Forget trying to lose weight for the next selfie on Instagram – get healthy and fit to boost productivity and mental clarity. You see being physically fit has major physiological benefits that go far beyond fitting into your skinny jeans. Exercise scientists have demonstrated that a fit body supports boundless energy, a more robust immune system, an improved memory, lowers anxiety and ultimately, your ability to do every aspect of a hygienist’s job.
1. Combat “Sitting Disease”
Sitting for long periods of time has now been linked to a wide variety of illnesses and disease (Christine Friedenreich, Senior Epidemiologist, Alberta Health Sciences). Numerous studies in the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal have reported on the immense negative impact of sedentary living and its ability to decondition your miraculous body. Sitting has been called “the new smoking”. Harsh words for the couch potato. Seventy per cent of our waking time is spent sitting on our largest muscle. This is the most that humans have sat in thousands of years of history, and it’s shrinking our postural muscles and melting our joints. Chiropractors for years have been telling us about the long-term damage that sitting does to our posture and lower backs. Well, physiologists are now seeing that sitting all day has negative implications on breathing, core strength, lymphatic drainage and blood pressure. Incorporating core exercise and resistance training into your exercise program would be an ideal way to strengthen your postural muscles and decrease the odds of a career-ending injury.
2. Lower Your Overall Disease Risk
“The most powerful way to reduce your inflammatory factors (a leading cause of chronic disease ie heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome) is to lose excess weight,” Walter Willett, PhD, Chair of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health. If you have noticed that many serious diseases (meningitis, encephalitis, colitis, pancreatitis, arthritis, osteomyelitis, esophagitis, appendicitis, cellulitis, hepatitis, periodontitis, etc.) have inflammation at their core, you might be motivated to maybe lose that last five to ten pounds. Hygienists could very well be the patients’ number one role model for healthy living with the reduction of their own inflammatory burden with some simple tweaks to dietary habits.
There are a number of simple weight loss plans we could easily suggest to patients directly or in passing. It’s the gentle non-judgmental guidance in our chair-side conversations that would support positive lifestyle change. Seven out of 10 people in the North America are overweight or obese, and with our extended amount of patient contact time, it would be easy to make a difference in someone’s life by gently sharing your own experience getting in shape. And why not make it a gentle journey to getting fit? Add more whole foods to your diet. Choose foods mindfully. If you have a low activity day, eat accordingly. Reducing body fat is not about eating less. The new science says it’s about eating right. Once your body is getting the foods that it craves, essential fats, fiber, and high-quality proteins, it gently turns down hunger cravings. This is much easier than simply cutting calories. And it’s not painful to do it this way. This is a mind-blowing concept for many, as most people still believe health is a “no gain” plan. This style of getting in shape is old school. Throw away your MC Hammer pants and your Vanilla Ice CD’s and get current. A six-year Stanford study reported in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal showed that a simple walking just once a week could decrease your chances of mortality from cardiovascular disease by almost 50 per cent.
As dental professionals, it is well within our scope of practice to talk nutrition with our patients. But (with a capital “B”) we must walk our talk, all while experiencing less chronic pain in the process. It seems paradoxical to lecture to patients on developing more discipline to choose tooth friendly foods and better home care if we ourselves are sedentary or smell like a cheeseburger and fries. Psychological studies have shown role modeling is the best way to influence behavior in the dental office.
John Quincy Adams’ words keep ringing in my ears. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, than you are a leader.”
3. Lower Anxiety & Stabilize Emotions
Studies have shown that an inactive lifestyle is associated with a higher risk of depressive symptoms. Depression is one of the most debilitating mental disorders and the leading cause of disability in the western world (American College of Sports Medicine Feb 2012). Depression is associated with poor sleep, disrupted digestion and chemical disruption of the brain. We aren’t talking about occasional sadness – we are referring to immobilizing chronic depression. It is linked to heart disease and over a lifetime, cognitive decline. There are many ways to prevent and treat this but a new way of lowering your chances of this disease would be incredible. Did you know that many UK physicians recommend a regular walking regimen for patients with mild depression? What are the benefits? Mood boosting endorphins and serotonin. Being a healthcare provider is rewarding but the day-to-day duties can overwhelm the reserves of the best intentions, especially if you don’t have the tools to balance a busy professional and personal life.
