Host: Welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast, where we talk to wellness professionals from around the world to gain their insights into healthier living. I’m your host, Wes Malik. Today's guest is Steven Howard. He's an award-winning author of 20 leadership, marketing, and management books, and the editor of nine professional and personal development books in the ‘Project You' series. He specializes in creating and delivering leadership development programs for frontline leaders, mid-level leaders, supervisors, and high potential leaders. In the past 25 years, he's trained over 10,000 leaders in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, and North America. In his latest book, Better Decisions. Better Thinking. Better Outcomes. Steven Howard shares a range of strategies that help with issues such as mental wellness. He's been studying Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease for a while now and that's what we'll be talking to him about. So let's welcome him to the show. Steven, welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast. How are you doing today?
Steven: Thank you, Wes. I’m doing very well. I’m pleased to join you this morning.
Host: I am too and I am looking forward to a good healthy conversation about the issues you have been researching and talking about and writing about for many years. So let me start off with an opening question. Why should we be worried about mental wellness issues?
Steven: Current estimates call for a 67% increase in Alzheimer's, Dementia, and stroke in this country, which means by the year, and that’s in this decade, so by the year 2030 there will be over 10 million Americans suffering from these kinds of illnesses, and then 76 million people worldwide is the projection. These were before the pandemic, and I can guarantee you that the stress of the lockdown situations around the world is only going to increase those numbers.
Host: So why…Pre-pandemic and post-pandemic why are mental wellness issues on the rise? What is the cause of this?
Steven: Science has been not approved in the last 10 or 15 years because of the imaging that it, particularly Alzheimer's, is more of a lifestyle disease than a hereditary disease than DNA. There is a DNA component to it from some aspects, but many scientists and doctors are now calling Alzheimer's, Diabetes type III. It's based on our lifestyle. It's the… The brain is the biggest user of blood and oxygen in our system and obviously, if we’re overweight or if we have, you know, have high blood pressure issues or things like that, we’re impacting or impeding the flow of blood to our brains and this is what's causing Alzheimer's and Dementia.
Host: So this is something that can be prevented?
Steven: Slow down, I'm not sure preventing, in honesty based on the research I've done. I think you know, and partly is also the longer we live. I mean we start living in our 80s and 90s. I think, you know, the brain is going to age, it is going to wear down a bit. We can certainly slow it down. We can again not prevent it, but maybe postpone it a little bit into the future if we start looking after brain health today.
Host: Alright. So, let's talk about Alzheimer's and Dementia. If you could kindly define what it is that would be a great basis for the next questions I have.
Steven: Okay well they're both, they’re both brain diseases. Alzheimer's is a type of Dementia from a purely definite standpoint. So it has to do with the loss of memory, loss of cognitive functionality. So, it's not just a memory loss, it’s also the inability to process. And most importantly, Dementia, it's the inability to focus. That’s one of the key signs of Dementia, when you can't stay focused on a subject or a conversation.
Host: I see. And are there any other mental wellness issues related to Alzheimer's and Dementia that we should know about?
Steven: Well the cost issue of it. I mean, my father had early Alzheimer's before he passed away and I can tell you that the financial cost and the emotional cost of caring for an aged parent going through that are just tremendous and horrendous. I should say, quite frankly. So there's a huge societal cost that we’re going to be facing typically in North America because of our lifestyles.
Host: So what are the contributing factors to an increase in Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease in the US and of course across the world?
Steven: Obesity is probably the number one factor.
Steven: Yes. Obesity in midlife actually accelerates the brain age by about 10 years. So if you've got a, say, a 55-year-old person who is overweight and compared a 55-year-old person who is not overweight. The overweight person's brain is like 63, 65 years old in terms of aging. And, you know, sugar, soft drinks, diet sodas, they speed up brain aging, they reduce brain volume. They also shrink the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls thinking and cognitive functions. So, yes. Abdominal fat is probably one of the most important ones. As a matter of fact, I don’t know about you but I wish I'd known this earlier in my life. Men who pack on the most abdominal fat in their 40s are the most likely to develop Dementia in their lives.
Host: Oh boy.
Host: That sounds like…You scared me, Steven. (laughing) It sounds like scary stuff and I'm sure it is because it's not something to be taken very lightly. Now, along with obesity, are there any other things that contribute, I don’t know, stress. Are other things in our lifestyle that affect Dementia?
Steven: Yes, smoking obviously.
