The ability to stay sharp in your professional life depends on how you regularly nourish the body and mind. Here are the key areas to focus on to keep your mental clarity and productivity in tip-top form.
BY: LINDSAY CHETELAT, RD, CDN
1. Food as fuel for productivity
There are several foods and food components that can help keep you mentally sharp throughout the workday. Cruciferous vegetables, Omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, and folic acid are all extremely crucial towards promoting brain health.
- Aim to include cruciferous vegetables and other nutrient dense vegetables on a daily basis, including: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, kale, collard greens, and brussels sprouts (to name a few!).
- When it comes to Omega-3 fatty acids, consumers are most familiar with fish oil supplements; but, what about all of the great food sources? Fatty fish, such as wild salmon and tuna, walnuts, chia seed, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and vegetable oils are ways to obtain omega-3 fatty acids through food rather than spending money on supplements.
- Flavonoids are plant compounds with antioxidant properties that can be found in blueberries, blackberries, cherries, citrus fruits, bananas, and dark chocolate.
- Folic acid is familiar to women of childbearing age as this is a component of prenatal vitamins focused on the prevention of neural tube defects in infants. The importance of folic acid goes well beyond fetal neural development and remains important throughout the duration of one’s life. Folic acid can be obtained from fortified breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, soybeans, lentils, dried beans and peas, dark green vegetables, and citrus fruits.
2. Catch your Z’s
Adequate sleep is extremely important when it comes to productivity. More and more research is beginning to highlight the relationship between sleep and patterns of food intake, energy expenditure, and nutrient utilization. Why is this important? This means that sleep has an effect on what you eat, how your body uses what you eat, and what you burn.
- Research studies have shown that people who sleep only 4-5 hours experienced an increase in ghrelin (a hunger stimulating hormone), a decrease in leptin (a hormone that makes you feel full), and an increase in reports of appetite and hunger, especially for higher-calorie foods. While more research is needed, it is important to note that inadequate sleep can be an obstacle in your weight loss journey.
- Sleep deprivation has been shown to affect hormone regulation, and therefore body composition. A reduction in insulin sensitivity, high evening cortisol levels, and high plasma free fatty acids have all been reported in those who are sleep deprived. These hormone abnormalities have deleterious effects on nutrient metabolism, long-term health, and weight status.
- This one is simple. Less sleep leads to increased lethargy, which ultimately leads to sedentary behavior. It has been shown that those who are sleep deprived participate in more low intensity physical activity and less high intensity physical activity, therefore impairing the ability to burn calories and subsequently lose weight.
Focus on getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each day this week as a challenge to yourself.
3. Get moving
Exercise has a multitude of health benefits, including the promotion of brain health. If you have something on your mind that is stressing you out, do you find that it takes twice as long to complete a normal work task because you are not entirely focused? Your mind is clouded and your productivity suffers. Participating in physical activity can help you de-stress, allowing you to focus on the task at hand in the office.
An article published in the Harvard Health Letter revealed that exercise stimulates growth factors that play a pivotal role in the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and the health and survival of brain cells. Studies have also shown a larger prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex (parts of the brain responsible for thinking and memory) in people who exercise. The study specifically showed that aerobic activity “appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.”
For desk-based office jobs, 2 hours per day of standing and light physical activity is recommended during the workday, and eventually transitioning to a total of 4 hours per day. Outside of the workday, focus on obtaining 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or 30 minutes per day. Your heart should be pumping more than your resting heart rate, but you should be able to hold light conversation.
HEADER IMAGE: BETHANY LEGG
Lindsay Chetelat, RD, CDN is a NYC-based Registered Dietitian who focuses on empowering individuals to take care of their bodies. Her approach is rooted in helping others gain an appreciation for their bodies through the food they take in, and creating a mindset that transformation is about the progress one is willing to make in their journey, not quick diet fixes.