Health Hacks: How to stay focused for longer in 2019

Do you find yourself exhausted by the time it hits 3pm? Do you lose focus, experience brain fog and can barely keep your eyes on the screen? There is no question that we should all have bountiful amounts of energy. If you regularly dip into that 3pm slump chances are you’re in need of some further investigation as to why you aren’t able to stay focussed. Here are a list of health hacks to keep you focused and energised for 2019! 

Focus on the right type of energy foods

Entrepreneurs and business people are busy. This hectic lifestyle can lead to poor habits which impact focus and productivity.

Not often does nutrition spring to mind when we think of optimising workplace performance. 

There is a strong link between productivity and nutrition. It is paramount for business professionals to fuel their success, optimise their concentration and productivity by building healthy foundation. The easiest way to do this is to consume a healthful diet that is consistently implemented each day. 

We rely on the food we eat to fuel every process in the body. The better the fuel, the better the output. Whether you realise it or not, your lunch time food choice can compromise an entire afternoons productivity. How could it possibly do that? 

Well, the energy we create is supplied by glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that is an important source of energy. Glucose is released into the bloodstream when we break food down, keeping us energised and alert. 

Slow releasing carbohydrate (vegetables, legumes) throughout the day will balance your glucose levels more steadily, providing you with a more sustained energy release – keeping you focused. Healthy fats also provide us with a more stabilised energy source. While fast releasing carbohydrate (baked goods, pasta, chips) creates a rapid spike in blood sugar followed by a significant dip or crash which can leave you feeling sluggish, tired and a lack of concentration. 

What makes a healthy desk diet? Include variety. Eat more fibre filled plant foods – plentiful amounts of vegetables (think colour and dark leafy greens). Include a serve of protein with each meal (chicken, oily fish, tofu, beans) and don’t be afraid to add healthy fats. Adding healthful fats such as avocado, coconut oil, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and nuts can boost brain productivity, regulate your energy and support hormonal balance. The key is being organised, planning and committed to give your body the fuel it needs to take your work, your health and your lifestyle to the next level. A good healthy plate visual is 70-80% of your plate vegetables, palm size of protein and x2 fingers worth of fat.

Remember to increase the nutrient density of your diet, adding more cruciferous vegetables, and all types of vegetables and fruit for that matter can be a good start. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower contain protective sulforaphane – a nice brain boosting addition. Adding mustard powder to these cruciferous foods can further boost their protective factor. 

Think outside the snack-box

You might know about the blood sugar roller coaster that can ensue if we eat junk food all day, or simply don’t eat enough healthy food to keep us going. If blood sugar drops too low and you find yourself ‘hangry’, this too can impact your work productivity. Keeping healthy snacks in the office is the best defence. What’s more, your need to snack will diminish if you’re nourishing yourself with healthy main meals that tick the macronutrient boxes. Although vending machines and cafe quick-snacks seem like the most time-efficient choice, these quick-grabs typically aren’t the healthiest option and diminish your brain power. Keep light easy snacks on hand – healthy homemade nut bars, trail mixes, a smoothie, bliss balls, leftovers, dip and cut raw vegetables or pre-make mini frittatas to slice up and keep in the office fridge. Don’t forget, adding heathy fats to your main meals throughout the day can make you less likely to crave and snack through the afternoon and evening. 

Hydrate 

Drinking enough water is a fundamental component of good health. Poor concentration, energy, mood and fatigue can all stem from poor cellular hydration. That is, ensuring water is getting into your cells. You can’t talk about energy and productivity without water – they are inseparable. Dehydration can cause nice plump cells to look like shrivelled sultanas, this can occur from poor hydration and diet choices, suboptimal electrolyte balance and underlying issues. Some common symptoms of dehydration include poor concentration, dry skin, headaches and low energy.

To maximise your hydration level, the cells need an electrolyte balance of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. Emphasise nutrient density in your diet to maximise your nutrition and overall hydration status. Fresh fruit and veggies (comprised primarily of water) count toward your hydration status too!

Drink pure water (filtered is best), herbal teas and bone broth all count towards your total hydration, infuse your water with fruit and vegetables to keep things interesting (cucumber, lemon, lime, berries, orange) and a roundabout aim for water per day is 33 millilitres of fluid per kilogram of body weight (70kg = around 2.3L). Individual differences and training will vary recommendations. As a general rule for adults, 2-3L is a good aim. 

Get up and move

Sitting for extended periods of time takes a toll on the body. When we are seated, we burn less fat and our brain receives less fresh oxygenated blood. As a result, productivity can seriously slump and less energy expenditure can lead to weight gain and poorer health outcomes. One of the most common outcomes of prolonged sitting is shoulder, neck and back pain resulting from a poor posture that can give someone a kyphotic (rounded and forward facing appearance). What can you do to keep focused and refreshed while at the desk?

