Forget trying to lose weight for the next selfie on Instagram – get healthy and fit to boost productivity and mental clarity. Get healthy and fit so you understand the language of nutrition and lifestyle and enjoy a high energy dental team. You can talk with confidence chairside about nutrition, patient sleep issues, stress and immunity with your patients.
You see, being physically fit has major physiological benefits that go far beyond fitting into your skinny jeans. Exercise scientists have demonstrated a fit body supports boundless energy, a more robust immune system, an improved memory, lower anxiety and boost your ability to do every aspect of a dental professional’s job.
- Combat “sitting disease.” The demands of a dental office are enormous. However, we spend a good deal of the time seating down. Sitting for long periods of time has now been linked to a wide variety of illnesses and diseases (Christine Friedenreich, Senior Epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services). Numerous studies in the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal have reported on the immense negative impact of sedentary living and its major ability to decondition the human body. Sitting has been called “the new smoking.” Harsh words for the couch potato. Seventy percent of our waking time is spent sitting on our largest muscle. We have never sat this much in thousands of years of human history, and it’s shrinking our postural muscles and melting our joints away. The entire weight of our upper body teeter-totters on our lower spine. Physiologists are now seeing that sitting all day has negative implications on breathing, core strength, lymphatic drainage and blood pressure. The improvement of our breathing would be one of the largest benefits. The fight or flight sympathetic nervous system is switched over to the rest and digest parasympathetic system. Managing the stress of patients, dealing with challenging team issues and the new COVID culture demand a powerful reset. 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. Taking time to do some nasal breathing behind our N95 masks also supports enhanced blood flow through our thousands of blood vessels and harmonizes neurotransmitters.
- Lower your overall disease risk. “The most powerful way to reduce your inflammatory factors (a leading cause of chronic disease, i.e. heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome) is to lose excess weight,” noted Walter Willett, Ph.D. Chair of the Nutrition Dept at the Harvard School of Public Health. Excess adipose tissue or body fat spews out 20 or more inflammatory chemicals 24 hours a day 365 days a year. If you have noticed that many serious diseases (cellulitis, encephalitis, colitis, pancreatitis, arthritis, osteomyelitis, meningitis, esophagitis, appendicitis, hepatitis, periodontitis, etc.) have chronic inflammation at their core, we might all be motivated to maybe lose that last 5-10 pounds. Dental hygienists who see our patients for up to an hour at a time, two to four times a year, could very well be the patient’s top role model for healthy living. They have the opportunity to talk prevention at every appointment. The removal of calculus and disruption of the biofilm lowers the reduction of the patient’s inflammatory burden. With our extended amount of patient contact time, it would be easy to make a difference in someone’s life by gently sharing our own experience getting in shape. And why not make it a gentle journey to getting fit? It’s well within our scope of practice to talk healthy eating with patients. For example, suggesting to patients to add more whole foods (fruits and vegetables) to their diet. 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, such as essential fats, fiber, high-quality proteins, it dials down hunger cravings. This is much easier than simply cutting calories. As dental industry professionals, we can lead the way. 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.”
- Lower anxiety and 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 occasional sadness. We are referring to immobilizing chronic depression. It’s linked to heart disease and cognitive decline. Did you know that many UK physicians recommend a regular walking regimen for patients with mild depression? The benefits are mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin. Being a healthcare provider is rewarding, but the daunting nature of our daily duties can overwhelm the reserves of the best intentions. Throw in a global pandemic and we have a prescription for a tsunami of mental disorders.
- Get FIT, get SMARTER! Exercise scientists and neuroscientists have shown being physically active improves brain function. This little-known fact is an insider strategy of people enjoying higher cognitive functioning. And the better your brain works the more you will earn. One way to increase your mental powers is to get more degrees. Another way is to increase neuroplasticity. Norm Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, wrote that being fit boosts the brain’s ability to make new stem cells, neuroplasticity and therefore its ability to remain youthful. Harvard professor of psychiatry and the author of the groundbreaking book, Spark, John Ratey showed that a regular exercise habit boosts the amount of the neurotransmitter Brain-DerivedNeurotrophic-Factor (BDNF), which acts like Miracle-Gro in your brain, increasing communication between our 100 billion 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 sharpen brain function and reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 40 percent (Ontario Brain Institute 2013). A better functioning brain will support every aspect of the healthcare provider’s professional and personal life.
- Create a body that is an impenetrable fortress against disease. As we get older, our immune systems get cluttered from fighting a lifetime of infections. An overcrowded immune system lowers our ability to fight infection. Exercise DE-clutters and makes space in an older immune system (Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, Jan. 2011). The metaphor I use is defragging your laptop of old software or programs you no longer use. By doing so your laptop works better. Isn’t this enough to make you want you to keep up your Orange Theory or Zumba classes?
- Improve your ability to take in oxygen and be energetic. Oxygen is the most valuable resource on the planet. Mitochondria are valuable organelles and they need oxygen and glucose to make ATP. The human body makes over 145 pounds of these energy packets a day. Why don’t we gain 145 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, prep those crowns, collect that account receivable and scale hundreds of teeth each day. We have loads of these energy factories as kids but with age, they start falling into disrepair. In Michael Colgan’s book, Saving Your Brain, he wrote 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. 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 and increase their size and number. Can you think of the benefits in your clinic life? More exercise-fueled energy means added ability to see that extra patient or act authentically with enthusiasm vs. faking it with coffee or energy drinks.
- Slay the Stress Dragon. Regular exercise trains your nervous system to be less reactive to stress: reducing oxidative stress, blood pressure swings and the immunosuppression that is associated with extended stress exposure (American College of Sports Medicine, 2005). The body under siege from a threat focuses all its reserves on the enemy at hand. The global angst experienced during the 2020 pandemic challenged humanity’s nervous, hormonal and immune system. It only added to the everyday stresses of modern dental practice. Dental professionals are well aware of tight scheduling, working on anxious patients, challenging team relations and family commitments. Not having a successful stress management strategy is a prescription for emotional 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?
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 point: 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. I will see you in the gym, on the walking trails or in that yoga class.