Steven: Not exercising regularly, high blood pressure again, because it slows down the blood flow to the brain. Just basically anything that’s bad for the heart, it’s bad for the brain. High cholesterol, high blood sugar, and the ones I just got rattled off that came from a study from the University of Bordeaux in France of over 6000 participants aged 65+. So that's what they identified as the key Dementia risk factors.
Host: I see. Now in the 80's smoking was rampant. You could smoke on a plane. You know, you could smoke anywhere indoors, outdoors. But now, you know, the public has become aware of the pitfalls of smoking. It’s reduced quite a bit. I know several people who smoke, maybe three or four in my social circle, out of the hundreds or maybe even thousands of people I know. You think that you know we beat this in the Americas, at least, but it’s still a problem, I guess.
Steven: I think it is. I think that will be one aspect of it, but I think again we go back to, probably obesity is the number one. And so, yes. I think the good news is smoking has been reduced dramatically, but again it hasn’t been eliminated and unfortunately this trend towards vaping. Now, there hasn’t been enough research correlating vaping with Alzheimer's or Dementia yet, but there's been a lot of other research about vaping and heart disease and stuff like that. So, you would think that the trend towards vaping is going to negate some of the benefits of the reduction in smoking.
Host: You would think that you know, it is actually branded as an alternative to smoking, safer alternative. And I say “safer” but many young people, even middle-aged people, have developed lung issues because the oil that's used in vaping, the flavors that are put in might contain Vitamin E and they destroy literally, physically, destroy your lungs inside where you are not able to breathe at all. In some cases, a lung transplant has been done. I tried vaping for a little bit just to see what it was about. And I am a voice actor and I’m a voice artist. It literally decreased the number of sentences I could speak in one breath. I could tell. I could…It was an immediate effect and aftereffect of vaping. So after, I think one pen, I was like, “Whoop! This is not something that is good for you”. And those studies are right. There are a lot of bad effects of vaping.
Steven: I would think so and, you know, the fact that some, yes, it is safer than smoking probably, but that doesn't mean it’s safe.
Host: No, it’s not. (laughing)
Steven: You know, drunk driving and speeding are dangerous. If you stop speeding, drunk driving is still dangerous. (laughing)
Host: It is.
Steven: It's safer than it, I guess, but, yes, there's no doubt about that. But also don't forget, Wes, I mean and it’s crazy how things have changed. You go back to the 20s, 1920s, I think their advertisements out there are about doctors recommending smoking and how it reduces whatever… so.
Host: Yes. Yes (laughing)
Steven: That was just about 100 years ago, where we had medical professionals recommend smoking. So I'm sure vaping is going to go in the same fashion.
Host: In the same way.
Host: We learn more and more things about our lifestyles and what we adopt. For example, you spoke about sugar being contributing to an effect on the brain and the hippocampus. So a person like me would say well, you know, “The next time I grab a case of Coca-Cola or Pepsi, I’ll just go and get the diet or, you know, the Coke free or whatever it's called”. But those come with their own issues of, you know, aspartame and different health risks and different health issues. I mean, you might be eliminating sugar, but you’re adding other chemicals to your body which have other adverse effects.
Steven: And in the study that I referenced in the book, diet sodas were included in that study. So, sugar soft drinks, all of them are connected with speeding up brain aging. Yes, absolutely.
Host: Okay. So it’s not just the sugary drinks. It's just carbonated…
Host: … any kind will speed up Alzheimer's and Dementia.
Steven: Yes. Because as you say, if you take out the sugar you put something else into it and that's not good for our system. I mean, look, I used to drink probably 5 to 6 cans of Coca-Cola a day until I started doing this study. And I was also, you know before I did this research, I was probably 30 lbs. heavier than I am today. Well, I cut out sugar completely. I don't put sugar in my coffee anymore, I got rid of all the cokes and the Diet Cokes out of my refrigerator. And then I started exercising and, you know, basic walking and things like that and swimming. And I reduced my weight and not surprisingly, my blood pressure dropped from, you know, I was probably averaging 160/90 and today I'm more around 115/70 to 75, basically just depends on the day.
Host: Did you see these results right away or was there a couple of months or a year that passed before you started seeing an improvement?
Steven: I saw improvement, probably within the first month, and then I saw the big, you know, basically 2 to 3 months. Yes. I mean, I lost I think 14 lbs. in the first month, so that was half of the months.
Host: Wow! That’s incredible.
