Optimizing the Body: For Life
We are often far too focused on the direct task in front of us that we do not consider other factors that contribute to our success. It should be no surprise that the health of our physical body has a direct impact on our business performance. In most cases, especially with young people in the workforce, health does not seem like the number one priority, and i’m not here to change you’re priorities. What I am here to do is to reiterate the importance of physical function on your satisfaction with life and business. Everything that we do operates within our physical body, nothing is outside of it, and its one of the factors that we can always continue to improve.
Let’s first dive into the concept of fitness. I’m not here to say that every hedge fund manager or real estate developer needs to be a crossfit games athlete, but you should understand the rigors of your career and personal life and match your fitness to those needs. In order to make positive adaptations for a healthier body we need to induce some level of stress to force the body to change, one of the ways that we can directly impact our teams performance is within the idea of stress control. It is estimated that 60% of all job absenteeism is caused by stress. This is fantastic data, as leaders and teams can now solve for specific issues within the workforce during their times of fitness. Physical training is the perfect time to train stress tolerance and the tools for which we can control our body and minds stress response. This is typically done through proper breathing technique, mental analysis, and being aware of unneeded tension. Just through the manipulation of our breath, stimulating the nerves that get us out of fight or flight by using our diaphragm, we can gain much more control of our state and reduce our changes of burnout. As businesses grow rapidly so does the demand, at the basic function of our being is the body, so it would only make sense to continue to increase our fitness as business demands increase.
Once again we may be dipping into the obvious but our nutrition has a direct impact on our mental health and performance. Many of the necessary chemicals we need in our brain to function correctly are created in our gut. We know that what we eat has a direct effect on our performance and there is a link to the brain. Alcohol shows us that easily, and I’m sure you’ve felt sluggish and brain dead after eating a large pizza and a few slices of cake. Marginal increases in our individual performance can have exponential benefit for our business. Leaders need to take in what they are fueling their teams with, as well as equip them with the knowledge needed to function correctly. Best place to start? Make sure you can pronounce the ingredients on everything that you eat, eat whole foods, and stay away from processed sugars. Nutrition is very individual as well, this is why it is important to have consultations with someone who can analyze how you feel with certain foods, your caloric needs, your digestive trends, and your lifestyle, so they can help you come up with a plan that is right for you.
Now lets dive into sleep. It is often seen as a badge of honor to sleep less than 5 hours a night, a product of our societies addiction to progress and the need to be accepted through certain means. While for military members sleep is often a luxury, it is often understood how dangerous and deadly a lack of sleep can be. Nothing will create a faster decline in you or your workforce than sleep issues. Now even those who do get the recommended 7-8 hours are not always getting quality rest. We toss and turn, we cant shut our minds off to actually fall asleep, and we wake up feeling groggy and needing stimulants to get us out of bed. This can only go on for so long before we break. Step one is to analyze how you’re falling asleep. Mind racing? Practice a good bedtime ritual, get off email, turn down the lights, and start preparing your body to shut down within the hour of hitting the pillow. Feeling tired very early and crashing lick a sack of rocks even though there were things you wanted to get done? We need to take a look at how your daily energy expenditure affects your sleep. Are you over exerting yourself physically? Are your emotions causing your body to burn far too much energy? Are you masking these symptoms with drugs? All excellent questions to be asking yourself. Shutting ourselves off is just as important as turning ourselves on to perform optimally. We need to take both sides of the equation seriously to achieve balance. If you are a leader, make sure you are setting boundaries with work, and encouraging employees to do the same. As the saying goes, nothing good happens after midnight.
Sleep brings us into a perfect segway to our hormone function. Our endocrine system which manages our hormones is a major driver on how we feel and operate. Much of our physical regeneration and growth hormone production happens before midnight, and much of our mental regeneration relies on deep sleep. Hormones also govern our energy levels throughout the day. Things like cortisol and adrenaline can have big impacts on the way we feel. One way to make sure we are feeling optimal is to time our lives as close to the sun as possible. The entire earth runs off the sun, and our bodies are made of earth. The batteries inside our brain and bodies, mitochondria, take their direction from the sunlight, which is best received through your eyes. This explains the need to get out in natural light as close to sunrise as we can, as well as close to sunset, to tell our bodies what time it is. Seasonal depression due to sunlight changes is real and affects much of the world, sunlight is a major driver in our health. Exercise plays a factor in our feel good hormones as well and should be regimented as part of our daily lives. Our stress management system also has a massive impact on our function. Too much stress can go as far as to leave us infertile, a part of life we were designed for. Taking note of how we feel throughout each day is the best way to start to analyze if our hormones need to be looked at. The most accurate way to understand this realm is to do regular blood tests combined with working on symptoms.
The last piece of this physical puzzle is mobility. One we often neglect. Humans were not designed to sit for long periods, at desks, in cars, or on planes. Nor were we made to stare at screens or hunch over a phone. Outside of just stiffness and nagging pain, this tension in our muscles can make it much more difficult to relieve mental stress, as the nervous system stays primed in positions that reflect fear. We don't often think about how our posture or tension can affect the chemistry inside our body but we can see this with brain imaging as well as changes in hormones. Another example of this comes from what we may call “tech neck.” That is, staring down at phones or at a computer. When muscles around the spinal cord get tight especially at the base of the neck it can cause headaches or even more severely an actual constriction of the spinal cord which reduces our brain function. This is not a place we want to be. Working on our mobility often does not have to be a long endeavor. A short session in the morning and a short session in the evening can be all we need to make improvements. Our goal here is to not let our external circumstances control our inner environment, we want to be resilient.