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Performance Optimized: A Recap

Dr.GregWells.com –  https://drgregwells.com/blog/performance-optimized-a-recap

As we wrap up our Performance Optimized Series, we thought we’d dedicate this week to recapping all that we’ve learned over the past few months. Here are the main themes and take-aways:

Sleep

A few months ago we talked about the effectiveness of blue light filters for sleep. As you know, looking at screens (from phones, TV, computer, etc.) before bed is particularly bad as the blue light emitted from screens stops the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. Blue light filters, either through a built-in app on your phone or computer, or using specialized glasses, are one strategy for decreasing the amount of blue light that’s hitting your eyes. However, how effective these blue light filters/glasses are is unclear, and it can sometimes cause people to think they have a free pass to look at screens right up until they close their eyes. What we do know that’s effective is putting away devices one hour before you’d like to be asleep and creating a sleep routine that you can follow every night for a deep and restful sleep. We call this “Defending your Last Hour”.

One of the many benefits of sleep is its effect on the brain. Every night, neurons in your brain shrink in size to allow for cerebrospinal fluid to clean up all of the waste that has accumulated throughout the day. This cerebrospinal fluid wash is critical for repairing any damage, preparing the brain for the next day, and disposing of waste products, including β-amyloid, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The catch: this only happens while we sleep. So make sure you prioritize sleep to keep your brain squeaky clean! Sleep is also incredibly important for how well you think, learn, create, and problem solve. Throughout the night we cycle through deeper and lighter stages of sleep – and these different stages have different and important roles! Deep sleep is when we consolidate memories, while rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is important for problem solving and creativity. So in order to learn, create, problem solve, and perform at your best the next day, you need to make sure you’re getting 5 complete sleep cycles (about 7.5 hours for adults) to get the proper amount of deep and REM sleep.

Exercise

Over the past couple of months we’ve gone over the final two “F”s of Fitness: Fast (speed training) and Fit (aerobic training). Aerobic or endurance training is any sort of exercise in which you’re moving your body for an extended period of time. Typical endurance activities include jogging, cycling, hiking, swimming, rowing, etc. However, endurance activities also include household chores, cooking, walking a pet, or low-impact sports such as golf. If you’re new to exercise, aerobic exercise is the easiest way to start exercising and building endurance. This is because aerobic activities are usually low impact and often don’t require equipment. In fact, you can start by just increasing the length or intensity of an activity that you’re already doing. For example, take your daily walk up a notch by incorporating some speed walking or light jogging into it. Or replace one walk per week with a jog, bike ride, hike, or swim.

If you have a solid foundation or want to switch up your workouts, adding in some “fast” workouts is a great option. Running sprints, spin classes, circuit workouts, hills, stairs, and many team sports are all considered “fast” workouts. Simply – any workout in which you are varying the pace of your workout session. One of the reasons why interval training is so good for you is because it engages both your aerobic energy system and type I muscles, which are used for endurance, and anaerobic energy systems and type II muscles, which are used for power and speed. By engaging multiple energy systems and muscle fibre types at once, interval training is one of the most efficient ways to improve your overall fitness and health. What’s more, with this type of training, you can reap the benefits in a very short amount of time. So this is a great option if you struggle to fit exercise into your busy schedule!

Nutrition

We touched a lot on nutrition over the past few months. We discussed the importance of having a diet full of vegetables. Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help our bodies function properly, boost our immune system, and decrease our risk of developing most chronic diseases. They are also great sources of antioxidants that prevent and clean up damage to important biomolecules such as fatty acids, DNA, and proteins. They are also chock full of fibre and water, both incredibly important for health!

We also discussed the importance of nutrition for managing inflammation. While inflammation in itself isn’t bad, chronic inflammation can make us sick. Poor diet, stress, and other lifestyle factors such as smoking and low physical activity, has led to an epidemic of chronic inflammation and associated diseases. One of the ways we can manage chronic inflammation is with good nutrition. Four simple food guidelines to follow to manage inflammation are: 1. Replace sauce with spices, 2) Incorporate healthy fats into your diet, 3) Prioritize fruits and vegetables, and 4) Avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Just like fats, there are healthier and less healthy sources of carbohydrates. A couple weeks ago we discussed the difference between “simple” and “complex” carbohydrates, and how to incorporate more healthy carbohydrates into your diet.

Finally, we touched on optimal nutrition for exercise performance. We discussed what to eat before, during, and after exercise to make the most of your workout.

Recovery

A common pain point for our community members this year has been the blurry line between work and home life. In one of our recent newsletters we discussed the importance of bookending your days with activities that help to separate your work day from your personal time. We discussed how to craft a morning and evening routine you can follow every day to set yourself up for success during work hours, and rest and regeneration during your non-work hours.

Decision fatigue is a psychological concept that humans have a limited supply of cognitive load. The seemingly tiny decisions that we make all day (e.g. what to wear in the morning, what to eat for breakfast, what to write in an email, etc.) gradually deplete this limited reserve, leading us to make choices that are irrational or impulsive. When we are not giving ourselves the time to recover mentally, eventually our ability to make good decisions runs out. So even if we have the best intentions at the beginning of the day to take care of our health, at the end of the day, it’s easy to fall back onto old, unhealthy habits. Decision fatigue has been a major issue during the last year and a half, and in this newsletter we discussed how to recognize the cues and break the cycle so that you don’t fall into unhealthy habits.

Finally, we discussed the importance of recovery for physical and mental performance, and strategies you can use to determine if you’re recovering properly. You can simply take your resting heart rate in the morning, or you can measure your heart rate variability with our VIIVIO app or other wearable device.

Performance

We touched upon how practicing mindfulness can actually boost exercise performance by reducing psychological and physiological markers of stress. We also discussed how entering into a flow state can boost performance and flow hacks to help you get into this peak performance state more often. Finally, we discussed one of our main mantras to amplify your performance and make lifestyle changes that are sustained and lifelong: consistency.

Pick one or two lifestyle changes to focus on over the next few weeks and encourage your friends and family to do the same!