fbpx Skip to main content

How are you?

For many, 2023 appears to be the year of ongoing chronic fatigue, overwhelm, too much stress, and “bleh”.

Is this true for you?

What if?

  • You felt more energised,
  • You were sleeping better,
  • Felt happier,
  • Had fewer aches and pains,
  • Took fewer sick days,
  • Were feeling better mentally,
  • And were actively taking steps to reduce your risk of heart disease, type-two diabetes or burnout?

What difference would that make to how you feel about your life and work?

 

As a workplace-based health consultant, I often get asked “Why should I consider Lifestyle Medicine as an essential component of workplace health and wellbeing health?

My reply is “Why wouldn’t you?”

Because the success of any organisation great or small depends on one thing: the health and wellbeing of every person employed there, and your lifestyle choices are what make the biggest impact.

When business leaders ask why lifestyle medicine should be something they are responsible for as a business priority, I ask,

“Can you afford not to ensure that every employee in your workplace is fit to deliver their best work?”

A healthy workplace is not only more productive but also has the competitive advantage of a workplace culture founded on care that makes your workplace an attractive place to work. Tenure rises along with performance, cooperation and collaboration.

When you’re feeling good, it’s easier to find the energy and headspace to keep on top of everything and to feel inspired to share your ideas for what could make your work even better.

But the current reality for many modern workplaces reveals the maladies of high stress, mental illness, loneliness and burnout. This affects the individual, their work colleagues, their families, and the organisation.

I’ve been working in the workplace health and wellbeing arena for over a decade, and in that time, I’ve been heartened by the growing interest, awareness and commitment to making workplace health and wellbeing a priority, not a nice to have.

But simultaneously the statistics about the state of organisational health indicate we’re going backwards.

Since the global pandemic, 1 in 7 adult Australians are taking an anti-depressant.

Does this include you?

 

Untreated mental health issues cost the Australian economy $ 11 billion a year, ($4.5 bn in absenteeism and $6.1 bn in presenteeism).

Half of all psychological injury claims relate to stress.

If you’re feeling anxious, miserable, lonely and overwhelmed by what’s expected of you, you won’t be performing at your best. You might be at your desk, but if other concerns are on your mind, it’s hard to focus or think clearly, and you may be making silly mistakes.

And let’s not forget the physical health aspects. One in two Australians live with some form of chronic disease, and it’s on the rise.

Non-communicable disease is the leading cause of death, heralded by heart disease in the number one spot.

Chronic disease is not just a burden to the health system, it disrupts a person’s ability to function optimally, and here’s the thing, we know that 80% of all chronic disease is largely preventable.

We may have access to wonderful new drugs, new technologies, and medical advances, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into creating fitter, happier, healthier people.

 

What’s needed is a paradigm shift to redefine where health measures are delivered to keep people well, to minimise the risk of chronic disease, and actively seeking to mitigate its impact or progression.

And the workplace is an obvious environment to start with.

Because where do we spend most of our awake time as adults?

At work.

As a society, if we are to combat poor health from whatever cause, we need to look at the root causes first.

The existing healthcare system operates at the “pointy” end of poor health, fixing it rather than preventing it.

Many workplaces currently seek to address the mental health challenges by celebrating R U OK? Day, offering Mental Health First Aid training and establishing EAP services.

Sadly, while these intentions are good, the latest research suggests MHFA training achieves very little in preventing or reducing mental health challenges and EAP services are notoriously underused for various reasons.

Nor is compliance with legislative requirements an indicator of behavioural change.

What frequently isn’t being addressed are the psychosocial factors and social determinants critical to good health and wellbeing – the human-centric approach that seeks to answer the question “what do you need?” to work at your best, enjoy what you do and feel fulfilled.

 

Enter stage left, Lifestyle Medicine.

Lifestyle medicine seeks to be an effective antidote to chronic disease, including chronic stress. It embraces all facets of wellbeing and works by supporting the positive behavioural changes identified as necessary that lead to sustainable benefits felt individually and collectively.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
It is not paternalistic or prescriptive.
It includes a multi-systematic approach to self-care, self-management and community building.

These are the five elements to consider in a lifestyle medicine approach to workplace health and wellbeing.

 

1. Honest appraisal

How are you, really?

Checking in on how well you are, and regularly, is the first step to greater awareness of your health, rather than thinking or hoping you are doing OK.

 

2. Adopt a mind-body approach. 

The separation of mental health from psychological wellbeing or physical health is nonsense. We are whole beings, and our overall health the result of all facets of our wellbeing. What you do to improve your physical health will benefit your mental wellbeing and vice versa.

 

3. Workplace health is founded on good job design and job crafting.

We might not be sending small boys down chimneys anymore, but overwork, or feeling chronically super stressed is a red flag to alert you to the fact the way you’re working is putting you at significant risk of burnout, mental illness or premature death.

Work can be very rewarding and fun, but having too much of a good thing is never worth putting your life on the line for.

 

4. Organisational health is led (and modelled) from the top. 

Leaders who get that health and wellbeing is essential to their own effectiveness as leaders and model the same will be rewarded with the competitive advantage of a workforce that is not only fit and healthy, but cooperative, collaborative and caring.

 

5. Lifestyle choices are far more than self-care.

Your choice of lifestyle in what you do to stay healthy and well impacts your home life as well as work. Healthier choices enable sustainable high performance, better coping skills, more resilience and greater happiness and fulfilment.

Lifestyle medicine focuses on six key domains: healthy nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management, social connectedness and avoiding maladaptive stress behaviours (smoking, substance abuse and excess alcohol)

By identifying which domain requires your attention first you can then introduce one small change or tweak to what you’re already doing, to start the process, improve in the expected outcome and then build from there.

In a recent conversation I had with an Uber driver, he told me he had decided to change his diet because his Mum had been feeding him too well and with too much rice, so he had become quite chubby. His ethnic background being Indian.

His sedentary lifestyle also meant he wasn’t sufficiently active and long hours behind the wheel were tiring.

He started by reducing the number of meals he consumed with rice each day, and filled up by adding more vegetables to his diet.

He didn’t share how much weight he had lost, but he certainly appeared to be in the healthy weight range.

He also shared that he felt so much better from making that one small change.

 

What will be YOUR #1 change?

Lifestyle medicine is perfectly placed to work alongside existing workplace health and wellness programs, taking it to the next level.

Because good health is something that needs to be available and attainable to all.

Is lifestyle medicine part of your workplace health and wellbeing strategy?

 

 

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, trainer, keynote speaker, and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

Leave a Reply