One of my earlier books ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’ was about adding ten years to your productive life. Expanding lifespans in developed countries are tarnished by the physical diseases and decay of affluence. Retirement for many is becoming a shifting goalpost, a political football or an unwelcome concept from last century. Now seems a great time to write about the topic of stretching out the good and productive years. We’re living longer so we may as well live better and make a few more bucks along the way. Or not – on the bucks front anyways. I’m already reading much about how money, above a certain level, doesn’t make that much difference in terms of quality of life. Though below that level, it will diminish the quantity of life you end up with.
A consistent theme throughout the book is overlapping and inter-connectedness – a systems approach. Certainly, when you get to the sections on our bodies and how our physical systems work (or don’t), this becomes incredibly evident.
This next bit might be more of a laugh than anything factually helpful but it is a conversation starter. I use it when MCing conferences to get a buzz going and the noise and enthusiasm levels up amongst the audience.
John Manning studied the relationship between our finger lengths and certain health outcomes. Look at the photo below of my hand and how I’ve marked the difference in length between my ring finger (4D) and my index finger (2D.) Check out your own 4D:2D ratio. They’ve been the same your whole life and they’re not going to change. It’s supposed that their relative lengths are a consequence of exposure to differing levels of testosterone in the womb as a foetus.
So what? Manning’s study of Liverpool heart attach victims’ fingers found a high ratio (like mine) has a correlation with lower heart attack risk. It’s good for sport. It’s bad for depression. It’s terrible for autism. Manning himself describes his findings as, “Persuasive but not yet definitive.” Why am I even bothering to finish this paragraph? You’re too busy trying to stretch your fingers or finding a friend to check out their fingers before you tell them why…
The point is that, even if this is true, there is nothing you can do about it. These are cards that have been dealt. But, on average, our genetics are only a third of our future. Two thirds are our choices, and we can all do something about that.
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Here’s an excerpt from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears‘
- Men repressing emotions are damaging themselves physically,
- There are practical alternatives to talking about feelings,
- Apreciating the small things you have makes you healthier.
Are we becoming less caring? A survey of Christmas wishes resulted in the following:
2010 Peace and happiness
That doesn’t necessarily prove anything. I included it for a laugh. But if we were more interested in iPads than peace and happiness, would it matter? I don’t mean would it matter in a moral sense but in a literal sense. Does caring more improve our longevity, health and enable us to be more productive? If it does, does it matter what we care about?
New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation promotes their five winning ways to wellbeing:
- Talk and listen. Be there. Feel connected,
- Give your time, your words, your presence,
- Take notice. Remember the simple things that give you joy,
- Keep learning. Embrace new experiences. See opportunities. Surprise yourself,
- Be active. Do what you can. Enjoy what you do. Move your mood.
We flourish when we are being relied on. There is a necessity to being necessary.
Dr Laura Carstensen of Stanford University observed that once someone begins to consciously anticipate death, they tend to disengage – to not care.
It’s not enough to care; you need to express that you do. Many of the books and studies I looked at emphasised how men are the ones who die first. Often, a reason cited beyond the physical ones is a general reluctance amongst men to speak freely and express emotionally. I’m not advocating a total hugfest here but men need to pick up the pace. Michelle Duff on stuff.co.nz wrote that a New Zealand Ministry of Health report shows death rates are as low as they have even been since mortality data was collected, but men are far more likely to die of preventable causes than women. Heart Foundation medical director Professor Norman Sharpe said it is a gap that will continue to widen as a “new wave” of health problems caused by obesity start showing up in the statistics. Men are up to twice as likely to die from preventable illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. In 2010, the male rate of death from coronary heart disease was 85.3 percent higher than the female rate. When it comes to dying in motor vehicle crashes and suicide, the gender gap becomes a chasm. Men are three times as likely to die in a car crash and more than twice as likely to kill themselves.
There are lots of reasons why men traditionally do not take care of themselves and do not express themselves. More important is the question of what it will take to encourage them to do so as soon as possible. Recent years have seen social media and advertising campaigns such as Movember and Blue October have highlighted mens’ health issues. Celebrities have been drafted in to raise awareness. Former All Black great John Kirwan’s work around depression and his book ‘All Blacks Don’t Cry’ is an obvious and effective example of this.
Ultimately society can chip away at big changes like this. I’m more interested in what individuals like you can do right now. You need to have a powerful reason to want to change your unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours. Again, the question of why you should is probably going to be answered with a who. Post their picture on your car’s dashboard. Next time you’re on autopilot and your car is steering itself towards a fastfood drive-through, hopefully that person’s image can remind you to steer away. We need powerful immediate and personal motivators to overcome ingrained behaviours, many of which have been with us since childhood.