Steven: Yes, it was. But, you know, I just made a decision and this is one of those things you have to be dedicated to it. I actually went on to one of these meal replacement programs with me approaching bars and stuff like that. You know, you have five of those a day plus one meal but I had to do it every day and I just had to say, “Okay, I’m not going out to restaurants”. Fortunately, I'm single. I live alone so I don’t have many of the temptations that people have, like around family meals and stuff of that nature. And, yes. It was a lifestyle change, but I certainly feel a lot healthier, a lot more mentally acute.
Host: That's fantastic. Steven, why did you decide to study this and when did this happen?
Steven: Well, I guess it is about 3 ½ years ago. I was living overseas. I was living in Australia at the time my father started having some health issues so I came back to look after him and I realized that he had heart issues, but he also had some early Alzheimer's. And then after he passed, mainly for selfish reasons because like I said, I don’t want to live my final years in cognitive decline. I've got no one to look after me. So as I did the research, I learned that a lot of the new neural scientific studies show that neural plasticity, which is the ability to grow neural connectivity within the brain continues well into our 70s. And when I was in high school, I mean I was taught that our brain stops growing around age 25, and that's not true. We can continue to grow brain cells into our 70s, probably into our 80s. There just haven't been enough 80-year-olds around for scientists to study. So that's how I got into it. And then because I teach leadership programs and I was talking with business leaders, business owners, and corporate executives and telling them about the importance of brain health and they all said, “I’ll worry about that when I retire”.
Host: Right. (laughing)
Steven: I started doing research and showed that these issues with the brain impact our decision-making. So then I went back to the same corporate leaders I said, “You realize that what's happening is it’s impacting your decision-making, which is impacting your bottom line” and they all said, “Come on in and sit down. Let's talk”. And so that's what I wrote the book about that, you know, understanding how to make better decisions and how to take care of your brain health, both short-term and long-term, so that you can make better decisions and practically better business decisions.
Host: So, how can we take care of our mental health, our brains, and make better decisions?
Steven: Well, it's just the opposite of what we just talked about, quite honestly.
Steven: You know, walking, going outdoors. Going outdoors, I’ll quote one research project… just walking outside and getting some fresh air can lead to a 75% uptick in creative ideation, in other words, generating new ideas. You know, we’re not suggesting that people run marathons or half marathons or, you know, hit the gym five times a week. Basically 20 to 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise will prove overall cognitive function. It’ll happen pretty quickly.
Steven: Yes. One research study showed that older people, which they defined as 60+, who exercise roughly, I think it was 40 minutes, just three times a week for 40 minutes show significant cognitive advantages compared to those who don't. So even in your 60's or 70's if you just, you know, 40 minutes of some kind of aerobic walking, swimming, you know, whatever. If you want to jog or if you’re fit enough to jog or play tennis or whatever, it's all you require. The other is quality sleep, resets the buildup of synaptic connectivity and most people do not get quality sleep. And so it's not the amount of sleep you get, it's the quality of the sleep you get, which will help your brain as well.
Host: Why is the quality of our sleep poor?
Steven: I think because we're stressed. We wake up, we toss and turn. Too many people have their mobile phones next to their bed and they wake up and they turn it on or they look to see if there are any messages. I don’t think people get sufficient sleep. They don't get enough sleep and the sleep that they are getting is probably not qualified enough.
Host: It's surprising because you're in California and I'm in Toronto in Ontario, and the populations of where you are and I am and you lived in Australia as well, they’re very outdoorsy people. And you would think that, you know, in North America with such beautiful vistas. Everywhere you go in North America, the great outdoors is accessible to pretty much every state. You know and there are beautiful places across North America. Why don't people get out as much as they should?
Steven: I wish I had the…If I had the answer I’d be a millionaire and I’ll be outdoors all the time. (laughing) I would suggest it’s stress. Interestingly, workplace stress is now the number one stress factor in people’s lives. It used to be, if you go back, I think, say 20 years ago, the top two stress factors were monetary concerns and family relationships. Whether that was with your own parents, with your spouse, with your children. Those were the main, but today it's workplace stress. As a matter of fact, the American Psychological Association called Generation X the most stressed generation in history.
Host: That’s me. (laughing)
Steven: Yes, so congratulations.
Host: Thank you. Thank you very much (laughing) I honestly don't feel, I don't feel stressed at all. I am part of Generation X. I get very restful sleep and just like you said I get outdoors a lot. I look at my kids and they love spending time indoors. No, they go outdoors as well, but I've got to nudge them and, you know, urge them, prompt them, maybe sometimes even yell at them, “Go outside. Enjoy the sun, enjoy the fresh air a little bit. Get off your phone.”, like a typical dad.
