Introduction and Background:
At Functional Medicine Associates it is our job to stay at the forefront of science. We have had over 20 years of working with Executives and Organisations on corporate wellness programmes. This work has given us the opportunity to apply the latest scientific research to individuals and, importantly, to test whether this has been effective. Given our unique position we offer you the second part of our “Top 10 Guide to Executive Health for 2020”.
In part 1 we presented five tips to help executives understand and get the most out of their corporate wellness journey. In part two we give you a further 5 tips that are based on ground-breaking research on what we currently understand about the human body and how it interacts with the environments we create.
6. Take a ‘nature pill’ 3 times a week to reduce stress.
We instinctively know that being outside and surrounded by nature is good for all. Common sense dictates that being stuck inside a building 24/7 may not provide an ideal environment for body and soul and we would be right! And lots of scientific studies back this up. Humans are designed for being with nature and when we are with nature, we see a whole host of improvements in health parameters such as better sleep, decreased blood pressure and stress reduction to name a few.
What if there was panacea or a ‘nature pill’ that could help reduce stress? What if that panacea was simply time spent being exposed to nature for a set period of time each day? In a recently published study researchers from the University of Michigan tested this theory on a group of urban dwellers and were able to show that not only does spending time having a nature experience (defined as spending time in an outdoor space that brings a sense of contact with nature) reduce hormone markers of stress, they have also demonstrated that there is an optimal amount of time that must be spent outside in order to achieve these benefits.
The results of the above study revealed an impressive decrease in the stress hormone cortisol following exposure to nature. The greatest percentage decrease in stress occurred within the first 20 to 30 minutes of nature exposure. This new study indicates that there are demonstrable benefits from even a 20 to 30 minute nature experience three times a week and this be achieved even by urban dwellers – good news for the majority of executives who no doubt work in a large city and might find it difficult to pop out for a woodland walk during their lunchbreak.
At Functional Medicine Associates we are now recommending an outside break from the office environment of 20 – 30minutes per day. This break should ideally be spent in a local park, square or any other green space close to the office. It might even be your office rooftop garden terrace. We encourage our clients to source a nearby ‘nature nook’ that they can retreat to for some stress reduction each day. Use this time to sit quietly and eat a healthy lunch in a calm and relaxed manner, away from the pressure of the office. See your lunch break not only as an opportunity to eat healthily but also as a chance to reduce stress.
7. Start testing your brain health – especially if you’re a woman
A sharp brain is a must-have tool for executives and yet we continue to see a significant number who suffer from less than optimal cognitive performance. Signs of this may include a consistently foggy brain, poor memory recall, inability to stay on task and lack of creativity. This is not just ineffective from a work point of view but may also be an indicator of a brain with potential health issues.
Dementia and its’ most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, is predicted to be, if not already, the next epidemic in chronic disease worldwide. There is 1 new case of dementia diagnosed every 4 seconds which works out at 7.7million cases per year. The journal Alzheimer’s research and therapy in 2012 calculated that more than 600million people in the world will live with the disease in the next 40 years and 2/3rds of these cases are women. Yes, Alzheimer’s is a disease of gender bias. A particular note for our female executives who are perimenopausal or menopausal. The fluctuating and lowered levels of Oestrogen can have large effects on brain performance.
We have been testing cognitive function in our patients for the last three years and are now recommending that each executive be tested once or twice each year to trace brain performance patterns. This way you can provide a scientifically validated measure of brain health and how cognitive health can be sustained or improved long term. We can also indentify areas of concern that may need more help.
Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection. It is the body’s way of signalling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. Without inflammation as a physiological response, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly. However, if the inflammatory process goes on for too long or if the inflammatory response occurs in places where it is not needed, it can become problematic. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases such as heart disease or stroke, and may also lead to autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. We also know that inflammation can drive depressive symptoms and should be considered when helping mental health at work.
The rate at which we age is also characterised by a chronic, low-grade inflammation and has been given the term Inflammaging. Whilst we can all look to a healthy diet and lifestyle to help keep inflammation under control, as practitioners we now have the capability to look in more detail at the individual’s genetic predisposition to inflammation and whether this ‘inflammaging’ plays out on a daily basis.
By using genetic testing to measure inflammatory risk along with occasional biomarker testing to determine whether a state of inflammaging is occurring at a particular point in time we are able to build up a very personalised picture. Having this data gives us the ability to plan which areas your body may need help with or where you can use specific nutrients to reduce inflammatory risk. It’s a bit like knowing which business department is always susceptible to trouble and therefore planning long term to support this department including having adequate and appropriate resources at the ready.
9. Find daily sanctuary.
Why is sanctuary so important? Let’s come back to stress again first….
Stress is actually good for the body in small amounts. These small but consistent exposures to a stressor cause our body to react in a way that is beneficial to our health. We call this Hormesis.
Persistent stress, however, wears down our mind, body and soul, as a result becoming one of our biggest risks to health over the long term. This wear and tear from stress is something we can measure, it’s called the Allostatic load and the higher the Allostatic load, the higher the risk of most chronic diseases.
Our body is designed to adapt to what the environment and situation throws back at us. The more stressful the environment the more your body fires up to fight the fire. As a consequence, however, over time your body forgets how to relax. We end up in a perpetual state of fight or flight with no rest and digest. Let’s face it, this continues to be the picture of the modern workplace.
For anyone who works with our team, we insist that they must find a time, place, person etc where they can find that daily sanctuary. We have seen numerous examples of executives who are overly stressed at work and then come home to a stressful household. In these cases, the stress response never switches off and people never get the chance to relax, repair and recuperate. You can never be healthy in this situation. Daily sanctuary is such a simple but powerful health intervention. You need to find it! What is it that allows you to relax? A couple of chapters of a great book, the nature experience, a chat in the canteen with a colleague, listening to your favourite music? This is for you to find. The more sanctuary you have, the more balanced your stress response will be and the healthier you will be.
10. Work with a Functional Medicine clinician on your health.
You may not be aware but there is a revolution occurring in health care and it’s called Functional Medicine. Functional Medicine was seen as one of the Top 10 trends in Silicon Valley in 2019. Clinicians in Functional Medicine have been around for years and are trained to take a global view on health, focusing on the person, not the disease, treating not just the symptoms but finding the root cause of why the symptoms/disease exists.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), shows that using a functional medicine approach to treat chronic disease produces better health outcomes than traditional methods. The study took place at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic for Functional Medicine which has experienced “explosive growth” since opening five years ago.
As more studies will go on to show, this model of care provides a new operating system that works to reverse illness, promote health, and optimize function by addressing underlying causes, symptoms, and functional imbalances in interconnected biological networks. It’s the perfect model for solving the chronic disease crisis given that almost all health care budgets in western societies are spent in this area. It is the perfect model to help organisations improve workforce wellness by helping facilitate change and providing new direction based on new scientific understanding.
So, there you have it, our top 10 executive health tips for 2020. If you have found this document helpful and would like more information on how we can help you or your organisation, then contact us on the details below.