Dr. Greg Wells

Perform Better

Perform Better

The Globe and Mail: Greg Wells on how ‘microchanges’ can make a major difference

April, 4th 2017

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.”

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CTV The Social: How simple lifestyle changes can transform your health for life

April, 4th 2017

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.

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CBC.ca: What you should know about the drug that cost Usain Bolt an Olympic gold

January, 28th 2017

This article originally appeared at CBC.ca. Click here to access the article.

Jamaican teammate Nesta Carter tested positive for methylhexaneamine

By Wendy-Ann Clarke, CBC Sports Posted: Jan 26, 2017 1:19 PM ET

Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter tested positive for a banned substance, but Usain Bolt is taking the biggest hit.

News broke Wednesday that the Jamaican 4×100-metre relay team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics is being stripped of its medal after a re-analysis of Carter’s sample turned up the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine.

The failed test by Carter, who ran the opening leg of the relay, spoiled Bolt’s perfect “triple-triple” record — he won gold in each of his three events at three consecutive Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, the ruling by the International Olympic Committee has raised several questions, including: What is methylhexaneamine? How much might Carter’s use of the drug have affected the results of the race? And is there a chance for a successful appeal?

We went to the experts for some answers.

How does methylhexaneamine work?

Blue Jays star Marcus Stroman, former Jay Chris Colabello, boxer Brandon Rios and South African discus thrower Victor Hogan are among the athletes who have been disciplined for methylhexaneamine use in recent years.

According to Dr. Greg Wells, a kinesiology professor at the University of Toronto, the stimulant is similar in composition to drugs like ephedrine which can be found in a number of over-the-counter medications, as well as in athletic supplements that don’t always list every ingredient on their packaging.

The physiological effects of the drug can be compared to those of a non-drowsy cold formula.

“It feels like you have a bit of adrenaline surging through your body,” says Wells. “The effects of that type of stimulant become especially significant in a sport like track and field where hundredths of a second can make a difference.”

While not to be confused with an anabolic steroid, which causes significant structural changes inside the body, Wells says the stimulant can be dangerous, and can put athletes at an advantage because of its ability to:

open airways in the lungs, making it easier to take in oxygen
narrow blood vessels, which increases blood pressure, helping push oxygen to body tissue cause water to be expelled from the body, which can lead to weight loss

Although stimulants like methylhexaneamine can cause an instantaneous boost, Wells says if the drug was in a supplement Carter was using on a regular basis, “he would incur a consistent advantage in training, meaning he could work harder, more often, more easily, which may be a significant benefit.”

Why did it take so long to catch Carter?

Methylhexaneamine was not specifically named on the banned substance list back in 2008, but being caught using it is still considered a doping infraction because the properties are associated with other substances in the stimulant class.

Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, says the creators of designer drugs are always one step ahead of drug detection labs, making the ability to test athletes retroactively very important.

“Designer drugs are created in clandestine labs that have the ability to make changes to the molecular makeup of a drug,” Melia says. “The drug-test laboratories need to know the molecular structure of a banned substance in order to detect it.

“Fortunately, now the IOC is storing samples for up to 10 years, giving we in the lab time to identify these new substances that are coming onto the market. Since 2008, the lab has identified this stimulant, giving us the analytical techniques to detect it.”

Can Carter appeal?

Carter could face a ban of at least two years, which may be a crushing blow to the career of the 31-year-old sprinter.

Melia says that if it can be proven that a drug was deliberately and intentionally used to enhance performance, the sanction can increase to as much as four years. But if Carter can demonstrate that he took the drug unknowingly, his punishment can be argued down to as little as a warning.

As far as Carter’s (and Bolt’s) relay medal goes, Melia says that although Carter will have the opportunity for a hearing to presumably try to reduce his sentencing, it won’t have any impact on the decision to strip the gold from his relay team.

“I think it’s a really powerful deterrent for athletes who might be thinking about using designer drugs that can’t be detected today,” Melia says. “It’s not going to give them much comfort when they hear a story like this that goes right back to 2008.”

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Entrepreneur.com: Are You Single-Tasking Yet?