Steven: Well, you know, that’s the other thing people don't realize is that sitting too long, sitting too long thins out the brain. That came from a research study here in California, UCLA. So, you know, for people who work in offices or when they do work in the office or people sitting at home all day working today remotely, you sit around all day on your computer screen on the Zoom meetings or conference calls and then, what do you do to chill out? You sit in front of the TV. (laughing) So, for instance, and again pre-pandemic when I was in the classroom training people, I changed my program so that every 50 minutes or so I had people getting up, walking around, going to flip charts, no more just table discussions. Sometimes I get people up to have discussions at the whiteboard or the flip charts. I make sure that people move and no more sitting around for 2 1/2 hours and having a coffee break and coming back for another two hours and then going to lunch.
That's not good.
Host: What do you think about standing desks and standing at work?
Steven: I think it’s a good idea. I think like anything else, you go to the extreme. I think if you stand all day you’ll be tired, what else? (laughing) I would suggest some kind of a healthy mixture.
Steven: Yes, exactly. Like most things in life, moderation is the key.
Host: I did not know that sitting would affect my mental health. Yes, okay. You know, you sit down and your belly comes out, you keep sitting in, you don’t get exercise, it affects the body. I did not know it affects the mind as well.
Steven: Well, it affects the brain, but again it goes back to that same thing. If you're sitting, how is your blood circulating? If you're sitting upright, you know, it takes more effort to pump that blood to your brain. And therefore, you know, again if you have cholesterol or artery problems or health issues, or I’m sorry, heart issues it’s going to make it harder to pump the blood into your brain. And so, this again reduces the neural plasticity, opportunity for your brain, and then as the UCLA research shows, it actually results in a thinner layer of a brain matter, particularly the white matter in the brain.
Host: That is excellent and very useful information and that is good to know. And if we want to make a small change in our lifestyle, we can maybe take a break hourly. And during the pandemic, you're absolutely right. Most of us, many of us have the ability to work from home. Working from home presents its own challenges. It can be a little bit more stressful. In some cases, it can be easier, depending on, you know, how you structure your day. You could have the ability to be a little, have a little bit more freedom because you don’t have somebody breathing down your neck or you're not in the office where everyone can see you so you could, I don’t know, take a 15-minute exercise break even go out and jog or go in your backyard or something.
Steven: Absolutely, yes. And what’s interesting and people should be doing this when they work from home. What I would always find very interesting is that when we're tired, you say that thing about being in the workplace. If we’re tired we’ll say this like, “I'm tired. I want to go home and take a nap or I need a rest or something”. Physical tiredness is acceptable, but if you tell your coworkers, “You know what, my brain is dead. My brain is fatigued. I’m going to sit at my desk and close my eyes for 10 minutes”. People look at you like, “Are you okay? Do you have a mental health issue?” And the problem is when our brain gets overloaded, it’s like a car engine that gets stressed and blows a gasket. If we don't take care of our brain during the day, we make very bad decisions. Research shows that leaders make worse decisions in the late afternoons than they do in the morning. And that's simply because they've been making decisions all day long, little decisions, big decisions. We make thousands of decisions a day, mostly subconsciously. I mean, you put on your right shoe first or your left shoe first, you know, that sort of thing. Like where do I put my keys? A lot of unconscious decisions. Our brain is working all day long. Well, at the end of the day or towards the end of the day our brain is tired and we need to give our, well exactly what you said, I tell people, “You know, 3 o'clock in the afternoon you should go outside just for 10 minutes”. Even if you don't walk, go outside. If it's warm enough get some sun on your face, feel the wind across your arms. Just breathe in that fresh air, look at the trees blowing, see if there's any birds fluttering around, or any other animals. Just take your mind off everything and just enjoy Mother…Mother Nature's probably the best doctor in the world, but we don't use it enough.
Host: That’s absolutely right. There's a sense of calmness and relaxation when you're with nature. It's very cathartic and very pleasing and it does have an effect. Just, you know, going out and seeing something beautiful can calm you down, reduce stress.
