Mastering the art of slowing down

Stress might not kill you, but it sure can cause physical and mental issues that impact daily living.

So says the Stress in America Survey, conducted annually by the American Psychological Association (APA). It’s no wonder that so many people are seeking ways to de-stress and slow down the pace of their busy lives.

Books on regaining and maintaining balance in life fill brick-and-mortar and virtual bookstores. Zen Habits by Leo Baubata offers suggestions on “…finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives.” The author urges readers to focus on what’s really important in their lives.

Maintaining a peaceful life

Another book from Baubata concentrates on narrowing that focus to increase efficiency. The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life promotes “six principles of productivity: set limitations; choose the essential; simplify; focus; create habits; start small.” A proponent of making choices, Baubata writes, “The solution lies in setting limits to how much we consume and do. Imagine that you only do a few tasks, but they’re chosen so they have the most impact. You accomplish major goals without the stress of doing everything at once.”

And who better to offer advice on slowing down than Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? . Together with Joseph Bailey, Carlson penned another book that offers a blueprint for leading a life at a more deliberate pace.

Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How to Create a More Peaceful, Simpler Life from the Inside Out suggests that new technology and advances intended to provide more down time and relaxation have instead increased the expectations and pressures in the workplace and at home. The authors assert that technology devices have “…fostered a generation of multi-taskers and stress inducers.”

To reduce those pressures, Carlson and Bailey recommend “…slowing down from the inside out.” They offer some relatively easy habits to adopt. First of all, they invite readers to savor every moment in life and not take life so seriously. Also, try to live life in the present moment, not allowing others to exert a negative impact on you, they write. “When you slow down the speed of life, your perception of the world will change.”

Making time to unwind

Jeffrey D Berklich DC MPH DABCO, board certified chiropractic orthopedist and a chiropractic consultant with the ActivHealthCare network  in Alpharetta, GA, wears several professional hats and understands well the need to slow down. In addition to his chiropractic responsibilities, he holds the lead faculty/area chair position for Science and Math at the University of Phoenix (UoP), Atlanta Campus and is actively negotiating a new professional collaborative contract with a medical group practice

“If I don’t carve out time to unwind, I believe I would blow a gasket!” he says. “At the same time there is an excitement about juggling all of this that can’t be denied. This is a good stress, but it is stress nonetheless.”

But Berklich has found a way to achieve balance in his life. “Time will not find me nor will it give me any more of it. So I have to find and make time in advance. I do this by understanding what I need to do each day and what I would like to do. Need to do first, like to do second,” he emphasizes.

The practice, chiropractic consulting and UoP-area chair activities are need-to-do items, but so is routine relaxation, according to Berklich. “Sometimes it’s exercise, running, a little pick-up basketball or tennis, or maybe a little TV. Other times it’s just sitting down on a warm sunny day and feeling part of the world. Simple, but effective!” he says. “Also, I have found that the better my relationships are, the more effective everything else is. Cultivating positive family, friend and business relationships requires focused effort, but this is returned exponentially.”

Using a sports analogy, Berklich compares his jam-packed schedule to a workout. “The bottom line is that the cool down is as important as the run itself if you intend to do it day after day, and that’s why ‘relax and slow down’ has to be included as a routine part of the day,” he says.


Why 10,000 Steps?

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ve tried using any type of pedometer or smartphone-based activity tracking app over the past few years (or even if you’ve just flirted with the idea of buying one and done a little research), the number 10,000 probably has some meaning to you.  Why?  It’s the number of steps that many fitness fans (and some experts, too) say are necessary for an adult to stay healthy.  But what’s so special about the number 10,000?  And where did it actually come from?

In some ways, 10,000 is just an accident of history.  It’s like the number 8 when we’re talking about sleep or the number 2,000 when we’re talking about the daily calorie requirement of the “average” adult.  According to Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the history of the 10,000-step recommendation goes all the way back to the 1960s and a marketing campaign by pedometer manufacturers in Japan.  They used the name “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter” and the idea just stuck in the public consciousness.  Not very scientific…

10,000 steps isn’t the “official” guidance from the US public health establishment.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that Americans engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week to stay healthy.  For most people, that’s equal to somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 steps per day.  So the CDC doesn’t actually set the bar as high as 10,000 steps.  And it’s also true that this guidance doesn’t necessarily translate well to children, who tend to get their exercise in lots of different ways that may be more difficult to measure.

But all of this is NOT to say that then number 10,000 doesn’t make some sense, or that people who DO take 10,000 steps a day aren’t doing something very good for their health and well-being.  The average adult in the U.S. takes about 5,900 steps per day, so 10,000 steps (around 5 miles) is a pretty big jump.  Unless you have a very active lifestyle or do something physically demanding for a living, you probably won’t reach 10,000 steps on any given day without putting some thought and effort into it.  But it’s definitely worth it.  Large-scale research has documented real benefits in terms of preventing many chronic diseases.  One recent study by researchers at the Life Sciences Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that walking decreased high blood pressure risk by 7.2%, high cholesterol risk by 7%, diabetes risk by 12.3% and cardiovascular heart disease by 9.3%.* And the more someone walked, the greater the benefits were!