If the Government is serious about reversing the obesity epidemic, it must introduce tough new rules on the packaging of children’s treats, Consumer NZ says.
The consumer advocacy group is calling for the control of marketing gimmicks on food packaging – particularly cartoon characters, free toys and on-packet puzzles targeting children. As reported by stuff.co.nz, Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin said under-13s were particularly susceptible to tricks of the advertising trade. With a person’s lifelong food preferences formed at an early age, if companies rope them in young, they’ll likely be hooked for life, the watchdog’s report says.
American researchers have found children preferred the taste of McDonald’s-branded food over that in plain packaging, even though both were identical – and the same effect was seen with cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer. Chetwin said licensing kids’ characters from companies like Disney was costly, and companies would not invest the cash unless they knew it would pay off.
The problem with caring about things is that you get upset when the things you care about die, leave or don’t care back. That is a risk but the research clearly shows that life as an emotional roller coaster is more worth living than a flat emotional conveyor belt.
Counselling has its place but for situations that are less needing of expensive external professional intervention, try ‘Expressive Writing.’
Talking about stuff is random and disorganised. The process of writing requires you to think about what’s happened, its consequences, the alternatives and the future. Thinking then writing puts it into a structure and gives it meaning. And that’s what our brains require – to make meaning. We see shapes in the clouds because our brains like to find meaning in randomness. Until we get meaning, we do not get closure. The Expressive Writing technique has been shown to provide a:
- Boost in a sense of personal well-being,
- Reduction in health problems,
- Increase in self-esteem and happiness.
Expressive Writing has been shown by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough to make people happier, more optimistic, healthier and even got them exercising more. And it’s not just for getting closure on traumatic events. It is equally effective for reminding us of the positive things in our lives for which we should be grateful and a gratitude attitude has physiological health benefits too. In the same way that we can walk into a room with fresh bread baking, get wowed by the smell then not notice it after a few minutes, we get desensitised. If you walk out of the room, then back in again, you re-notice the smell. Expressive Writing enables us to re-notice the positives. Once a week, make some entries in a gratitude journal. You should probably do it daily but let’s start with tiny habits… Complete the following:
Weekly, when I _____________________________________
Then I will update my gratitude journal.
A practical manifestation of caring is washing your hands. It is nothing but a hassle in the now but it saves lives. People might die from an infection caught off your dirty hands but it is unlikely. It is probable that they’ll get sick. Every instance of preventable sickness is another unnecessary experience of inflammation, non homeostatis and disruption that our bodies have to endure. If we cared for ourselves and others, we’d wash our hands, as evidenced by the interior of my friend Mike’s toilet door:
A survey of people declared that 91% of people washed their hands after visiting restaurant toilets. The actual truth was 82% which is less bad than I was expecting. It just means next time you and four friends are out to eat, you have to work out who that 18% of non washers at your table are. A 1992 study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 30-48% of staff at Intensive Care Units did not wash their hands properly. At this point, I’ll just finish by noting that Louis Pasteur refused to shake hands with anyone ever. Smart guy.
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I used to work in local Government. When I started, there was a ‘Rubbish’ department. It became ‘Refuse and Recycling.’ Last I heard, it had become ‘Waste Minimisation.’ These aren’t just superficial labels, they represent a shift in thinking. A similar shift has occurred when it comes to wellness at work. It’s gone from ambulances at the bottom of cliffs (sometimes literally) to prevention and a broadening of scope from the merely physical and work-related.
I’ve worked with organisations that offer subsidised gym memberships, 10,000 Step programmes and reward-point-scoring health insurance schemes. In-house Occupational Therapists teach posture and micro-pausing to the masses, ergonomic furniture is installed while Sven the masseuse takes your shoulder massage booking. I actually saw one company intranet’s homepage announcing the boss was paying for a diet specialist to come in and speak, although this was right next to an advert for the social club’s fish ‘n’ chip evening. I love those situations, like my local supermarket which had a sale bin of toothpaste right next to a sale bin of chocolate bars – 5-for-$4! An aisle of value but also an aisle of irony.
My point here is that even if you’re not an employer that doles out massages and gym memberships, your workplace has a tremendous capacity to affect your people’s physical and mental health one way or the other. That some employers make efforts to bolster worker wellness isn’t altruistic. They reap the benefits of attendance, attitude, engagement, productivity and more. A study published in the U.S. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that for every dollar a worker’s illness cost, the average impact on their employer’s productivity was $2.30. So, for example, preventing staff illnesses causing $10,000 of medical costs could enhance your bottom line by $23,000.