October, 31st 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

You sure should be. Focusing on one, important item at a time will make you more competent and productive.

What are you doing while you read this? Are you dipping into your email while texting, reading tweets and partly listening at a meeting? Do you have your mobile phone, a desk phone, a tablet and a laptop all on the go at once?

Probably. We all tend to do it, some more often than others. After all, multitasking is the sign of a highly effective and efficient mind — right?


It’s time for a reminder about the power of singletasking.

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Rio 2016: The Science of Michael Phelps

August, 10th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

Michael Phelps is obviously an incredible athlete, but the adaptations of his body may be even more amazing than his performance. His arm span is 2.03 metres wide, longer than average, giving him a greater distance per stroke. This means he has to take fewer strokes than his competitors, which increases his efficiency and saves energy during races. Height and arm length (unlike waist size) are characteristics that are largely determined by genes, but Michael’s commitment to training has had a powerful long-term effect on his body that is not genetic. Most swimmers at the international level will have a lung capacity that can be as much as two times the amount of a normal person’s lungs. No one has published lung-testing data from Michael Phelps yet, but I’d be willing to bet that his lung capacity is beyond limits even for swimmers. So is Michael a product of genetic talent or consistent training over an extended period of time?

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Rio 2016: The Science of Usain Bolt's Speed - Part 2

August, 10th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

Here is part 2 of my post on the Science of Usain Bolt!

With the Olympics in Rio underway I thought it would be cool to explore some of the physiology of the most legendary athletes. Usain Bolt certainly fits into this category. He’s aiming for 3 gold medals in 3 consecutive Olympics. Now, while you might normally think that his performance is powered by his muscles (and it is), there is one deeper level of physiology we can explore that will help you to appreciate how incredible his performances are. Let’s take a look at the what happens to the nervous system during the 100 m dash.

Let’s look at Usain Bolt’s world record 9.58-second 100-metre dash. Exploring “the start” is fascinating when we consider the lighting storm of electrical activity involved. There are  two critical stages of the run itself: the acceleration phase and the speed maintenance phase and that is what we will be exploring in this post.

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Redbull.com: The Learning Curve Episode 3

July, 25th 2016

On this week’s episode of The Learning Curve, we find Drew Bezanson putting in time at the Joyride 150 bike park warehouse, near Toronto, in Canada. With the mercy of a foam pit, Drew hucks his way to perfection as he prepares for competitive action.

Using the foam pit is key because of how fast I have to learn this stuff. If I was going to do it the old-fashioned way, on a regular jump, we probably wouldn’t be filming right now!

Drew Bezanson

The Learning Curve 3


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RedBull.com: The Learning Curve Episode 1

July, 13th 2016

Check out a new web series I’m helping with called The Learning Curve.

In episode one of The Learning Curve, we catch up with Drew Bezanson a few months after his release of Uncontainable.

Still riding the high from the success of the film and his own sense of accomplishment, Drew begins looking towards the next challenge – slopestyle mountain biking – and coming to terms with the uphill battle he’ll face if he wants to shred slopestyle with the best of them.

Here’s Episode 1 “Watch Drew Bezanson’s journey to Joyride begin”.


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Entrepreneur.com: The Power of 1 Percent Better

June, 24th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

One of the best approaches I have seen for achieving a dream is to focus on being 1 percent better.

I work with a lot of incredible athletes, but it isn’t always talent that drives achievement. What sets the best performing athletes apart is their dedication to training at a consistently high level. And among that group, there is a factor that sets even the elite athletes apart: lifestyle.


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Entrepreneur.com: 6 Ways to Curb Jet Lag and Travel Fatigue

January, 14th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

As an entrepreneur, you likely travel a lot, and you already know that jet lag (which science geeks call “flight dysrhythmia”) can cause all kinds of unpleasant symptoms: insomnia, loss of appetite, depressed mood, upset stomach, fatigue and mental fuzziness, to name a few.

And the farther you travel, the worse your jet lag will likely be. Why? Because crossing time zones throws your internal rhythms out of sync with your external environment. It’s like your body stays back in New York as you head off to your first meeting in London!


