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Wednesday
May282014

8 Habits That Zap Your Vitality

Imagine I were interviewing you right now and asked, “Can you give me a few examples of how your current lifestyle makes it hard to feel the best you’ve ever felt?” Take a minute to think if you need. What’s rolling around in your mind in response? What would we have to talk about? What is “the best you’ve ever felt” exactly? The fact is, many people begin their health journeys with fairly singular (or maybe even simple) goals. They want to lose weight. They want to build muscle. They want to tackle a lifestyle related disease. These are all significant, formidable aims. However, on the path to weight loss, for instance, clients tell me they feel more energy than they ever have. Over time, the sensation grows. As they take on each negative habit, their experience (and understanding) of vitality expands. The journey yields much deeper benefits than they’d first imagined. Likewise, it obliges them to question choices and messages in their lives they never connected with wellbeing in the past. With all this in mind, what are the habits that either foster or hamper vitality? Check out these eight practices and add your own observations about what compromises your energy and vitality.

Settling on being average.  

Raise your hand if you want to be average. Anyone?… No takers?  Me either. Every year “average” health gets a good deal worse, with at least 50% of adults managing a diagnosed chronic health condition! Want more reasons not to be average? The average American fails to get 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day, misses the mark on suggested daily activity targets, sleeps too little, stresses too much, and consumes (way) too much sugar. Yet, that same average American knows veggies are healthy, regular activity is beneficial, sleep is critical, stress reduction is important, and abundant sugar intake isn’t the ticket to long life. Still, we gravitate toward the “average” zone of behavior by choice or by habit unless we strive to do otherwise. Embrace the idea that you want more for yourself than the average existence - and that you have the personal potential to reach far beyond the average life. Be abnormal whenever you can.

Choosing convenience food over quality food.

I haven’t met many people in my career who gain much vitality, satisfaction, or energy from microwaving frozen, processed meals for lunch. It goes beyond our collective failure to scrutinize ingredient lists. It’s the pervasive attitude that food is merely something that fuels our engine to keep us going. Real food provides us with nourishment needed to access the energy we carry around with us. Food products give us energy to burn (or store) instead of optimizing the use of our own portable fat stores. Life is hectic, but those who are too busy to devise a strategy to get the highest-quality food available (note: I’m not suggesting perfection every day), may soon be making time to visit the doctor’s for some preventable ailment.

Take 3 minutes today to read some 15-minute meal ideas. It will likely save you time on your next grocery shopping trip, increase your real food intake, and continue to keep convenience and quality in better balance.

Avoiding movement to rely on impersonal communication.

Think about this one for a minute. Many of us drive over half an hour to work each morning only to find ourselves emailing people a few cubes away! It’s insane. There are days I only leave my cube to fill my water bottle, use the restroom, and walk to a meeting or two. When I get home in the evening, my Fitbit says I’ve only accumulated 2700 steps! That’s literally less than 30 minutes’ worth of sloth-like movement, bordering on sleep-walking. It’s a hard truth (but an important one) - and one more reason I appreciate my activity monitor.

Watching. One. More. Episode.  

Have you ever found yourself enmeshed in a television series - catching up on past seasons or perhaps just obligated to watch the latest episode each week so the morning radio DJs don’t spoil it for you? Me too, and it sucks. There’s nothing worse than staying up for one more commercial-free, DVD episode during the week to arrive at your weekend without the energy to enjoy your days off (or to expend the weekend on said show only to drag yourself sleepily into the office on Monday). Maybe your energy is too often spent flipping through the channels looking for the next series to pass the time with – a vicious cycle that zaps any chance at ongoing vitality. Television watching certainly wreaks havoc on your sleep hygiene, but it’s also been linked to poor mood. (Is anyone really surprised at this?) Take home message: moderate your media diet or find other entertainment outlets that don’t tempt you to sabotage your sleep.

Answering emails outside of work hours.

Before you stop reading and claim I haven’t the slightest clue what it’s like to constantly stay ahead of (never-ending) work tasks and necessary communication, hear me out. When you answer emails at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, your recipients think you will always be available for anything. Bad move. You’re likely the person pretending to attend meetings all day (while you answer emails or keep your nose down in your phone), thinking you’re getting more done than the next guy. It’s not possible; our brains can only handle this load for so long each day - and for so many years - before it rapidly degrades.

And what happens when you’re Guinness-record-setting response time is disrupted by the really important meetings (or times you’re dead-to-the-world exhausted)? You know, the really important meeting you have with yourself to cook dinner, turn out the lights at sundown, and retire for a great night of sleep? What’s going to help you age gracefully – getting a good night’s sleep or trimming another 20 emails from your inbox? As long as the most important people in your life know they can call your cell phone outside of work hours, you’ll find that the emails can likely wait. Be less connected. Set boundaries, or you’ll never find them! If you’re looking for ways to get out of your productivity-robbing email rut, I suggest Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less book or blog.

Looking to bottle therapy.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it chemically quiets our sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous systems. In today’s world, the upper-downer, “survival-of-the-fittest” rhythm is a daily battle for many, but using substances rather than conscious acts (e.g. meditation, laughter, hugging, or light exercise) is a slippery slope and puts us at odds with our quest to ultimately end the tug-of-war with life. While moderate daily alcohol consumption is somewhat common in a handful of cultures around the world, those cultures generally lead vastly different lifestyles than most Americans with much more physical activity in addition to other differences. Generally speaking, daily bottle therapy can be disruptive to healthy metabolism, disrupts sleep quality (and often quantity), and is known to raise risk of certain types of cancer in some people.

Not having a go-to stress management technique.

There are times in life when it feels like you can’t catch up on sleep or control anything about your daily events no matter how good your efforts or intentions. In other words, plan to be stressed occasionally. Instead of fighting stressors tooth and nail, roll with them. Make peace with them, in fact. The best thing we can do in these situations is have personal, off-the-wall, no-fail strategies that offer us a lighter perspective in the moment. The key here is resilience instead of control (which can be a recipe for burnout). When we relinquish control and focus on cultivating resilience, we’re able to conserve and budget our energy in a healthier, more sustainable way as well as recognize our need for some easy positive “inputs” like laughing over corny jokes on the web, calling a best friend or looking up how to say “I’m awesome!” in other languages on Google Translate. Intensive relaxation techniques can be great, but perhaps more than those we need simple, go-to strategies that can become instant de-stress reflexes.

Failing to be grateful.

Regularly expressing gratitude has been associated with significantly higher psychological and physical wellbeing in a number of broad studies. While such research can’t really measure cause and effect, those people practicing gratitude are often noticeably more upbeat, productive, and less stressed. When we consciously choose to scan the world for “bright spots,” it fundamentally shifts our thought and action patterns into healthier and more productive habits. One of my favorite co-workers updates her Facebook page every night with at least three simple things she’s grateful for. She’s shared tips for integrating more positivity into daily life on our blog.

Thanks for reading everyone. What habits do you feel undercut your energy? On the flipside, what positive changes have you made that pay major energy dividends?

Written by Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

 

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