I read a book last Christmas called ‘The Blue Zone. Lessons for living longer from those who’ve lived the longest’ by Dan Buettner. He and his team have studied the four little pockets of humanity where they have a ridiculously long length and quality of life. (None are in New Zealand. They’re in Sardinia, Costa Rica, Japan and California.) There’s a quick online quiz, after which it tells you how long they reckon you’ll live if you keep going the way you’re going and how long you could live if you take their advice. Take the test but do it with friends. (Ironically, doing it with friends is part of their advice.)
I need to get a pet and at least one more friend at ‘organ-donor’ level. Otherwise, I’m pretty sweet. You might be pleasantly surprised at their alcohol and exercise advice. Having a reason to live is important and, for some, work can provide that. Friendship is generally good for your health but there are different levels of friend. I think we all know that. We might not have it written down but we have a ‘friend matrix’ somewhere. When you’re a kid, you need a friend with an X-Box. When you leave home, you need a friend with a van to help you move. When you’re my age, you need a friend with a spare (functional) kidney.
In 2007, Gallup research found that “having a best friend at work” increased the likelihood of someone being engaged at work by 700%. Sarah Burgard from the University of Michigan has shown that job insecurity (fear) causes more illness than actually losing a job. Disconnected employees are more likely to get sick and more likely to miss work. A study by the Confederation of British Industry estimated that fifteen percent of illness days taken were not due to actual illnesses.
A recent episode of TV’s ‘The Biggest Loser’ was filmed in New Zealand. I presume New Zealand paid for this because it seemed that the phrase, “In New Zealand” had to be said at least every ninety seconds. “I’m eating an apple IN NEW ZEALAND.” “I never thought I’d be doing push-ups IN NEW ZEALAND.”
There is a lot of time on screen of exercise, dieting and dramatic weigh-ins which probably makes for good TV but is unlikely to lead to ongoing long-term wellness-supportive lifestyle changes. What does help are social proof, goals, regular non-judgemental behaviour-based feedback and a sense of purpose. Not surprisingly (hopefully), these things are also powerful drivers of workplace behaviours that support not only wellness but productivity and profitability.
An obese person sat next to me on the plane recently. Despite he and I both paying for one seat, he was taking up a good third of my space. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me IN NEW ZEALAND.
Hey everyone, my latest podcast is coming out later today but, just quickly, I’m running a limited-time promo for my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears.’ The Kindle version is temporarily free. Unlike retail stores crazy promos, you cannot get trampled in the rush so please do drop all civility and stampede to Amazon. And please do pass on the link. Thanks all.
As you’re about to plough into Christmas meals, followed by New Year’s resolutions, my latest book presents lots of ideas on reasonable things to do to improve the quantity and quality of your health, wealth and happiness, in a non-preachy way. If you want a Christmas pudding that is dairy-free, fat-free, gluten-free and low-sugar, may I suggest a box of raisins? (Actually, raisins are quite high sugar and lack the other things that a non-dried piece of whole fruit would have to off-set that sugar’s impact.)
It’s too late for a Christmas present, unless you can handle that whole kindle-gifting thing, but it might just be the thing for friends and family in the aftermath…
My new book in Kindle format is free for a day and that clock is ticking. Normally $US9.99. #Add10Years
Are engaged employees healthier or are healthy employees more engaged? Is this a chicken and egg situation? Are eggs good or bad for your health?
94% of companies say they’ll have a health and productivity plan within 3 years. 30% currently do. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to say you’re going to do something within 3 years than to actually do it. But is it worth the effort? Other than the workplace safety aspect and lessening genuine sickness absences, are there demonstrable productivity benefits in a workforce of fit folk?
This recent article thinks there are benefits:
“…work can lead to a number of physical and mental challenges, including stress, obesity and lack of physical activity. Those issues can be result in illness and higher medical costs, resulting in lost productivity and efficiency for companies.”
I’ve just started the research for my third book and I’m knee-deep in papers and books on longevity, wellness and productivity. The ideas are still gelling and crystalising (jelly-crystals?) but broadly the theme is about adding 10 productive years to your life and your work. There’s a New Zealand bank selling retirement savings products with a catchy advertising campaign with an even more catchy theme song, sarcastically entitled, ‘I wanna work til I die.’ The basic assumption being that no one likes to work, work is just about income and that working beyond the minimum retirement age is a fate worse than death.
“If you want to work until you die, that’s okay. But make sure it is your choice, that is to say it is part of your master plan, and not forced upon you by circumstances.”
I love what I do. I’ll stop when I’m incapable of doing it anymore and, meantime, I’m doing as much as I can to extend that period of me being able to do it. I get that many people don’t feel that way about their current work or perhaps working at all – ever. That’s their choice. And chances are, they’re probably not going to be interested in buying my book. Or reading my book. Or reading at all – ever.