Taking The Healthy Road

31 Dec 2011

“Not listening to people, becoming aggressive, losing your sense of humour and being socially withdrawn are all indications that the pressures of work are getting to you,” says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School. Sound familiar? Then read on. 

Get personal

Designate time to your personal life in the same way as your career – otherwise it just disappears. “A couple of nights a week, make sure you leave work on time. Organise an event, such as taking your spouse out for dinner or seeing a film with a friend,” Cooper says. “This forces you to invest in important relationships.”

Consider trying the 30-day challenge (see Matt Cutts’ lecture, “Try something new for 30 days”, at www.ted.com). “Think of something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it for the next 30 days,” says Cutts, a Google software engineer. Whether it’s taking photographs, cycling to work or writing a book, commit to doing it every day, and when your 30 days are up, reflect on what you’ve achieved.

“I learned [that] instead of months flying by forgotten, the time was more memorable,” says Cutts, who blogs about his series of 30-day challenges (http://mattcutts.com/blog).


Take care of your body

When we throw ourselves into work, we usually neglect our health and assume that we can keep going for as long as we need to. The result is that we run ourselves into the ground and don’t have the energy to enjoy our free time.

Refuse to let your work routine compromise what your body needs – nutritious, regular meals, seven to eight hours of sleep, and exercise. Try to fit this in even when you are away on a trip. “Don’t have time to exercise for 30 minutes a day? Do three ten-minute bursts instead,” said Dr Mario Alonso Puig, a human intelligence lecturer, at Mélia Hotels and Resorts’ life management course in London in October 2011.

Consider workshifting

Contemplate whether you could work in a way that allows you to get your life back. Perhaps it’s not always necessary to travel across the world for a meeting, or even to go into the office. Workshifting is a term that describes how people choose to work remotely to achieve a more productive day – it means they cut out the commute and manage their time more efficiently. This, in turn, enables them to spend more time with their families (see www.workshifting.com).

Software company Citrix (www.citrix.com) offers collaborative technology that can supplement face time at the office, reducing the need to be there as often. Its “Go to My PC” package (US$10 per month) allows remote users to access documents, applications and email on their Mac or PC office desktop, while “Go to Meeting” (US$49 per month) is a high-definition video-conferencing tool that allows you to show colleagues your monitor for demonstrations.


Turn off technology

While technology can help to create flexible work options, it also has the potential to destroy your personal life. 

“‘Presenteeism’ is a term that describes coming to work early and staying late to show you’re committed,” Cooper says. “It’s common for ambitious people to do this, and to send emails from home at late hours and come into work when ill.” As technology evolves, presenteeism thrives. “Some 38 per cent of UK employees take business calls on holiday and 29 per cent have taken one while on the toilet or in the bathroom. What’s more, almost one in seven has picked up the work mobile while in bed with someone,” says Peter Gradwell, founder of Gradwell, an internet communications provider for small companies.

That point is echoed by a study commissioned by the Equal Opportunities and the Women’s Commission in Hong Kong named “Research on Family-friendly Employment Policies and Practices (FEPPs) in Hong Kong”, in which it says: “Some employers are now willing and able to reach employees 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ‘24/7’ access of this kind poses a threat in terms of distracting employees from attention to family matters, and it can be expected that the more time a person spends on the job, the more conflict there is likely to be between work and family.”

The study was done by Lingnan University in 2006, and since then, the use of smartphones has only grown. Don’t be a slave to your smartphone – make sure that “out of office” means out of bounds. “When I go on holiday I inform my key contacts and ask them not to expect me to take calls or answer emails. I give one colleague my login details to monitor for emergencies, which they can either deal with or contact me with,” says Gradwell.


Find time to do nothing

Tim Park’s latest book, Teach us to Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing (Harvill Secker; Kindle edition from www.amazon.com, US$11.99), tells of his ongoing battle with an undiagnosed medical condition: “Just when the medical profession had given up on me, and I on it, someone proposed a way out: ‘Sit still,’ they said, ‘and breathe’.”

He recounts how his high-pressured lifestyle affected his
body without him realising, and how it was only when he forced himself to relax through breathing exercises and meditation that he was able to find a solution. It’s an honest, contemplative read that highlights the importance of recognising the consequences of a hectic lifestyle, and taking action by doing less.

Stress busters

•          Bring nature into your workspace – having a fish tank in your eyeline has been known to reduce stress.

•          Cut back on caffeine – it increases your heart rate and makes you more susceptible to stress symptoms.

•          Focus on only one task at a time. This  improves efficiency and prevents mistakes.

•          Use your work breaks wisely – do something physically or mentally active so that you feel rewarded and renewed.

•          Accept that stress-induced negativity is a physical reaction, not a reflection of your ability.


Visit the International Stress Management Association website for more advice (www.isma.org.uk).

You are what you eat

Some 14 per cent of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific readers are on more than 41 flights a year, which means they rarely get a home-cooked meal. What are the health implications and what can they do about it? We asked Sally Poon, a registered dietician from the Hong Kong Nutrition Association. 

What are the health implications of the globetrotting diet?

Eating out and that’s a problem, since the food has three “highs” – high in sugar, high in fat and high in salt. This increases the risk of obesity, heart disease and hypertension. Travellers are likely to suffer from constipation and dehydration as they are not drinking enough water or exercising enough.

What can travellers do about it?

They should research their destinations to see if there are healthier alternatives. Hotels serve a range of international cuisines, so choose Asian dishes, with rice. Italian is also healthier with its pasta, and it has less fried food. When eating out, it is hard to control your sodium intake, but between a white sauce and a red sauce, choose the latter as it’s tomato based and better for you. White sauce has a lot of butter and cream. If ordering a pizza, choose one with more vegetables and avoid preserved meat, like salami, as it is high in fat. Eat fruit whenever possible – shop around near your hotel to see if there is a corner shop where you can buy fruit.

What other foods do you recommend?

Fresh meat – if it’s fresh, it’s better for you. Salmon or tuna fillet, a lean steak, with the fat removed. The leg and shoulder cuts are better. Avoid chicken wings, brisket and pork belly.

Chinese New Year is approaching – should we avoid the turnip cake?

It’s ok to have some high-fat food sometimes, at birthday celebrations, Christmas or Chinese New Year. And it’s okay to have a glass of wine, but just one, and don’t binge drink.

Should travellers avoid airline meals that are said to be high in sodium?

You can pre-order low-sodium, low-fat or cholesterol-free meals, but in general for healthy individuals I wouldn’t be bothered by one or two meals on flights. Don’t over-drink alcohol even when it’s free, as it can cause more water loss through frequent urinating. The best drink is water. Juices are energy-dense, as they contain natural sugar.

Can one ease jet lag through food?

It all has to do with melatonin, the chemical you need in your body to regulate your sleep. Darkness causes more production of melatonin and light reduces it. There is one ingredient that helps produce melatonin called tryptophan – it is a type of amino acid found in protein-rich food such as meat (especially turkey), milk and other dairy products, bananas and peanuts. They might help with the sleep but I must say it’s not magic.

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