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Seven Tips and Takeaways to Live and Work Better from The 2017 Personal Performance Summit

More than 200 guests gathered on November 7 for The Globe and Mail’s Personal Performance Summit in Toronto, focused on key elements of working and living better. Delegates heard from international experts, Globe and Mail journalists and Medcan doctors, who shared insight on longevity, happiness and health. Below are a few takeaways from the dynamic day.

1) Money matters, but only to a degree. Keynote Dan Buettner, national geographic fellow and New York Times best-selling author, has trekked the globe to explore what he calls ‘blue zones’ of happiness and longevity. Okinawa, for instance, has the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world, he noted. In these areas, money is important, but not to the degree one might expect. “You need money for food, shelter and healthcare and all these blue zones have their necessities covered, and they have a little left over to treat themselves. Without that, they wouldn’t live as long,” Buettner said, adding studies have shown “when it comes to day-to-day emotion, the effect of money flattens out at $60,000 to $75,000 a year.”

2) Even introverts need to socialize. One of the keys to living longer is socializing, Buettner said. When asked if that also applies to introverts, he was emphatic. “Introverts are happier with people, just for less time and less intensity than extroverts.” Though it might be tempting to spend hours on social media and consider it socializing, he pointed out people are optimally happy with half an hour per day of TV, and no more than one hour per day on social media.

3) Focus on your sleep habits. More than one-third of Canadians have a sleep disorder, meaning they have trouble falling or staying asleep, according to Dr. Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, Howard County General Hospital. Remedies include wearable technology to get feedback on sleep patterns, and ensuring bedrooms are cool, dark and quiet, and free of clutter. Gamaldo recommended no less than six hours of sleep per night. “As we get older, we actually have less restorative sleep,” added Dr. Lorne Greenspan, senior medical consultant with Medcan. “We start to ‘hover sleep’, so all kinds of stimuli are now factors.” Those stimuli include alcohol, blue light from electronics, and heavy exercise too close to bedtime (which can prevent the body’s core from cooling down for sleep). He also suggested keeping pets out of the bedroom, and doing mental math calculations to crowd out nagging thoughts about the workday.

4) No time to exercise? No problem! Forget changing into spandex for a 45 minute workout at the gym. Dr. Martin Gibala, exercise scientist and bestselling author of The One-Minute Workout said ‘exercise snacks’ or brief bouts of high-intensity activity such as sprinting up a few flights of stairs, are just as effective. “We’ve had groups of people do traditional endurance exercise…and we’ve had people do some very short, hard sprints on a bike,” Dr. Gibala said. “We’ve studied this in my laboratory…The boost in their fitness, the improvement in their blood sugar control [was] the same as people who were doing 150 minutes a week of continuous moderate exercise.” Beginners can start high-intensity interval training by alternating their pace on walks. The best exercise for high-intensity workouts is the widely-loathed burpee, he added.

5) Stock up on good bacteria…and brush your teeth. Western countries are seeing significant spikes in illnesses such as asthma, Crohn’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Science is starting to reveal a link between these diseases and bacteria, said Brett Finlay, a professor focused on microbiology and immunology with the University of British Columbia. “In all cases…these people have microbial compositions that are abnormal,” he said. Good bacteria is vital to warding off disease, but “once you turn 65, your microbes just fall off a cliff,” he added. To protect good bacteria in and on the body, he recommended avoiding excess washing and antibacterial soaps, and to eat healthy foods such as whole grains and vegetables. Dental hygiene is also strongly linked to healthy aging. “If you brush your teeth three times a day, you can reduce the risk of dementia by 50 percent,” he said, adding bad bacteria in the mouth can seep through the body, causing low-grade, disease-promoting inflammation.

6) Think positively. Michelle Gielan, positive psychology researcher and best-selling author, has made direct correlations between an optimistic outlook and success. “If you make positive, resilient, empowered choices, especially in the face of challenges…it fuels your productive energy by 31 percent. It changes the negative effects of stress and improves them by 23 percent,” she said. Her three key takeaways for positive thinking are work optimism (expecting good things will happen), positive engagement (viewing problems as challenges to be tackled, not threats), and support provision (providing support to your colleagues and organization). Those who score highly on those three markers are far more likely to advance. “What you give is what you get,” Gielan said.

7) Manage energy and arousal levels. Elite athletes succeed in large part because of training on how to control their reactions to stress and distractions. “As your arousal level increases…the amount of things you can pay attention to is minimal,” said Dr. Peter Jensen, founder of Performance Coaching Inc. and expert in sport psychology. “We need to learn to bring arousal levels down at critical moments.” Breathing techniques are highly effective for controlling emotions in stressful situations, said Dr. Jensen, who also emphasized the importance of rest and recovery for maintaining good energy levels throughout the day.  


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