  • Get up every 20 minutes (set a little reminder) to stretch, go for a quick walk. This keeps the energy expenditure up and boosts productivity. 
  • Position your screen at a height that reduces your head from tilting forward and down. 
  • Check in with your posture: sit upright with your back straight and shoulders pulled back and down. 
  • Consider a sit-stand desk. In one study, nearly 75 percent of those working at stand-desk workstation experienced less body discomfort
  • Encourage a walking group with a colleague at lunch time (this does wonders for a boost in energy throughout the day).

Take care of your gut garden 

Did you know that healing your gut can dramatically improve your energy levels? More energy means more focus and productivity, and realistically we should all have ample amounts of it! Our gut garden is the key to our overall health and wellness. It impacts how well we can handle stress, our day-to-day mood, it can be an underlying factor of fatigue, it can even be a cause of pesky brain-fog. 

I’m sure by now, most of you would have heard about the microbiome and the importance of good gut health. Our microbiome is home to trillions of bacteria – both good and bad, that is why it is so important to get this balance right and support the growth of healthful gut bacteria. 

Our digestion is intrinsically linked with our immune system, in fact 80% of our immune system is situated in our digestive system. Taking care of your digestion ultimately means a stronger immune system, and as a result fewer sick days and greater productivity. 

An interesting element to the gut picture is that if your gut is in need of healing, you may not be absorbing vitamins and minerals as well you could be. Nutrients are extremely important for a myriad of processes in the body – from brain chemicals, mood, energy, electrolyte balance and even optimal thyroid health and metabolism. Functional testing by a qualified practitioner can help get to the root cause of many digestive issues. 

On the topic of gut health and mood, having a healthy gut genuinely makes us happier. Over 90% of serotonin (the feel-good chemical) is located in our gut. As you can see our brain and gut are intrinsically linked. That’s going to have to do something amazing for our productivity and focus levels!? 

Prioritise sleep 

Sleep is THE most bang for your health hack.  

A poor nights sleep can do more than reduce productivity and focus the following day. Not getting enough sleep can make our hunger hormones a little crazy, blood sugar regulation can be compromised and creativity and concentration plummets. It is recommended that we get 7-8 hours sleep each night. 

Are you getting restorative sleep? Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the restorative part of our sleep cycle. With busy schedules, Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMF) exposure from electrical devices, and too much blue light activity before bed is significantly impacting good quality sleep. Improve your sleep-cycle with a few simple hacks.

  • Cut screen time out one hour before bed. Emitted blue light from devices can impact sleep quality. Research suggests EMF exposure before bed disrupts melatonin production, a powerful sleep inducer and antioxidant. 
  • Create a solid sleep-time ritual; essential oils such as lavender can be a great addition. 
  • invest in an old-school alarm clock, not your phone. 
  • Get enough safe, bright-light exposure throughout the day
  • Chamomile tea is an underrated sleep inducer.

Just breathe…

Focusing on your breath is one of the easiest ways to boost productivity. Mindfulness or simply being more aware of the present moment has been shown to improve three qualities of attention — stability, control and efficiency.

In other words, being more mindful at the desk can reduce a lot of stress, both physically and emotionally. Controlling breath helps regulate the fight-flight response.  We’ve all been there, trying to meet deadlines and our breath becomes more shallow and rapid. This shallow breathing reduces oxygen to the brain, we get tense and as a result boost stress levels. Focussing your attention on your breath, breathing deeply or “belly breathing” can reduce anxiety, stress and help you get your head back in the game. 

Throughout the article we have discussed several key elements that can contribute to greater focus, performance and productivity. To start implementing healthier habits, below are two recipes to get you started. The best thing about these recipes is that the ingredients have been put together to improve focus and energy. The Brain Booster Smoothie contains almond milk which is a great dairy-free addition to provide your with a hydration and protein hit. The addition of blueberries can help keep the brain active during an afternoon slump. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are added, this particular fat can assist energy and cognitive performance. Apart from adding a delicious flavour, raw cacao contains magnesium and antioxidants to help keep you focused. Spinach is nutrient dense and has a light flavour, a great starter to adding more greens to your smoothie. 

The Healthy Bliss ball recipe will be your go-to healthy sweet treat. It’s full of healthy fats to keep you full. Contains tahini which is a nice source of calcium and a great binder for making bliss balls. The added dates and rice malt syrup will curb your sweet cravings.  

Brain Booster Smoothie

Ingredients:

250ml almond, coconut milk or filtered water

1/2 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries (add a handful of ice if fresh blueberries are used) 

1/2 banana 

1 teaspoon MCT oil or 1 heaped tablespoon avocado 

1/2 cup spinach 

1 tablespoon of pre-soaked chia seeds 

1-2 scoops protein powder or an LSA (linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds) mix (1 heaped tablespoon)

2 teaspoons raw cacao 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Directions:

Mix ingredients in a high speed blender and enjoy 

Healthy Bliss Balls 

Ingredients:

1 cup desiccated coconut (if desired set aside extra for rolling)

1 tablespoon coconut oil (melt)

1 heaped tablespoon raw cacao 

3 heaped tablespoons tahini 

Pinch of salt 

2 dates (chopped)

1-2 tablespoons rice malt syrup 

Directions: 

Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl, roll into balls, roll into extra desiccated coconut,  refrigerate. 



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