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Toronto Star: Cross-country running on uneven ground

November, 23rd 2015

What happens to girls and women when their feet touch grass?

That’s the question increasingly being asked in cross country running circles where old biases about what female athletes are capable of persist.

On the track and on the road, male and female athletes run the same distances, whether it’s the 100-metre sprint or the 42.2-km marathon. When they step on the softer, undulating ground of a cross-country course, that equality vanishes.


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Entrepreneur.com: 7 Mind-Body Fitness Strategies that Crush Stress

July, 18th 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

If, in response to a life event, you’ve ever felt heat in the face, tightness in the chest, deep fatigue, an upset stomach or a craving for junk food, you know what stress feels like in your body. Chances are you’re well aware that stress can lead to elevated blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and weight gain.

But did you know that stress also contributes to mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression or an overall sense of defeatism? In order to stay mentally fit at work and at home, we need to protect ourselves against harm.


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Entrepreneur.com: 5 Habits of Top Athletes That Can Transfer to the Workplace

May, 21st 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

An athlete steps up to the starting blocks in the Olympic stadium. He (or she) stands tall, takes a few deep breaths and shakes out his muscles. Thousands of people cheer while he is introduced, but his eyes never waver from the course he’s about to run. When the starting gun fires, he explodes into high-performance action.

How can we apply this scenario to a business situation? The same techniques athletes use to perform under pressure allow business leaders to excel in the professional sphere. Here are five top practices that will improve both your health and performance in the workplace.


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Entrepreneur.com: Best Health Practices to Improve Your Life - In and Out of the Office

May, 13th 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

You know it. I know it. We all know research supports it: Healthy people think, adapt and perform better.

That goes for both in and out of the office.

Here, four key areas — eating smarter, moving more, sleeping soundly and thinking clearly — that, when improved upon, enable you to be able to perform at your best.


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Entrepreneur.com: Fuel Up: Eating for Optimal Brain Function

April, 22nd 2015

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

Being an entrepreneur often means being pushed to physical and mental limits daily. There are long hours; there’s a consistent need to perform at full capacity in presentations and meetings; and there’s the drive to stay sharp while determining the right strategic direction for the company.

When people get busy or stressed, often the first thing sacrificed is healthy eating — and that’s the opposite of what should happen.


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The Globe and Mail: Why we need to bring physical activity back into our schools

April, 10th 2015

Read this article on The Globe and Mail Online.

For some time, educational leaders have been emphasizing the importance of physical activity in schools. The premise is that if children are active, they will develop good habits, feel better, be healthier and grow into adults who make exercise a priority. This is an important goal, but it is only part of the story.


Based on my recent work with school leaders, teachers and students, and an extensive review of the research in this area, I am reminded of another important reason that we have to get school communities moving: Physical activity has a significant effect on academic achievement.

The evidence for the bodily benefits of physical activity is clear. At any age, regular exercise improves the health of our hearts, lungs, blood, bones, skin and almost every other organ. A growing body of research also shows that exercise can improve mental health. Yet despite this wealth of evidence, it remains a challenge for people to incorporate physical activity into their lives. Sadly, only 15 per cent of Canadians come close to the recommended levels of physical activity.

The numbers are equally bad for schoolchildren. We don’t seem to be able to get them moving based on the idea that it will make them healthier. But there is increased traction for the idea that we can get them moving if we emphasize the impact of physical activity on academic performance. The concept is that by doing the right activities at the right times, we can change the way children’s brains work and increase their ability to consistently and easily perform at a high level.

The research is compelling.

Dr. Arthur Kramer’s lab at the University of Illinois showed that children who did aerobic exercise for 20 minutes before writing math tests improved their scores. It also showed that children who did regular exercise had different brain structures than those who were less active. The brain regions that were more developed in the exercise group were related to attention control, cognitive control and response resolution – the centres of the brain that help us maintain attention and crisply co-ordinate actions and thoughts. These results were confirmed in young adults, illustrating that it’s not just children who benefit from exercise before mental tasks.