Steven: Sorry to interrupt you but the other factor, particularly your generation and the generation after yours is, you tend to multitask. And Stafford University did a research study that basically showed people who multitask regularly on a daily basis – they're not very effective when they multitask and they're not very effective when they don't multitask. And even worse, they set themselves up. They're training their brain not to focus. And again as I said earlier, the inability to focus is one of the leading indicators of Dementia. So your generation and the subsequent generation is setting itself up for some long-term societal issues with Dementia because when you basically, you and your children if they’re multitasking, are training the brain not to focus and that's not good.
Host: It is not good. We had a discussion with other health experts and they said just the simple act of eating has changed. Now, sometimes people bring their devices to the dinner table, or sometimes they don't even go to a dinner table at all. They’ll be sitting on the couch, eating while walking around, while working at a computer maybe even. And we had one health professional I like to repeat that said, even the simple act of eating, you should be focusing on eating so that your brain knows what kind of food is going into your stomach and then you're not hungry later”.
Host: So what you're saying is exactly the same thing. The focus needs to be there on many of our activities day-to-day, work especially.
Steven: That and then all these little notifications and beeps we get from our electronic devices. You know, after this research study, one thing I started doing, because when I write, I write in usually about 3 to 3 1/2 hour segments, but I get up every 15 minutes. As I said before, to walk around, make a fresh cup of coffee. I put my phone on airplane mode now for the entire 3, 3 1/2 hours because what happens, well here’s what happens. If I was to look at my messages, say while I’m boiling the pot of water for the coffee, boiling the kettle. Now I’m looking at my messages, my brain is now thinking about those messages and then when I go back to write it takes, when you get interrupted, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to refocus. By keeping my phone on airplane mode, even subconsciously, I’m not thinking about while I'm downstairs making my coffee and my brain saying about, “What's my next paragraph? How do I lead into the next chapter? What did I just write that makes sense?” So the brain is still focusing and working subconsciously on my writing because I don't allow it to be interrupted, I'm not multitasking.
Host: You’ve written many books. What are you working on these days?
Steven: Well, I just published a new book a couple of months ago. I took the book on decision-making, which is based on leaders. And because of the pandemic, I created a new book for everybody, for the general public, so I took out a lot of the leadership stuff. It's called, How Stress and Anxiety Impact Your Decision Making. And so, I didn't focus much on brain health and that. I made it more general and really just focused on techniques for reducing stress, techniques for overcoming stress, techniques for… My basic message is we need to learn how to respond, not react to situations, to events, and people, particularly in this pandemic. You see what's happening across the United States and particularly, you know, people just going crazy in storage, if somebody's wearing a mask, somebody criticizing them, somebody is not wearing a mask, somebody criticizing them. We see fights breaking out. We've also seen the unfortunate side effects of the lockdown increase, binge eating, increased alcohol abuse, and even worse, increased domestic abuse and domestic violence. And the reason for that is prolonged stress and everyone's going through prolonged stress right now. It causes degeneration in the area of the brain that is responsible for self-control.
Host: Oh, okay.
Steven: And that's what I try to get across in this book. To understand this and understand that it's part of our brain, it’s just part of our anatomy. So if we don't manage our stress levels now and going forward in this pandemic or even when we go back, people can be going back in the workplace with all this built up prolonged stress. And the brain just biologically, the part of the brain that controls self-control, is going to be weakened. And so we’re going to start seeing is when people do go back to the workplace, we’re going to see more emotional outbursts, probably more workplace violence going forward.
Steven: And that's why I wrote the book. I mean, so people can learn how to control their stress, control their anxiety, understand how that impacts their decision-making and how it impacts their emotional outbursts.
Host: So, I know stress causes anger, frustration- these things all are pretty much combined. How should I go about it? I see two ways. Do I bury it deep down inside and try to be very, very Zen? Or should I release it through, I don't know, going a couple rounds with the punching bag or doing some martial arts or something? Do I release it or do I subdue it?
