When we’re working remotely or transitioning into hybrid working, remembering to implement exercise and healthy habits into our everyday life is even more difficult than under normal circumstances. If anything, we’ve probably become even less active during lockdown, since commutes or walks in between meetings are not part of our workday anymore.
In addition to reduced exercise, the added stress of COVID-19 and the constant stream of stress hormones into our blood might have caused us to comfort eat as a coping mechanism. Food can relieve stress for a short amount of time, as it helps to release the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine into our blood stream, both responsible for regulating mood, motivation, and reward. However, we are doing our bodies and brains a disservice if we only search for short-term relief, and don’t take care of our physical wellbeing long-term.
Why is taking care of our bodies so important? Unhealthy habits can have a detrimental effect on our brain functions. Our main goal is to calm the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the release of stress hormones, and triggering amygdala hijacks. By implementing healthy habits into our daily routine, we can make sure that we set up our body and mind for success. And here is how:
1. Eating Well
Eating well is key when taking care of our body and brain health. Making sure that we have enough protein and omega-3 fatty acids in our diet provides our body with crucial amino acids that help to calm down the sympathetic nervous system. Protein-rich foods include, but are not limited to, dairy (especially eggs, cheese, and Greek yogurt), lean meats and fish (poultry and pork, or salmon, but avoid processed meats and bacon!), vegetables, like avocados or green peppers, and nuts. Don’t forget to eat in moderation: The recommended intake of nuts for example is only 25 grams a day, less than a handful!
Our bodies and brains depend on a regular water intake of about two liters of water a day. After all, we are made up of 60% water! Studies have shown that even mild dehydration (1-3 % of body weight) can have an effect on our cognitive function and overall wellbeing: we suffer from significantly reduced attention spans, impaired mood and energy levels, increased anxiety, and are at higher risk for headaches (Bahl). Having said that, it is easy to forget to drink enough water throughout the day: Make sure to always have a glass of water on your desk, and even set reminders on your phone. Start your day right: After a full night’s sleep, our bodies are severely dehydrated: Make sure to have a glass of water, or hot lemon water, after waking up to start your day right, and set your body up for success!
3. Exercise Gently
Implementing exercise into our daily routine is daunting. Remember all those New Year’s resolutions to exercise more? Usually, we end up falling back into our old habits and abandon the gym after the first boost of motivation has worn off. But exercise doesn’t have to be a regular hours-long gym habit to be effective. A short quick walk during our lunch break to get our heart rate up already helps to increase our overall wellbeing. Other gentle exercises like gardening (especially popular since the start of the pandemic) have the same effect. Stuck at your desk all day? Get up at least once every hour and stretch your legs. Regular exercise can increase the size of our hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning and memory. It reduces inflammation, and releases growth factors, chemicals in the brain that affect the health and growth of brain cells (Harvard Health). It also has a positive effect on our mental health and reduces anxiety. As Michelle Ploughman observes: “exercise is brain food.” Make sure to get enough of it!
4. Get Enough Sleep
A good night’s sleep is crucial to combat stress and help reduce anxiety. When we sleep, our bodies and brains are hard at work. For example, our brains do most of their housekeeping while we are asleep: waste, such as insoluble protein clumps, is disposed through the glymphatic system (responsible for our central nervous system’s waste disposal). Sleep deprivation alters functional connections between the prefrontal cortex (responsible for moderating our social behavior, decision making, and personality expression) and the brain’s reward- and emotion-processing centers. As a consequence, we start acting irrationally. In addition to that, not getting enough sleep results in an impaired immune system (making us more susceptible to infections), impaired cognitive functions, impaired mood, and, down the line, even in depression and neurodegenerative diseases (Costandi). One way to ensure a good night’s sleep is implementing a screen-free going-to-bed habit. Instead of scrolling through your phone at night or watching tv until late, try going screen-free, and instead implement a reading habit. Avoid drinking caffeine at least six hours prior to your bedtime to ensure that your body clock isn’t delayed.
Implementing healthy eating and sleeping habits as well as gentle exercise into our everyday life charges our personal energy batteries and we are less stressed at work, and beyond. So don’t forget to take care of your body, the benefits are invaluable!
Coaches Corner Action Steps:
- What actions will you take to take care of your body?—get started using these questions:
- What actions will you take to develop healthy exercise and eating habits?
- Why will you take these action?
- How will you implement healthy habits?
- Who can help you, and who can you help? Exercise with others to help hold yourself accountable!
Reprinted with permission from Jay Chopra, PhD, co-founder and Managing Director of Making Shift Happen and a Herrmann Master Certified Facilitator. Articles written with help from Anne Mahler PhD & David O' Mahony: Read His Full Blog Here.
See prior related blog on Be Mindful
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