“The sum of your habits determines your life span.”
– Eat Move Sleep, page 7
Thank you Tom Rath! Tom is one of the most influential authors of the last decade on the role of human behavior in business and economics. You may have read one of the 5 million copies of his international bestsellers including How Full is Your Bucket and StrengthsFinder 2.0. But Tom stepped away from all that – his ‘day job’ – to focus on helping us be healthier.
Why? Tom has been quietly managing a serious illness for over 20 years and has assembled a wide range of information on the impact of eating, moving and sleeping. He was tired of seeing his friends and loved ones die prematurely from preventable illnesses. In fact, he says, researchers have estimated that 90% of us could live to age 90 free of common diseases that make our final years miserable (and that part is key!) with some simple lifestyle choices.
I consider myself fairly health conscious. But I will be making lots of small changes as a result of reading Eat Move Sleep. Tom has done all the research that you and I wish we had time to do. And he shares the actions he took to create the habits that will make a difference. There are so many compelling ideas to help you make small choices that add up to big results. In this summary I share three ideas that most impacted me and the choices I will make.
The Big Idea
Sitting is the new smoking
"On a global level, inactivity now kills more people than smoking."
I have always exercised each morning. Rarely do I miss a day. And I felt pretty good about that… I benefitted from the improved mood, sleep, energy, and attitude that Tom also touts are the results from exercise. But what do I do after my hour exercise each day? Nothing! I sit at my desk!
Tom showed me the dangers of being sedentary after my hour in the morning.
Have you heard the expression “Sitting is the new smoking”? Sitting, Tom says, is the most underrated health threat of modern times. No matter how much you exercise, eat well and avoid smoking, excessive sitting will cause problems. Over the span of the last two decades, while exercise rates stayed the same, time spent sitting increased, and obesity rates doubled.
Being active throughout the day is what keeps you healthy. What am I going to do differently? To start, I am going to stand, stretch, and increase activity as much as possible. I ordered a ‘Fitbit’ so I can measure my movement, sleep and food intake. (Since measurement increases outcomes.) Wearing it for just one day, I already notice it inspires me to take extra steps – to raise my score. For example, I am now even more eager to walk my daughters to school, get up to refill my water glass, run up and down the stairs to use the washroom instead of the one near my office. (Okay, too much information?) I will now pace in my office while on phone meetings. I will brainstorm with colleagues or chat with friends while on the elliptical machine or walking.
By the way, if you think you don’t need to exercise because you are young or you don’t need to lose weight, Tom has some news for you. A fascinating study compared mice who started exercising at the equivalent of age 20 in human years with those who did not. The exercisers maintained full pelts of dark fur, kept their muscle mass and brain volume and had normal gonads and hearts. At one year, none of the mice that exercised had died from natural causes. In contrast, all of the non-exercisers had died before the one-year mark. Exercise simply alters the course of aging. Start now!
Every bite is a net gain or loss
"Sugar is the next nicotine."
Tom offers great tips and insights on food. Let me offer the two takeaways that stand out for me, in the form of stop and start.
Stop eating sugar. It is now clear that if you lower your sugar intake, you reduce the odds of cancer. Sugar fuels diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. To help me stop, instead of calling it sugar, I’m going to call it “candy for cancer cells”. Does that help deter you?
Knowing that sugar is addictive, I plan to reduce it slowly, over time. Last year when I first started asking for ‘half sweet’ in my beloved Chai Tea Latte, it took only a couple of weeks before the regular one (that they served me by mistake one day) seemed much too sweet. I’m now searching for other places I can reduce the sugar. I’m experimenting with alternative ‘treats’. We just tried chocolate avocado pudding yesterday. I will reduce the number of chocolate chips in our banana bread (just sprinkle a few on top). All the little things add up!
Start eating broccoli – daily! An apple a day may keep the doctor away and eating broccoli every day will do even more for your health! Eating broccoli can alter the way your genes are expressed, thus playing a powerful role in preventing everything from cancer to heart disease. No single food has amassed a body or research about its health benefits that rivals broccoli. Broccoli is a super food. 85% of Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Do you eat something green every day?
I will cut up veggies and put them at eye level in a clear container in the fridge. I will cook with steam more often. I will buy veggies conveniently washed and pre-cut in packages – ready to be nibbled. I even found a precut and mixed package of root vegetables for roasting (no excuses now!) I will make broccoli soup and freeze individual servings for quick lunches.
Lose weight while you sleep!
"Think of sleeping like being anesthetized for surgery. It allows your brain to do the difficult work with less pain."
Do you ever think that to get ahead or make a deadline, you will stay up an extra hour or two? You know, sacrifice your sleep to get more done?
Well, Tom shows us that one less hour of sleep does not equate to an extra hour of achievement or enjoyment. The opposite happens. One less hour of sleep decreases your well-being, productivity, health (increases blood pressure), and ability to think. AND…. If you sleep less, you eat more! You remember less and get sick more often. You look bad. In fact, research suggests that chronic sleep impairment is bad for your overall mental ability and akin to aging four to seven years.
Don’t you just dread the common cold you will inevitably get each year? What if there was a vaccination to prevent you from catching it? Well, Tom shows us evidence that a vaccination exists—in the form of a good night’s sleep. Participants who had less than 7 hours of sleep 14 days prior to being exposed to the rhinovirus were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold.
It’s 9:30 at night and as you sit with the remote control in hand you have a choice; watch one more show or turn it off and go to sleep. One study suggests that simply swapping an hour of television a day for sleep could result in a loss of more than 14 pounds a year! Now there’s a weight loss plan I’d sign up for! If that’s not enough, Tom refers to a study of 12,000 adults that estimates that every single hour spent watching television after the age of 25 decreases the viewer’s life expectancy by 22 minutes. Wow.
Top performers get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Think of an extra hour of sleep as a positive investment, not an expense. Resting maximizes achievement. What am I going to do differently? I am going to prioritize sleeping and encourage my family to do the same by being more diligent and consistent about our bedtime routine, which I am going to start earlier.
Act as if your life depends on each decision you make about eating, moving and sleeping. Because it does. In the comments section below, share one decision you will make today.
I thought his 30-day challenge at the end of his book with three small action steps for each day was an awesome tool to remind me of the decisions I can make. Then I discovered his free survey that results in your personalized plan complete with daily reminders! Awesome! What a great way to kick-start a healthier you; perfect for New Year’s resolutions, or just a new month.
And my first step in all of this – share these ideas with the people I care about. There, I just did.