Most of us will have set some goals for the year, but as we all know, those that are related to healthy body practices are often the most challenging to keep up!
You’re busy and you have many things to occupy your mental bandwidth, so it’s often important to find those simple “bang for buck” practices which will make the biggest impacts on your health.
A healthy body and mind directly affect how well you perform (and therefore how well your business performs), so here are some practices you can adopt right now to put yourself in a healthier position:
#1. Get some sleep
Every entrepreneur I know has gone through periods of extreme sleep deprivation. They’re trying to fit 48 hours of work into 24, ship that new product, or create a fix for a bug as quickly as possible.
Founders are driven, conscientious people and it’s no surprise that sleep often seems like the obvious first sacrifice to make when things need to be done. Sometimes, heading into sleep debt might be unavoidable, but for the most part, your overall health and performance will thank you if you prioritize getting a healthy amount of sleep.
Here are a few findings we can point to from sleep studies:
- Sleep debt accumulates over time. This means that if you sleep only 5 hours instead of 7, you’ll accumulate 14 hours of sleep debt over the week. The result of sleep debt includes symptoms such as poor concentration, slow reaction times, poor memory, low motivation, poorer cognitive performance, and general malaise. On the flipside, getting a healthy amount of sleep enhances memory and improves attention.
- Use of smartphones within one hour of bedtime disrupts circadian rhythms and leads to reduced cognitive performance and lethargy the next day. Scientists suggest no screen use within that hour before bed and to plug devices such as your smartphone in somewhere outside of the bedroom, to avoid being disturbed by notifications in the middle of the night.
- Blue light exposure can suppress melatonin production and interfere with circadian rhythms. A study on young adults found that exposure between 9pm and 11pm to blue light from computer screens shortened their total sleep time and diminished their sleep quality.
- Good sleep improves overall health. Sleep helps to maintain a healthy amount of energy, good metabolism, and immune function. On the other hand, studies of shift workers found that lack of nighttime sleep made them more prone to a range of health issues, such as cardiovascular problems, obesity, and digestive issues.
At some point, we’ve all experienced the general malaise (or as author, Henry Miller described it, “somnambulism”) that goes along with poor sleep. Are we making our best decisions? Are we relating well with the people around us? Do we feel good? Probably not.
Most people need a standard 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night to be in optimum health, so this is one of the first practices I’d suggest adopting if you don’t already. Along with that, try ditching the screen use at least an hour before bed to improve the quality of your sleep.
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#2. Feed the mind
A lot rides on your shoulders as a founder. The direction and overall success of the company is based on your ability to make good decisions and turn out excellent products, but of course, these abilities are affected by your overall health.
When you’re in the middle of the grind, hustling to get the work done, it’s very common that when and what you eat are far from your mind. Skipped meals, quick, processed snacks and takeout orders are common practice.
We all know we should be prioritizing a healthy diet, but there’s also often a rash of confusing, seemingly contradictory information about exactly what that means. When you’re busy, nobody has time to sort fact (based on clinical studies) from guesses (often based on epidemiological studies rather than human trials). Besides that, we’re all physically different, what works for one person may not be as effective for the next.
A helpful study sorted out findings based on actual clinical trials to come up with a few strategies for a diet that feeds your mind and your overall health. These are general tips which should apply for most people:
- A diet rich in whole foods contributes to better brain function. This includes foods such as fish, poultry, red meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts.
- Minimize or avoid refined carbohydrates. This includes foods like processed cereals or those which are high in sugar, flour and fruit juice. (It’s really difficult for some people to skip these altogether, which is why I say “minimize.” One donut every now and then isn’t going to deplete your brain function!)
- Minimize consumption of foods or substances that can contribute to insomnia or anxiety. These include alcohol, caffeine, cured or aged foods like cheese, and those refined carbohydrates again.
- Drink water regularly and avoid sugary drinks as much as possible.
For busy entrepreneurs, often the issue is having the time to ensure that you’ve got the healthy foods on hand, let alone stopping to actually eat them. Here are some suggestions that may help with this:
- Consider using an online grocery order service so that healthy foods are delivered to your doorstep.
- Look at the various meal kit delivery services for that same reason.
- Consult with a nutritionist to develop a healthy eating plan.
- Hire a housekeeper/cook to prepare healthy meals.
- Put aside some time to plan out and do healthy meal preparation ahead of time. There are a lot of foods you can portion out to prepare your week of lunches, for example.
- Find the healthier options for takeout food in your area. Foods such as wraps or pita pockets are good examples.
- Carry a water bottle. This tends to be the simplest way to ensure you’re staying hydrated.
- Block out times in your calendar to eat!
#3. Reduce sitting time
There was an introduction prepared for the Global Corporate Challenge a few years ago which neatly highlighted a problem that entrepreneurs, and indeed many other workers today have:
“Are you sitting down?” it read. “Meet your killer!”
While providing a suitable jolt to participants who commonly work the sorts of jobs that involve sitting all day, this message bluntly conveys a truth that more studies are proving – sitting too much can lead to poor health outcomes.
Research has shown that prolonged sitting can have some serious outcomes, even if you do get to the gym every now and then. These include symptoms such as poor circulation, brain fog, neck strain, back problems, muscle degeneration, and organ damage. Of course, other flow-on effects can include weight gain, high blood pressure, and risk for cancers and other diseases.
We all know the importance of exercise for overall health and performance, but it turns out that a few gym sessions per week probably won’t counteract the effects of sitting for long periods of time. Experts suggest that the best strategy is to break up that sitting, consider things like using a standing desk, a Swiss ball, or micro-breaks to fit in some stretches and quick exercises.
The following extract from an interview of Tom Rath for an article, Is Sitting the New Smoking? sends a pretty clear message:
“ Sitting is the most underrated health-threat of modern time. Researchers found that sitting more than six hours in a day will greatly increase your risk of an early death.”
That comment might be hard to digest if you spend your day in a chair. And, for those of you who have a ‘butts in chairs equals productivity’ mindset, Rath also mentioned that walking could increase energy levels by 150 percent. “Inactivity is dangerous,”he said, “In fact, some research shows inactivity now kills more people than smoking.”
So, besides whatever it is that you do for regular exercise, a good practice you can get into is to consider how you will break up periods of sitting. Using a fitness tracker of some kind can be a great guide to ensure that you’re moving enough during the day. Getting at least 10,000 steps in is still considered to be optimum for maintenance of good health, meaning you’d need more if you have goals such as weight loss.
Stretch those muscles and ensure you’re getting out of that sitting position with regularity during the day. You could even start a team challenge to bring some added fun into the work environment.
At their core, healthy sleeping, eating, and exercise habits are the main building blocks which will fuel a healthy mind and body.
For busy founders, these are common areas of sacrifice as we strive to get vital work done. Are we doing ourselves any favors by skimping on these areas? Nah. In the long-run we’re sacrificing our own ability to maximize our performance.
It’s a big task to stay on top of these areas all of the time, but it is possible to make a plan to practice healthy habits. What support or steps do you need to put in place to make them happen?
Join other founders as we strive for healthier bodies and optimum performance. Our next ZenTribe is open for enrollment today. Sign up for the next ZenTribe here.