Steven: A combination of the two, Wes. Well, the first thing to do is pause and do what I call ‘have a purposeful pause' or do ‘purposeful breathing'. The Navy SEALs, and I don't know anybody that has a job more stressful than a Navy SEAL, they do a technique called box breathing. And they do it for five minutes or so before they go into a situation that’s going to be highly stressful. I do it myself. I do it for two or three minutes. I do it before boarding an airplane because flying these days is highly stressful. Box breathing is very simple. You breathe in deeply fill, from the abdomen, filling your lungs and for five seconds just big breath for five seconds. You hold it for five seconds and then do a huge exhale. Exhale more than you normally would and then hold that exhale for five seconds. And I do it, I do it in eight seconds because like I said, I do it for two or three minutes. Before I’m boarding an airplane I’ll be standing in line at the airport, I just look out the tarmac and I breathe in, and no one’s paying attention to me. I’ll hold it and I just, you know, my gaze is looking at some worker, you know, the guys with those little flashlights, out here with their flags waving the plane around. I’ll hold it for eight seconds, then a big exhale, and then hold the exhale for eight seconds and nobody knows. You can do this anywhere. The other technique that I recommend particularly in the workplace and encourage your listeners to do this right now is clench your fists as tight as you can…
Steven: …for like five seconds. And then literally throw them out in front of you like you're throwing a basketball, like passing a basketball. So you throw them out, you open them wide open and you do it again. You clench your fists and you throw it out. And you do this for about a minute, you'll start to feel the stress in your shoulders releasing. Now people said, “I can't do that in the workplace”. I said, “Sure, yes you can”. You’re in a conference room, put your hands under the table, nobody knows what you're doing. Just clench your fists and then just throw your fist down towards the floor or your fingers down towards the floor. And you do that and your body just automatically reduces the tension. Because you can feel tension and stress in your neck, your shoulders, your lower back, sometimes in your legs and this is just a way to reduce that stress. I use it before Iget up and go outside. (laughing)
Host: Thank you for introducing me to that technique. I’m going to try it and I think our listeners should try it, too. It sounds very interesting. And if you're saying it works, I’m pretty sure that it does work.
Steven: It does.
Host: Now there are…You have also written about and your book Better Decisions. Better Thinking. Better Outcomes. I believe this is the book that has a section on brain myths. What are the brain myths you were surprised to discover in your research?
Steven: Oh, I love that. Thank you. Well, I mentioned one earlier. The myth that our brain stops growing at age 25. It does not. We continue to create new brain cells if we live a healthy lifestyle well into our 70s. The myth that some of us are left-brained and right-brained. No, we use both parts of our brain, usually in conjunction with each other. So, for instance, when we were listening like I'm listening to you, it's my right brain that’s hearing the words, but it's the left of my brain that's putting into context and understanding it. So I'm using both sides of my brain just in listening to you. And then go back to the sleep one, and this shocked me, quite honestly. When we’ve been awake for 17 hours nonstop, our brain starts operating as if we have a blood alcohol content of 0.05.
Host: Oh, okay.
Steven: Yes, which is I think in Canada that's illegal and I'm not sure. In Australia that was the legal limit for driving. In the United States, it’s 0.08.
Steven: Yes, so I’m not sure about Canada but in Europe, it's also 0.05. When we’ve been awake for 24 hours or more, our brain is effectively operating as if we have a blood alcohol content of 0.10.
Steven: Yes. So this is why it scared me. Not only did I live in Australia, but I also lived in Singapore for 21 years, and I would fly back to the United States, you know, these long 17, 20-hour flights with connections. And then I had to land in a town and get a rental car and drive two or three hours, say if I go to my father's house. I'd be awake for 35, 36 hours. I won't do that anymore. Now that I realize the danger I put myself and other people, and I'm very fortunate that nothing ever happened. But this is why here in the United States, sleep or driving when sleeping is, I think is the first or second cause of car accidents.
Host: You fall asleep at the wheel, yes.
Steven: Yes, falling asleep or just being, you know, mentally not being aware enough and hitting a pedestrian because you don't have enough reaction time. And again I’ve been telling leaders, particularly about safety in the workplace. Like I do a lot of work in the oil and gas industry, and when they do turnarounds, I mean, they've got people working back to back shifts. Doctors and nurses are working back to back 12-hour shifts. That's great. This is one reason that there are so many mistakes made in hospitals, because our doctors and nurses are tired. They’re going to make mistakes. They can't help their brain. Our brain can only operate at a certain level for so long, and we push it and we shouldn't push it. So those are three of the biggest myths that I came up with. The one about sleep deprivation really scared me.
Host: That's also again very interesting. We don't think about sleep deprivation or the interval that we should have in between our rest or our sleep. What should it be normally?
