology is a major source of tension in personal relationships with 25 per cent of respondents feeling their partner was distracted by their mobile phone. Whether it's your partner, family, or a friend, switching off and being present is pertinent to lasting relationships. It shows that you care and respect the other person, and leads to happier, more fulfilling connections. Organise device-free dates such as going for hikes, checking out an art gallery or museum, or leaving your phone at home when you go out to dinner or a movie. And next time you go on a holiday, put yourself on a digital detox.
8. Splash of colour
So many people live their lives in a sea of monochrome grey – their clothes, their diaries, their schedules all merge into one dullish grey hue . Add colour to your life and awaken your senses. Allocate different tasks in your diary with a set colour, brighten your house with fresh flowers and art work, explore your local parks and go to the beach or visit a lake, waterfall or nature reserve.
9. Deep sleep
If you're constantly yawning at your desk and yearning for the next caffeine hit, you're not alone. A 2012 CQ University study of 13,000 Australians revealed 96 per cent woke feeling tired and almost 40 per cent had fallen asleep at their desk or during a meeting. Lack of sleep decreases productivity at work and also messes up hormone levels, making you reach for high fat and sugar foods that result in even lower energy levels long term.
The main culprit zapping our zzz's at night is technology. To get the best rest turn off your techno-device at least 30 minutes before bedtime and engage in relaxing activities like reading a book, listening to music, or performing gentle stretches.
10. Be happy
You can improve the way you feel. Research on shows genetics accounts for 50 per cent of happiness, which you can thank mum and dad for, but you do have influence over the remaining pieces. Your thoughts and actions account for 40 per cent, with only 10 per cent influenced by outside circumstances such as age and income. Do all you can to bring happiness into your life – hang out with positive people, exercise daily, plan positive events in the future (who doesn't look forward to a holiday?) and keep a gratitude journal.
Andrew May is one of Australia's leading workplace performance coaches.
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