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 al do something about that.
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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.