Steven: I think we’re all different. Look, I operate with 5 ½ hours of sleep, but I’ve done that all my life. I think most people, you know, most medical professionals are saying 7, 7 ½ hours. Now, when I say I do have 5 ½ hours, I also take a 20 to 30-minute power nap most afternoons, and so that's also good. I also meditate, maybe every other day for 20 or 30 minutes. All of this is giving my brain a rest, so I don't personally get it in one stretch of 7 ½ hours, but I think probably during the course of most 24-hour periods, I give my brain, you know, 6 ½ to 7, maybe 7 ½ hours of rest. So I think that's probably really good. Speaking of intervals, there's one other tip I have for your particular audience who are in the corporate world and run meetings. I've been told leaders now run meetings for 45 minutes or 75 minutes. Schedule them for 60 or 90, which is how most meetings will last, but run the agenda so you finish after 45 minutes because here's what happens. You give your brain five minutes to process everything that's been discussed, make some notes, and then email out whatever you want to do. Then give your brain a five-minute break, as we said before, go outside or just take a cup of coffee or tea and smell it, just be very mindful, very present. And then you have five minutes to prepare for your next meeting. Most people, their schedules are booked back to back, meeting to meeting, phone call to phone call. And so if you spent 60 minutes in a meeting or phone call, then you rush to the next meeting, your brain is still processing what you just discussed. So you're literally not present for the first five or seven minutes of the next meeting anyway. So you're doing yourself and your company no benefit there.
Steven: So run your meetings, schedule them for 60 or 90, but run them for 45 or 75 and give your brain that interval in between sessions. You'll be much more mentally acute, you'll have much better brainpower and you probably have much more innovation and creativity in your meetings.
Host: I had one off-topic question completely. I don't even know if you've thought about this or not. When it comes to entertainment like watching TV, you know, sit down on the couch, couch potato, or playing video games. What impact does that have on our stress levels?
Steven: I think for most of us it reduces our stress, but then it becomes a crutch and that, and like anything else, we can overdo it. I mean, you know, half-hour you…First of all, don't watch cable news.
Host: Right. (laughing) That’s not good for your stress level.
Steven: No, because everything in cable news is breaking news. This and this and this.
Host: It’s sensational, yes.
Steven: It is. I was in an airport back, I think I don’t know, October last year or something, and this person was being nominated to the US Supreme Court, was going to do his testimony and that is like Wednesday morning, 11 o'clock or something. And I walked to the airport and I see these big banners, Breaking News, Breaking News, so and so to testify. And I was like, “We knew about this the Thursday before that he was going to testify at 11 AM on this particular Tuesday or Wednesday morning. This is not breaking news”, but that’s how they treat it.
Host: They packaged it that way so they…
Steven: So watch a comedy, watch Big Bang Theory for half an hour, watch a sporting event if you want, watch a movie. But the thing is, don't let that be your default position. If you're under stress, first, go out and walk. First, go out and get some fresh air, like you said 20 minutes of walking around your neighborhood. And then if you want to sit down and relax and watch a bit of television, there’s nothing wrong with that. Or if you want to read a book or just sit quietly and listen to some nice soothing music, whatever it is that you can do to reduce your stress is great. But don't use this as an escape mechanism, each and every day because again, because you're sitting. You're just adding to that sitting link for the day.
Host: I also had another question which is off-topic. You lived in Asia, in Australia for many years, decades. You lived in North America as well. How do people in Australia? How do people in Asia, Singapore? Now, Singapore is quite an amalgamation of different cultures and subcultures from, you know, India and from Malaysia, Indonesia. It’s quite a hotspot, so you must've experienced many different cultures there. How do they spend their day at work? How do they react to stress? What are their lifestyle differences as compared to us here in North America?
Steven: Well, I think in Asia, and again you're absolutely right. I mean, Japan is different from India, different from Malaysia, for instance. But for a lot of the Asians, I think because a lot of them practice Buddhism. There's that, you mentioned the Zen and the quietness. They do some exercises they called Tai Chi in the morning or yoga. But Singapore is a high-stress society and has been for years but it, you know, has gone from a kind of a cesspool in the 60s to one of the most modern cities in the world by the 90s. I mean, in three decades it just can change itself completely.
Host: I’ve heard it’s very beautiful.
Steven: It is beautiful. It's very clean. I got there in 1980 and I got to witness it. I mean, the Singapore River was filthy back then but that's all clean. You could probably swim in the river today.
Steven: But yes. I mean, you know, it was a third world country in the 60s and 70s and then by, like I said, maybe by mid-90s, certainly by the turn-of-the-century, was a very modern city. They have a lot of investment in it, very clean. You know, picturesque, pretty city. No doubt about it.
Host: How are the people and how do they…What are their lifestyles? What are their work styles, you know, compared to ours in terms of stress and how they handle stress?
