Did you have a glass of water first thing this morning? I did because I learned that the brain needs to be hydrated to function at its best. Having a glass of water first thing provides my brain with the ‘fuel’ it needs. This is one of many simple, practical ideas suggested by Dr. Greg Wells in his book The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better.
The premise of the book, backed by numerous research studies and science is that sleeping, eating, moving and thinking are interconnected and by paying attention to all four, we can achieve high performance in all areas of our lives.
“Simply, the way to improve health, perform better, and unleash your potential lies in the magical combination of four elements:
We need to sleep soundly
We need to move more.
We need to eat smarter.
We need to think clearly.”
Wells believes that everyone can improve and the way to get started is to make sure we have dreams – that dreams are more powerful than goals. “Dreams are our deepest and most dearly held hopes and aspirations. Dreams capture our imagination…Dreams give us a flame in our hearts that ignites passion.” A compelling introduction to the book and a sample of the wisdom that is sprinkled throughout.
Wells does a masterful job of explaining the science behind the way the body and brain function in simple terms. His writing captures his own fascination and excitement about what is possible for people by making small, easy changes over time. Every few pages he offers a suggestion for making 1% micro-improvements, easily implementable ideas with an explanation of the value of doing so. Ideas like feeding our brains with a morning glass of water. His tone is encouraging and inviting.
The book is divided into four sections, one for each element – sleeping, eating, moving and thinking. Along with a detailed discussion of the importance of each of these factors, Wells provides seven key ideas for making improvements in each area. He begins with sleep because it is foundational to optimal health and performance. Below I describe four ideas that resonated with me (among many) and that I have incorporated into my daily routine.
SLEEP: Protect your last hour. Wells explains the importance of decompressing and preparing ourselves to have a restorative and sound night’s sleep of 7-8 hours by calming down during the hour before sleep. We need to lower our cortisol levels, an active hormone that helps us deal with stress but inhibits adaptive processes. Wells suggests that we set an alarm for one hour before bedtime and be mindful of our activities during this hour. Not surprisingly, he wants us to shut off electronic devices ideally 2 hours before sleep! Read an enjoyable book or magazine – a physical book not an e-reader – to calm your mind and activate the part of your brain that helps you fall asleep. I love reading so this idea naturally appealed to me. It also gives me ‘permission’ to shut off my devices. I know I’ll be able to deal with whatever requires my attention much better after a good night’s sleep.
MOVE: Combine meditation and exercise. Movement has been a daily practice for me for many years. I love being outside and I’m able to get myself out there at any time of the year by participating in seasonal activities I enjoy. I also meditate, sporadically – I haven’t quite gotten to a daily practice ….yet. Wells emphasizes the value of the combo of exercise and meditation. By strengthening the body and the mind together we build our resiliency and ability to overcome adversity. As the yogis say, moving into stillness. As little as 5-10 minutes of meditation a day is needed to develop a fit mind to go with your fit body. A worthy investment for peace of mind.
EAT: Choose nutrient dense foods over energy dense foods. Food is fuel and not all food is equal in terms of nutrients and health benefits. The distinction of nutrition versus calories provides a frame for making healthy food choices. I was recently asked about food preferences for a networking event I was attending. I eat mostly a plant based diet and the planned menu for the event was meat. The organizer told me the vegetarian dish was mushroom risotto and wondered if that was ok. I knew the woman organizing the event so I felt comfortable telling her no that risotto is fat and white carbs and I preferred not to eat it. I subsequently learned that the meal was being served buffet style and so I told her that I’d be able to find food to eat off the buffet. Sounds picky doesn’t it? Yes, I suppose it is. What I was requesting, in not very eloquent terms, was a nutrient dense meal, not just a lot of unhealthy calories. Speaking up about my food choices is a way of making other people aware of their food choices. Using the terminology Wells offers provides context to use when communicating about my food choices and perhaps incentive for others to be mindful of their choices too.
Think: Meditate to prevent cancer. Recent research shows that immune-system cells can target and destroy tumour and other cancer cells. A suppressed immune system resulting from stress can increase the incidence of cancer. We can influence our immune system by controlling how we respond to stress. Practices such as meditation, mindfulness, how we breathe and spending time in nature have been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is calming. Meditation as preventative medicine is well worth the investment of time with an added bonus of feeling better too!
I’ve provided an overview of four out of hundreds of pieces of information and ideas contained in The Ripple Effect. You can open the book to any page and find a nugget of wisdom, an inspirational quote, an intriguing research study, a simple scientific explanation or an idea for a 1% micro-improvement. Paying attention to the combination of our sleeping, moving, eating and thinking habits will help us realize our dreams. I know we all have more in us! Greg Wells believes this too. Let the ripples wash over you as you dream about what’s possible for you.