When I was finishing up my doctorate at the University of Toronto, I got a call from my dad out of the blue. He was listening to an interview with a man named Henry Gold who was putting together the first group to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town, crossing the entire continent in the process. Dad knew I was really into cycling and had loved Africa ever since I visited Tanzania with my sister who worked for the UN. He said, “You have to listen to this.”
I flipped on the radio and caught the final few minutes. It sounded incredible. So I called Henry, and it turned out his office was about two kilometres away from where I worked. When I got there, he had this huge map of Africa with the route mapped out in highlighter. We talked for a while and then Henry said, “You should come with us.”
I had just the right amount of money lying around and was almost finished my degree, so I would be able to take five months off for the expedition. I defended my PhD in February in Toronto and then flew out to join the group. It was -30 degrees Celsius when I left. I was a bit late because I had to do my defense, so they had already departed. I flew into Khartoum, Sudan, in the middle of the Sahara Desert. It was 52 degrees Celsius on my first day there – an 80 degree swing in a 24-hour period.
We are living through one of the greatest revolutions in human history. Microprocessors have given us the internet, mobile phones and more recently, artificial intelligence (AI).
AI has the potential to dramatically influence and disrupt the workplace in the coming years. Self-driving cars are the obvious next disruptive technology, but AI will also impact law, banking, medicine and other industries.
With the advent of AI, creative thinking becomes ever more critical.
The stream of breakthrough ideas that will make the world a better place relies on us developing novel strategies, techniques and experiences that leverage new technologies. As Bob Moritz, chairman of professional services firm PwC, said recently at the World Economic Forum’s annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, “We’re still looking for creativity, because that can’t be coded. Robotics and computers and coding actually gives you a very straight and narrow path to go down a fine course. The world we’re living in today is a lot more zig zag, and people are going to be important to that equation….”
Creativity does not happen by accident. Advances in physiological research can provide us with insights about how we can spark our own agile thinking and problem solving.
A good place to start is to sleep more, not less. When we are under pressure, it can be tempting to claw back some hours in the day. If you need to solve a problem or come up with a new creative approach, reducing your sleep hours is the opposite of what your brain needs. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and had a “Eureka!” moment — a deep insight? I certainly have; it’s one reason I keep a notebook by my bed. I need to ensure that I capture the insights generated during sleep.
Creative problem solving appears to happen during the REM phase of sleep, which typically occurs more in the second half of your sleep, if you’re getting the recommended 7.5 hours. In a 2009 study at the University of California, San Diego, researchers found that REM sleep “directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state.” So, if you need to build more creativity into your life, give yourself permission to sleep a bit more.
You can also sprinkle physical activity into your day to improve your creativity and learning. Scientists at the University of California, Irvine found thatexercise can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and other growth factors, stimulate neurogenesis, and improve learning and mental performance. As little as 15 minutes of exerciseimproves mental performance, so why not add this to your day, before important tasks? Go for a short walk before a presentation. Have a walking meeting if you need to problem solve. Or, if you can start your day with a workout, you’ll prime your brain for excellence and begin the process of remodeling the areas of your brain that will help you think more clearly.
If you’re wondering what kind of exercise is best for creativity, research suggests that aerobic activities like walking, swimming, cycling and running are best. Exercising in nature appears to be specifically helpful for problem solving. That can be as simple as a brisk walk in a local park.
One last idea to consider is adding deliberate mindfulness practice and meditation to your daily routine, especially on days when you need to spark your creativity. Practising mindfulness and meditation has been shown to improve attentional control, problem solving, concentration and creativity. New imaging techniques — including functional magnetic resonance imaging, which shows brain activation, and diffusion tensor imaging, which shows the neural networks in the brain — demonstrate that mindfulness and meditation can improve brain function.
Think of meditation as strength training for the brain. Just as you would lift weights to build and strengthen your muscles, you can use meditation to build and strengthen your brain and then, in addition, control and sharpen your mind. Try apps like headspace.com or calm.com to get started.
As a leader in business, you’re probably pushing the limits on a daily basis. Adopting deliberate practices that improve your creativity and mental agility will allow you to perform at a higher level more easily and more consistently. Putting these ideas into practice does require a shift in mindset and a reallocation of your priorities. It will be challenging in the short term, but the long-term benefits will be powerful for you personally and for your career and business.