Another study of 5,000 children in Britain, conducted by Dr. Josie Booth from the University of Dundee, found that 15 minutes of exercise improved performance in math by about a quarter of a grade point. She also found that those increments in performance continued right up to 60 minutes of exercise per day. This means that getting 60 minutes of activity could possibly boost academic performance by a full grade point (for example, from a B to an A).

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey explains this concept in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He writes, “Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. … The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.”

Imagine the impact on the ability to learn if we could design our school days so that children did physical activity right before math or science class. Or think about what is possible if we expanded this idea even further and programmed music right before creative writing classes or integrated drama and language.

The evidence is clear: Exercise before certain mental tasks will result in better academic performance for our students. For this reason, on top of the significant health benefits, we need to strategically build physical activity into all levels of academic programs on a daily basis. There are important financial and time considerations associated with this approach, but we can’t afford not to make this change. The costs of inaction are too significant.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Dr. Greg Wells is a Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster & Author. He is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, which explores how generics and DNA, the brain, muscles, lungs, heart and blood work together in extreme conditions. You can follow him on twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You might also enjoy his podcast!

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for Dr. Wells’ monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights.


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The Globe & Mail: No more multi-tasking? Why Single Tasking is the key to success.

December, 15th 2014

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Health Advisor section at this link.

It’s fall and that means one of my favourite times of the sporting year is underway: the baseball playoffs. There are few times in sport that completely capture my attention like the moment when an elite pitcher and clutch hitter square off with a game on the line.

I love those moments because both athletes are trying to reach the limits of their potential by drawing on all of their skills, training and experience. And they both exemplify specific performance elements that enable excellence.

The pitcher’s eyes focus on the target while he tries to block out the crowd, the TV and the crushing idea that this is a career-defining moment. The hitter breathes deeply to stay calm and relaxed while trying to remain on edge so he can deliver explosive power and energy at the precise moment. Both athletes are living entirely in the instant without thinking about the past or the future.

Learning general lessons from elite athletes is what I do for a living, so I’m interested in what we can all take from the pitcher-hitter battle to help us be better in our own lives. In this case, we can learn something from looking at how focused they are.

Focus is a key element for success in any discipline – be it music, sports, drama or business. Yet we live in the age of distraction. We have e-mail, social media, text messages and YouTube all competing for our attention, not to mention the job we are supposed to be doing. The problem is that distraction and multitasking go against how our brains work. No matter how much we want to take the drug that Bradley Cooper uses to access 100% of his brain in Limitless, the reality is that our brains can only do one thing at a time.

The nerves that make up the brain have very little stored energy. When we think, problem solve or create memories, the brain needs oxygen, glucose and nutrients to work. This “fuel” is provided by blood flow to whatever part of the brain is working on the specific task. But blood flow to the brain is limited and can only be delivered to a few areas at once. If we activate different parts of our brain by trying to multitask, we end up spreading the blood flow around and never giving the brain what it needs to get a single job done properly.

It’s like a firefighter trying to put out multiple fires at once by spraying water from a hose quickly across several burning houses rather than extinguishing one blaze and then moving on to the next.

Physiologically, we are not built for multitasking. Our brains work best when we focus on one thing at a time. To improve mental focus, try single tasking. Single tasking demands that we pick the most important task to work on first and perform that task as exclusively as possible until it is either complete or we are out of whatever time we have allotted for the job.

All you need to do is remember the focus of a hitter getting ready to smack the ball out of the park, and you can achieve that level of laser-like attention control.

For example, set aside one hour each day when you have time to completely focus and really drill down into a task that you have to accomplish – writing a report, analyzing some data, preparing a speech, or whatever is the highest priority on your list. During that time, turn off your phone or put it on silent and disconnect from the Internet. Be completely focused on that one task with no distractions.

If we focus, we can do more in less time, which makes better use of our energy. Try focusing more during your day and see how it works for you.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Dr. Greg Wells is a Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster & Author. He is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, which explores how generics and DNA, the brain, muscles, lungs, heart and blood work together in extreme conditions. You can follow him on twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You might also enjoy his podcast!

If you found this information interesting and helpful please consider signing up for Dr. Wells’ monthly newsletter with health and performance tips, articles, videos and other insights.

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