4. Get FIT, Get SMARTER!
Exercise scientists and neuroscientists have shown being physically active improves brain function. This little-known fact is an insider strategy. The better your brain works, the more you will earn. One way to increase your credentials is to get more degrees, another way is to absorb more knowledge, improve your vocabulary and deductive reasoning. Norm Doidge, MD, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, wrote that being fit boosts the brain’s ability to make new stem cells, and therefore, its ability to remain youthful. Harvard professor of Psychiatry and the author of the groundbreaking book, Spark, John Ratey, MD, showed that regular exercise habits boost the amount of the neurotransmitter BDNF Brain-Derived-Neurotrophic-Factor, which acts like Miracle Grow in your brain – increasing communication between your 100,000,000,000 neurons. A review of 900 papers over 50 years has provided strong evidence of the benefit of physical activity on your brain. Afraid of aging and the diseases that go along with advancing years? Regular exercise can reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 40 per cent (Ontario Brain Institute 2013). A regular physical activity habit appears to be best over your entire life, but Laura Middleton, an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, has revealed that a specific window of time in the active teenage years (12-19) was strongly associated with lowering the incidence of cognitive decline later in life. High amounts of physical activity in this key window was shown to have a correlation with a protective effect over developing cognitive decline. She theorized it was between 12 and 19. So, if you missed it, are you ruined? No! If the best time to have enjoyed a regular exercise habit was when you were a teen, the second-best time is RIGHT NOW! A meta-analysis of physical activity studies showed benefits to increased cognitive functioning, deductive reasoning and reaction time (Journal of Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise June 2012). A better functioning brain will support every aspect of the health care provider’s professional and personal life.
5. Create A Body That Is An Impenetrable Fortress Against Disease
As people get older, their immune systems get cluttered from fighting a lifetime of infections. An overcrowded immune system increases the risk of infection. Exercise DE-clutters and makes space in an older immune system (Exercise and port Sciences Reviews January 2011). The metaphor we use is defragging your laptop of old software or programs you no longer use – and by doing so, your laptop performs better. Isn’t this enough to make you want you to keep up your exercise schedule? Again, we can’t help but bring up quality sleep. Getting a minimum seven hours of sleep a night will not only help strengthen your immune system and reboot your brain, but it will also leave you rested with more energy to follow-through on your healthy habit resolves. It is one of our most ardent personal and professional desires to get people passionate about their personal health, get them moving again and to reclaim their health that is their birthright.
6. Improve Your Ability To Take In Oxygen & Be Energetic
This is the most valuable resource on the planet. Mitochondria are valuable organelles in your body and they need oxygen and glucose to make ATP. The human body makes over 147 pounds of these energy packets a day. Why don’t we gain 147 pounds a day? Because we use every one of those energy packets to beat our hearts 86,000 times a day, inhale 12,000 times a day, see six to eight patients a day and scale hundreds of teeth each day. We have loads of these energy factories as kids but with age, they start falling into disrepair. This is one of the reasons young kids fly around at birthday parties and the parents only have the energy to talk and take multiple pictures on their iPhones. Michael Colgan, PhD, wrote in his book Saving Your Brain that with mitochondria failing with age, so does our ability to generate energy. By age 50, almost half of most people’s mitochondria are no longer functioning at capacity. Hence the lack of drive, vitality and mojo in that demographic. Okay, so you’re 25 or 35 and now can you just start when you reach 50? If you’re not active now the chances of you being active later are slim. You simply have to condition your mitochondria now. According to the Medicine and Science of Sport and Exercise journal, it is reported that active people can epigenetically turn back on tired dysfunctional mitochondria, increase their size and number. Can you think of the benefits in your clinic life? More exercise fueled energy means it increases your ability to see that extra patient or act authentically with enthusiasm, versus faking it with coffee or energy drinks. Family and friend benefits? You will have more energy for these beautiful people after work. BONUS!
7. Slay the Stress Dragon
Regular exercise trains your nervous system to be less reactive to stress: reducing oxidative stress, blood pressure swings, and immunosuppression (American College of Sports Medicine 2005). Stress has been implicated as a huge force to be reckoned with in the battleground of modern dental practice. Dental professionals are well aware of tight scheduling, working on anxious patients, challenging team relations and full family commitments. Not having a successful stress management strategy is a prescription for emotional and physical disaster. In the March 2012 Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, there was a powerful article showing the ability of a single session of exercise to improve one’s mood and decrease anxiety. How valuable would this tool be at the end of a hectic clinic day before you head home to spend time with your family?
The benefits of regular physical activity for the dental professional transcends a nicer reflection in your bathroom mirror. It has the ability to enhance every aspect of your personal and professional life. Every dental professional would love to be the kind of leader that inspires their team to have a bigger vision for their jobs and their lives. For those who have a challenge lighting the torch of leadership in their offices, here is an interesting piece of literature that may give you a helping hand: People are more likely to listen to and follow people who are energetic and healthy. This was written about in the book Why Some People Lead, Why Others Follow and Why it Matters by Mark van Vugt.
We will see you in the gym or on the walking trails.
About the Author
Uche Odiatu, DMD, is a Toronto area dentist and a professional member of the American College of Sports Medicine and lectures throughout North America on total patient health. Instagram: @Fitspeakers
Mahsa Bakhshandeh, RDH, graduated from Durham College and has been in private practice for nine years. She enjoys travelling and exploring the world, its many cultures and their variety of wonderful cuisines. Mahsa is a licensed Zumba Instructor. Instagram: @Mahsa.RDH