You stay up late cramming for exams (or you did, when you were in school). Big presentation or performance? Be honest—you’ve rehearsed over and over, sometimes until the second you take the podium or stage. But when it comes to preparing for a marathon or other race, the best strategy is exactly the opposite, exercise scientists and coaches say.
Tapering—dialing back your training right before a big competition—can give you an edge on race day, exercise physiologist Greg Wells, Ph.D., author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, tells SELF. “It’s counterintuitive, because a lot of people want to train right up until the last minute, get in that one last workout,” he says. “But the research and evidence suggest that that’s probably the last thing you actually should be doing.”
Physiologist and exercise medicine researcher at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, author of Superbodies and The Ripple Effect.
The skill of communication in the era of social media, leading without a title and brand awareness has never been more important. Steve Jobs knew how important a speech can be. He practised for days before presentations. More recently, Elon Musk has delivered presentations for Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity initiatives. These talks have led to the exponential growth of his companies and, possibly, a different future for humanity.
Despite the importance of communication (or maybe because of it), public speaking remains one of our greatest fears. Jerry Seinfeld said once that an average person at a funeral prefers to be in the casket than give the eulogy.
I don’t think it has to be that way. If you apply the science of human performance, you can improve your ability to deliver powerful messages, and improve your mental and physical health at the same time. Here are a few tips to get you started.
This week I chat to Dr. Sarah West from Trent University and the Hospital for Sick Children about Bones!
Here’s why this topic is so important:
All kidding aside bones are so important for our overall health, but they’re often overlooked. Hence Dr. Sarah West! Dr. West is an Assistant Professor in Kinesiology at Trent University. Her primary research interest is understanding the interaction of chronic disease and exercise, and how this is related to various outcomes – with bone health being her primary outcome of interest.
Hi podcast universe!!! I’m back from vacation and ready to take on the rest of 2017. To kickstart the fall I’m sharing a small part of my presentation at the Titan Summit last year on How to Live to 120.
This is a different format so let me know what you think @drgregwells on social!
Welcome back! This week I had the chance to interview 11 time Ironman Champion Lisa Bentley. Here’s a little more about Lisa!
Lisa Bentley raced for 20 years as a professional triathlete. In the course of her career, she has won 11 IRONMAN races, 11 IRONMAN 70.3 races (1/2 IRONMAN), several top 5 finishes at the IRONMAN World Championships, represented Canada on multiple National Teams and at the Pan American Games and was ranked top 5 in the world for a decade. She competed at the highest level despite having Cystic Fibrosis – a genetic lung disease resulting in chronic infections and limited lung capacity. Her CF was very controllable for much of her career and ironically, Lisa saw it as a blessing, which fuelled her passion for sport and excellence. In Lisa’s words, “every time I raced, I knew that my race served a higher purpose to give families hope that their children with CF could achieve similar things in life. And sport kept my lungs healthy so it was a double blessing!”
Since she retired from professional sport, Lisa has been running marathons, doing motivational speaking, television commentary (CTV Olympic marathon running and swim coverage, CBC Triathlon coverage, Sportsnet Ironman coverage), coaching and sales and marketing work with Ironman triathlon. Lisa was inducted into the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and to the Triathlon Canada Hall of Fame in 2014.
Lisa has an honors degree from the University of Waterloo in Math and Computer Science and a Bachelors of Education from the University of Western Ontario. She taught high school for 7 years prior to pursuing sport full time in 1999 and now uses those teaching skills to coach and mentor athletes in pursuit of their goals in sport.
After all, not everyone thinks the same way—even top performers. Their motivations differ, as do their work processes. Some are collaborators, others work best alone. Some are procrastinators, others thrive on a deadline. Some love a bustling work environment, others put on headphones to block out the buzz.
But leaders can make it a goal to help all those diverse personalities find the “highest-performing version” of themselves, says Dr. Greg Wells, author of The Ripple Effect: Eat, Sleep, Move and Think Better.