Steven: Well, they’re very, like I said, they’re very hard-working…The culture, I think the culture if you will. But, you know, their attitude was, you know, they were building the city in the country for the next generation and I think that that is now, that torch is now passed to the new generation. I don't think the new generation is as stressed out again pre-pandemic as their parents were. I mean, they’re certainly more affluent than their parents were. Yes, but again I think Buddhism, this kind of a Zen attitude, the Tai Chi, the exercise, I think that'll help. And Singapore has done a really good job building parks and bicycle areas for people to exercise, and they've got a pretty robust attitude towards exercise and health, without a doubt. The other thing, I mean, Thailand, you know, Thailand which is the heart of Buddhism, I mean, they’re just so mindful and present.
Steven: Yes. I mean, they have a very peaceful lifestyle, they’re very friendly, peaceful people. I almost never saw a person in Thailand get upset.
Steven: Yes. You know, their life just kind of like goes through, and their focus is on family, not at work, quite honestly. But that's okay, they work hard enough to make a living, but they’re kind of just, you know, “I don't get upset. It would just be a loss of face to show anger in public”. I'm sure they get, you know, they’re human beings, they get angry but they just don't show it. And the thing… Japan, I mean, just Japan is hugely stressful…I mean, if you get on the subway in Japan, you know, like in a sardine can.
Steven: But the Japanese are very stoic, very rarely show emotions. You really have to push them to particularly…They don’t show positive emotions or negative emotions. They just have a very stoic ambiance to them.
Host: How about the stereotype of Australians being very laid-back and very funny all the time?
Steven: Good day, mate! Everything should be right, should be right in the morning. (laughing)
Host: Is it true?
Steven: Yes, it is. Again, you know, I don’t want to be too stereotypical. There are a lot of Australians who get stressed and what have you. But, yes, Australians…I always saw Australians had a good sense of work life balance. I mean, for instance, you would rarely find an Australian working on the weekend. You would rarely find a company that would ask people to come in and work on the weekend. In Singapore, you know, I was a Vice President of Marketing at Citibank. If I wanted my staff to come in on Sunday, they would say, “What time?”
Steven: Yes. We're working on something urgent or product launch, you know, if I said to an Australian, “Come in on Sunday”, they would, the words I can't say on your radio show, but…(laughing)
Steven: But it would not have been beneficial to me to ask that of them. So, I think Australians in general, more than in the US, get outdoors a lot more. You know, too many people in the US are city-bound and don't get out as you said, enjoy our wonderful mother nature. But in Australia, people are always out on the weekends, out in the countryside, visiting family and friends, you know, barbecues as the stereotype says. And, you know, amount of wine and beer which also moderation can reduce stress. (laughing)
Host: True. Very, very true. I honestly believe that all our cities in North America, they tried their best to bring nature into the cities as well with, you know, different laws. Even if you're jam-packed into areas where there’s just buildings and condominiums, they have, you know, square footage or square acreage laws where you've got to have parks and, you know, nature trails. Here in Canada, it's like Australia. The great outdoors is just everywhere. Even within the cities you could, you know, you could feel like you're in a forest, but you're like right beside a suburb or inside a suburban and, you know, on the lakeshore or somewhere near a lot of rivers. And this is the same in North America, doesn't matter where you are. You know, in Georgia, in New York, Jersey even, California, in Washington State. Every city, every state, every county gives us the opportunity to experience nature, and if we follow what you're saying, we should experience it to add to our mental wellness, in our well-being.
Steven: Absolutely. Absolutely. The other thing, even if you’re city-bound and get out to walk, the brain likes new information. So what I encourage people to do is, don't go to the same park or don't walk around the same neighborhood all the time. Go to a different neighborhood. You’ll see different houses, you'll see different mailboxes. People get into routines. Again pre-pandemic, people drive to work the same route every day, and the brains kind of shuts off. So, I encourage it…Look, take a new route once a while. You know, leave the house 10 minutes early if you have to, just go slightly, you know, 2 miles to the west or east or whatever it is. You know, do a parallel run to your office and you’ll notice new shopping centers, new housing estates, and the school being built, construction over here. The brain likes new information. It needs to be fed new information. We have to get out of our routines.
Host: That is fantastic advice. Thank you so much for being on the Lifelong Wellness podcast today, Steven. We've learned quite a bit from you today.
Steven: My pleasure, Wes. I hope your listeners implement some of these things.
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