In terms of improving your own health, the key is simply to start doing more than you’re doing right now, whether that’s 5,000 steps, 10,000 steps or 15,000 steps.  Want to do something really good for yourself?  Get off the couch, turn off the TV and start walking.  You’ll be glad you did!



Willpower, Temptation and Your Wellness Goals

For many people, setting and achieving personal wellness goals can be a real struggle—particularly when it comes to diet, exercise and sleep. Changing longstanding lifestyle behaviors isn’t easy, but there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of building new, healthier habits.

Start with the basics.

  • Focus on one goal at a time rather than several.
  • Make sure your goal is important enough to you that you will be motivated to work at it.
  • Keep your goal specific and manageable.
  • Share your goal with a buddy.
  • Make a habit of success, not excuses and apologies.
  • Recognize when you’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

Recognize temptation when you see it. Then go the other way and don’t look back.

Recent research suggests that willpower may actually be a finite resource and that different people have different amounts at their disposal. Even more interestingly, the amount of self-discipline available to confront any particular situation seems to decrease with each new challenge until an individual’s “stock” of willpower is replenished. This means that one of the most important strategies for reaching your goals may be to proactively avoid situations that might reduce your stock of willpower and threaten your success.

According to researchers at Florida State University, individuals who exhibit good self-control often make decisions that are designed to help them avoid temptation or distraction in the first place. This is very different from overcoming them. They’re basically doing what they can to stay out trouble in the first place.

Acknowledge the WIFM factor.

A recent piece in the New York Times suggests that our ability to develop new habits that “stick” may ultimately hinge on the power of self-interest. An individual is far more likely to change behavior if he or she really wants to. Simply put, it’s about motivation. More specifically, it’s about how someone answers three questions (either consciously or subconsciously) when faced with temptation:

  1. How big is the reward (benefit) I’m expecting?
  2. How long will I have to wait to get the reward (benefit)?
  3. How certain am I about the answers to questions #1 and #2?

We call this a “What’s In It For Me?” or “WIFM” calculation. When the expected reward or benefit is large, near-term and certain, most people are fairly motivated. However, if there’s a lot of uncertainty around the size or timing of the expected reward, then most individuals are less willing to give up on immediate gratification.

Make your own goal part of a larger group effort and make a commitment.

Making your goal public isn’t about inviting peer pressure. Most people are naturally excited about the idea of being involved in something larger than themselves. This is the power behind some corporate and community wellness initiatives. The group itself can lend additional motivation or willpower when one of its members is struggling.

What about a more formal commitment? Would you “sign on the dotted line” and agree to be more physically active? Literally sign a contract?  For some, this type of commitment makes a difference. This is exactly what a group of Finish office workers did during a recent experiment reported in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. 24 subjects in their 30s all set very achievable goals to decrease periods of inactivity, both on the job and at home with their families. These goals were included in a written contract with the research team that each study participant signed. This intervention group received counseling about the health hazards associated with too much sitting, and their activity levels were measured using electronic monitors and daily diaries. Their levels of physical activity were then compared to pre-contract baselines and to those of a 24-person control group that was measured and monitored but had not received counseling and had not signed on the dotted line.

The result? Researchers found that—over the short-term—people who had received counseling and signed a contract DECREASED THEIR INACTIVE TIME by about 33 minutes per day and INCREASED LIGHT MUSCLE ACTIVITY by about 21 minutes per day. While the long-term effects of this type of “personal contract” are uncertain, even small improvements like these could add up!

Don’t give up!

Fortunately, it turns out that self-discipline is like a mental muscle—while it does require energy to use it, it actually gets stronger with repeated use. There are actually several specific things you can do to strengthen your self-control and get better at resisting temptations (if you can’t avoid them in the first place).

Laughter, powerful personal memories and positive thoughts seem to boost willpower. So does recognizing when you are getting caught up in the moment and are being distracted from your longer-term goals. Successfully controlling yourself in a series of smaller situations also seems to prepare you for larger ones later on.

Interestingly, there’s also a nutritional angle to all of this. It appears that exercising self-control requires glucose. Experiments have demonstrated that blood glucose levels actually drop when we’re asked to exert willpower. As those levels drop, so too does our ability to resist temptation.  And restoring glucose levels seems to replenish self-control.

As chiropractic physicians, we take a holistic view of wellness. We know based on research and clinical experience that healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent a wide range of chronic medical problems. Just call or visit our office today to learn more!