“There are general changes you can enact in the workplace that can speak to the very specific needs of every member of your team,” says Wells, a scientist who specializes in extreme human physiology and has spent 15 years working with Olympic athletes. He suggests:
This isn’t about running out for a quick cigarette. Quite the opposite. Wells says office breaks can have a healthy bent—anything from providing an hour of tai chi instruction to offering a tranquil garden setting for quiet reflection. “Make sure you take some time to break the stress cycle and allow people to rest, recover and regenerate,” he says. “Doing this not only will help them perform better in the moment, but it also recharges the body and brain to stay healthy over the long-term.”
Walking is especially powerful as it has been shown to improve creativity. Exercise in nature, such as going for a walk in the park has been shown to improve problem solving. Creativity and problem solving are essential for success in today’s work environment so moving breaks can be very helpful for you and your teams.
Being mindful is key to success in any discipline, be it music, sports, drama, or business. “Yet we live in the age of distraction,” Wells says. Emails, social media, text messages and YouTube compete for our attention, not to mention the job we’re supposed to be doing. “Athletes who are able to stay on task despite pressure and distractions perform to their potential,” he says. “Those who fail to ignore the distractions make mistakes or don’t perform to expectations.”
Your team can start by turning off the electronic noise for an hour at a time. Or try “single-tasking”: Ask them to choose their most important task to work on first and to perform that task as exclusively as possible. Wells says he’s a huge fan of Robin Sharma’s 90 : 90: 1 principle—for 90 days, take the first 90 minutes of each day to work on your life’s most important work. Try that tactic out and you’ll be amazed and the exponential gains you make in your life and career, he says.
Focus on “micro-improvements”
Wells says one of the best approaches he’s seen for turning good into great is focusing on “1 percent gains.” “What sets elite athletes apart from the pack is a commitment to being just a little bit better each day,” he says. “A 1 percent change might not seem like much, but small improvements in the way you live each day will amplify your life.”
One percent of your day is 15 minutes, and 15 minutes of exercise can reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer from 24-40 percent. The micro changes add up over time and can have a powerful effect on your health and performance.
Of course, workers are notoriously averse to change—whether they’re in an office, a factory or behind the counter at a fast-food restaurant. But with positivity and patience, Wells’ believes his suggestions should be an easy sell.
“Each employee will benefit in his or her own way,” he says. “But the end result will be a more engaged and more productive group.”
Dr. Greg Wellsis an authority on high performance and human physiology. Dr. Wells is an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Toronto where he studies elite sport performance. He also serves as an Associate Scientist of Translational Medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children, where he leads the Exercise Medicine Research Program.
If you, like many others, are struggling with your energy levels, here are twelve things you need to know to better understand and improve your energy levels.
1. Sleep restores energy.
While you’re asleep, a lot is going on in your body to recover, restore, and rebuild it. Sleep is a highly active metabolic process that helps optimize our brain structure, repair damaged cells in the body, and restore energy levels.
2. Increase body temperature to increase energy.
If you want to increase your alertness and concentration at a time of the day when you normally feel sluggish, increase your body temperature by doing five to ten minutes of light cardiorespiratory exercise, such as a brisk walk.
3. Take it outside for a few.
Walking in nature improves measures of revitalization, self-esteem, energy, and pleasure, and it decreases frustration, worry, confusion, depression, tension, and tiredness far more than light activity indoors does. So take your walk outside.
4. Add some exercise.
When you exercise at an intensity that is high enough to cause your body some physiological stress, the body will adapt and improve. You will get stronger, faster, and fitter. You’ll also get smarter and happier. You will have more energy.
High fiber foods take longer to digest, provoke less of an insulin response, and leave us feeling satiated with nice, even energy levels. Go for complex, slow-digesting carbohydrates packed full of nutrients and fiber to ensure a consistent supply of mental energy.
6. Stay hydrated.
No water, no energy. You know that sluggish feeling you get in the afternoon? For most people, the afternoon crash is caused by dehydration. So do yourself a favor. Give yourself more energy by drinking some water. Tired? Drink some water.
7. Eat protein at every meal.
It’s a good idea to eat protein at every meal. High-protein foods can help you maintain your attention and focus.
Yoga and tai chi decrease stress and anxiety, increase energy, and boost the immune system. They also give you more stamina—needed in stressful times—and improve the quality of your sleep.
