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Issue 9 – Eat, Move, Sleep

Since the beginning of the year in our Strategic Senior Leadership Team Meetings, there has been an interesting change in behaviour. The see through tupperware container full of chocolate Hob Nob biscuits has made it around at least half of the table on a number of occasions, without a sign of self-indulgence. The temptation has been there of course, but for over half the Senior Leadership Team something has changed. What is it? Could it be our new academic year resolutions that will soon waiver, or are we trying to change our lifestyle? As I am writing this article, I am sorry to announce that more of the team have crumbled. Why? A new box of Kit Kats!

If you have ever tried to maintain a new exercise programme or stick to that new diet everyone’s talking about, there’s a good chance you started out strong but eventually drifted away from it. Don’t worry; it happens to most of us. This is because a lot of these self-improvement ideas are riddled with more rules and guidelines that any reasonable person can cope with for more than a couple of weeks. What’s really damaging is all the stress and guilt that comes with trying to measure your food, count your calories or managing your schedule to ensure you don’t miss out on that all-important work out.

A recent review of Mrs Ford’s ‘from now until Santa’ summary of the calendar demonstrates how busy the upcoming term will be, and it’s important that we all look after ourselves to maintain the intensity that comes with being a member of the DESC community. With this in mind, I would like to share a simple approach to help us all feel better about ourselves- Eat, Move, Sleep. Rather than compartmentalising our health, diet, exercise and sleep, viewing them as burdens that demand excessive effort, we should approach them holistically, by focusing on making small adjustments to have a positive impact on our lifestyle. According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, your daily choices contribute around 40 percent of a person’s overall happiness, which is a pretty significant factor to have control over. Although making the right choices requires a great deal of will power, if you repeat that healthy behaviour often enough, you can turn that behaviour into a habit that becomes second nature.

Eat:

Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Keto, Gluten Free, Clean 9, Intermittent Fasting – do these names sound familiar? Maybe you’re one of those people whose tried losing weight with the help of some kind of diet or you’re someone who is confused with their conflicting ideas. I certainly don’t intend on advising you on what to eat. However, have you ever noticed that certain foods make you feel weak or stressed out? Food can have a profound impact on how people think and feel. This is why diets don’t work unless they fundamentally change your food cravings. If you find yourself returning to junk food after a phase of dieting, it’s not necessarily because you lack will power- it’s because certain foods really mess with your brain!

Physiologically, we’re all different and thanks to different geographies and climates the world over, we each become accustomed to different kinds of food. That means there isn’t one perfect diet that’ll keep each of us perfectly healthy. Eating right starts with listening to your body. Your body tells you what you need and if you listen, you don’t even need to count calories!

Before you address what you actually eat, you should consider how you eat. This is where you can make adjustments. First, keep a food diary or at least consider what you would eat and how often you eat in a typical week to establish your food patterns. Then think about what triggers or prompts may be causing some of your unhealthy eating habits. Focusing on changing these regular triggers by planning meals and regularly pre-preparing more healthier foods is a good starting point.   Secondly, eat your meals in a relaxed fashion, ideally sitting at a table. Turn the television and your phone off and chew slowly. When you gulp your food, your body’s hormones don’t have time to effectively process what’s landing in your gut. This leads to overeating because the brain doesn’t realise when the stomach is full. A meal should take at least 15 minutes to eat.

Move:

How well have you done with the Dubai Fitness Challenge? There are eight days left of this initiative that challenges everyone in the city to complete 30 minutes of activity a day for 30 days. If you are like me, then you will have failed a few days in. Not because you don’t want to exercise but probably because it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to make yourself a better, healthier person. If you fall into this category, before you start planning a new exercising regime, your starting point should be to consider how inactive you are.

Chronic inactivity is a big risk nowadays as a huge number of people have jobs where they are sat at a desk all day. Decreasing your chronic inactivity is even more important than doing short exercise sessions. Large scale studies by a variety of health organisations have found that people who spend the most time seated can have a 50 percent higher mortality rate. It is said that if you sit for more than six hours a day, your risk of death increases at a rate similar to the risk of smoking or being overexposed to sunlight.

My simple advice here is to try to be as active as possible and incorporate more movement into your daily routine. First, try walking. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, park further away than your usual space, or take advantage of the cooler weather and have a “walking meeting” at work. Secondly, think carefully about other aspects of your lifestyle and see if there are other small tweaks you could make. Could you be standing instead of sitting? Or why not do something active as a family? There are 1440 minutes in a day. Can you spare 30 minutes?

Sleep:

We’ve all been there: waking up from a bad night’s sleep, we drift through the day like half-conscious zombies yawning uncontrollably and unable to focus on our own work. We dream about the moment we can get back to bed, but as soon as our head hits the pillow, we’re suddenly wide awake. It’s a nightmare.

Without sleep we can’t function which is why we spend a third of our lives asleep. Even though sleep is still not fully understood on a scientific level, it is clear that it has multiple benefits. Good sleep makes you more energetic, improves your concentration span, boosts your immune system and increases your ability to learn. Unsurprisingly, the highest performing people actually tend to have healthy sleeping habits. You may have heard of the famous study that found it takes 10, 000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. But did you know that same study also found that top performers get an average of eight hours and 36 minutes sleep each night?

So, how can you get better sleep? The first hack is to embrace darkness. Darkness is, in essence, a signal to your body that it should rest because at night and in darkness, the hormone melatonin is activated, which helps you fall asleep. It regulates the body’s circadian rhythm- our internal body clock and its production is heavily affected by exposure to sunlight. It’s a good idea to clear your room of any light pollution no matter how little it seems. Tape over stand by lights, LEDs on alarm clocks and AC units or simply unplug all electronic devices in your bedroom. The second hack is to try and follow a set bedtime routine. We should respect our internal body clock by going to bed within 30 minutes of the same time every night. The modern-day lifestyle of cutting down on sleep during the week and catching up on weekends wreaks havoc with our circadian rhythms. If we hit the hay at a consistent time and say no to late night Netflix binges on weekends, we’ll find it much easier to fall asleep and wake up.

In summary, staying healthy isn’t just one decision; its dozens of little decisions every day. A healthy lifestyle is within everyone’s reach and you can all achieve this by making a few simple adjustments to how we eat, move and sleep. 

Have a good weekend.

Martin Nash

Assistant Headteacher

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