9. Trying single-tasking.
The concept behind single-tasking is that you start with the most important task—not the most urgent one—and work on it exclusively until it is either complete or you are out of time. By managing how you spend your mental energy, you help ensure that you excel at whatever you do.
10. Low energy levels are usually between 1 and 4 p.m.
This three-hour span is the time of day most people have their afternoon crash, and their energy levels are the lowest.
11. Keep a log to learn more.
When are you at your best mentally? When do you feel most energetic or lethargic? To figure this out, keep a daily log, and note your energy levels each hour throughout the day.
12. Design your day around your energy levels.
Once you know when you have the least and most amounts of energy, you can craft your ideal day. Align your tasks and schedule to take advantage of your high mental and physical energy times. You’ll perform better, and you’ll also be much healthier.
My mission in life is to solve a billion person problem. I want to help the people who struggle with sleep. People who are inactive. People with chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And people with mental illnesses. Ultimately when I do this, it will make the world a better place for my kids.
The billion person problem that I want to solve: sleeplessness (~25%), mental illness (~20%), obesity (~60-70%) & physical inactivity (~85%) pic.twitter.com/9642rnzGeK
To help make this happen, I want to share with you my approach to healthy training. Basically – this is my weekly plan and the 4 types of fitness training I try to get in each week. Unless you’re training for the Olympics in a one sport, this can also serve as your training plan. I hope it helps you in a huge way.
The way you manage day-to-day stress impacts your recovery…
July 10, 2017 | By Sinead Mulhern
When the weather is nice, many runners are motivated to kick it into high gear. There’s no shortage of physical activities to enjoy in the summer sunshine (think trail running, hiking, kayaking, swimming…). Beautiful days beg for runners to lace up and run their city or town’s best routes. But keeping a schedule full of vigorous activity only works if runners give equal thought to active recovery. If you’re somewhere in the 40-plus age group, recovery is even more important. If those aches and pains– or perhaps even an injury– have been getting you down, we have a wise guide that’ll have you bouncing back in no time. Take this advice from our experts and age will no longer be a limiting factor.
This summer, follow these four key concepts from experts to increase your chances at reaching your goals
June 13, 2017 | By Tim Huebsch
If you listen to your body and take the right approach, you can certainly run fast over 40. Whether that means hitting new paces in your next race or just getting to the next fitness point, that’s up to your own discretion.
We spoke with Megan Kuikman, a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist and a 2:47 marathon runner to get some ideas for over-40 athletes on how to enhance the benefits of your next training block. We paired her advice with that of Dr. Greg Wells–scientist, broadcaster, author, coach and athlete. Kevin O’Connor, one of Canada’s top masters runners, also chats about how he resets after a big race in the story’s featured video below. Need some advice? We walk you through it.
It’s really hard to live a high-performance life when high stress is a daily reality. Chronic stress damages your body, threatens your mental health, puts strain on relationships, and takes the joy out of life.
Your thoughts have strong influence over stress levels. What you choose to think about, or not think about, dictates how your body and mind react to everyday life.
So how can we reduce the ongoing flow of damaging stress—and even find peace in our thought life? The key is to break up stressful times with periods of rest, recovery, and regeneration. The good news is that anyone can learn techniques that can counter the damage of the stress response.
Make sure that each day you take some time to break the stress cycle and rest, recover, and regenerate. Doing this not only helps you find peace in the moment but also recharges your body and brain to stay healthy over the long term.
Here are 7 proven techniques that can help you have a healthy thought life and recover from chronic stress:
1. Move your body
Rhythmic, repeated motion is particularly soothing to the mind and body. A long walk, cycling, swimming, or running will all work, but any kind of movement will relieve tension, improve circulation, and clear your mind.
2. Get into nature
Go outside! Head to the garden, the park, or the woods to lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, reduce tension and depression, and boost your mood. It’s stunning how good it is for your health to be in nature. Leave the cell phone and earbuds at home.
3. Practice yoga or Tai Chi
Like nature therapy, yoga and Tai Chi decrease stress and anxiety, increase energy, and boost the immune system. They also give you more stamina—needed in stressful times—and improve the quality of your sleep.
4. Have perspective
Don’t be so quick to conclude that you “can’t handle” a stressful situation. This is truly a mind-over-matter opportunity. Believing that you are strong and resourceful actually makes you stronger and more resourceful. Don’t give in to negative self-talk about not having what it takes to manage life.
5. Change the nature of your response
Research indicates that taking an active, problem-solving approach to life’s challenges relieves stress and can transform it into something positive. If you withdraw, deny the problem, or spend all your time venting, you’ll feel helpless. Instead, be determined to make a change, put effort into it, and plan for better results.
6. Practice slow, deep breathing
Start applying the power of deep breathing each day. It will make a huge difference. Start small by taking three deep breaths each time you sit down at your desk—in the morning, after breaks, after lunch, and so on. It will help you become more patient, calm, and relaxed.
7. Block time for single-tasking.
Each day this week, schedule time in your calendar for focusing exclusively on one task. This task should be something that is very important to you. Doing several things at once might make it seem as if you are working hard, but it’s an illusion. Your body and mind are not designed to work that way and it causes extra stress.
Welcome back podcast universe! This week I had the chance to chat with one of my greatest influences Paul Chek. Paul is a legend in the health and fitness space and we went really deep in this conversation. We talked about healthy nutrition, fitness and the pillars of living a great life. Here’s a little more about Paul.
Paul is a holistic health practitioner who has transformed the lives of countless individuals by developing practical and effective methods for addressing all aspects of well-being. His approach to treatment and education is driven by his “system of systems” philosophy: that the body is a fully integrated unit of physical, hormonal, emotional and spiritual components.
He is the founder of Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology (C.H.E.K) Institute, which helps healthcare professionals advance their careers through a holistic approach to health, fitness and well-being. He is also the creator of the PPS Success Mastery Program. This self-mastery program teaches individuals to reach their true potential by transforming their destructive habits and learning to take control of their personal, professional and spiritual life.
Decreased alertness is a huge hindrance to thinking and, ultimately, performing at a high level. There are many factors that can help you feel more (or less) alert. These six ways to feel more alert are changes you can easily make to your life, starting today!
Don’t let your age work against you. Here are some tips for the over-40 runner.
May 26, 2017 | By Sinead Mulhern
Kevin Smith remembers the moment when he realized that his training needed to change. His story is similar to many. He’s a lifelong runner, but right around his fortieth birthday, he realized that the nagging injuries he had been experiencing more and more into his late thirties weren’t going to go away if he didn’t adjust his training. “I used to be a high level runner in my twenties,” Smith explains. “Once in my thirties and through my thirties, the injuries came more often and they were more severe.” He had an epiphany. Smith realized he needed to be strategic not just about the window spent training, but also during the hours away from workouts.
Currently, Smith is the head coach of Marathon Dynamics running club in Toronto. As such, he regularly works with masters athletes. We consulted with him and well-respected physiologist Dr. Greg Wells to find out how runners over 40 can make real improvements during their sweat sessions. If you’re in this age category, take any of these tips to make a real break-through in your training.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. The reality of cancer is upsetting, but there is hope. You can cut your cancer risk in half by committing to four important areas. No magic pills, insane amount of money, or all-consuming regimen. And, the best news is, you will not only lower your risk of cancer, but also improve your overall health and change your life for the positive.
Toronto physiologist Greg Wells’s new book, The Ripple Effect, makes lofty promises, pledging that we can Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better. A superachiever himself (Ironman, PhD, researcher at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids and professor at the University of Toronto), Wells nevertheless tempers those assertions by sticking to a simple message in the book, in stores April 4. It’s okay to dream big, but start small. Peppered with “1 per cent tips,” Wells advocates staying focused on micro-improvements (using spices, not sauces, to cut calories; walking 15 minutes a day to potentially lower risk of breast and colon cancer 24 to 40 per cent). “Microchanges are sustainable forever,” he says. “When they add up over time, it’s like compound interest for your body and mind.”
You know those days when you don’t get enough sleep, so you decide to skip the gym and then you end up eating nothing but garbage for the rest of the day? We’ve all been there. Greg Wells, author of The Ripple Effect, says there are ways we can make small changes to our sleeping, eating, exercising and thinking habits that can transform our health for life.