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Death by sitting

Tom Rath, in his book Eat Move Sleep,(Missionday, 2013) called sitting “the most underrated health threat of modern times.” So are we at risk of death by sitting? He claims that sitting more than six hours a day greatly increases your risk of an early death.

An article in the November, 2014 Scientific American proves this is not just a case of shock journalism. The author of the article, James Levine, co-directs Obesity Solutions, a program of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale Arizona. The title of his article is “Killer chairs,” and he gives some statistics based on 18 studies reported during the past 16 years, covering 800,000 people – in addition to his own research.

Here are a few eye-opening findings:

• Following 8800 adults for seven years it was found that those sitting over four hours a day watching TV had a 46% increase in deaths from any cause when compared with those who sat in front of the TV set for less than two hours a day.

• Sitting for more than half the day doubles the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

• Comparing lean and obese people in the US with similar environments and diets, the obese people sat 2.25 hours longer than their lean counterparts every day, and expended 350 fewer calories.
The surprising thing is that neither Tom Rath nor James Levine seem to be suggesting jogging or marathon walks to remedy the problem, but rather to just get out of your chair. Get up and move around, as we were created to do, rather than lead a sedentary life. Walk around while you talk on the phone, work at a stand-up desk, have stand-up meetings, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the local mall instead of taking the car — are the type of recommendations these authors seem to be supporting.

Tom Rath claims that as soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off, the number of calories you burn drops to one per minute, and enzyme production, which helps to break down fat, drops by 90%. And after sitting for two hours your good cholesterol drops by 20%.
Simply standing increases your energy, and walking increases energy levels by about 150%. Take the stairs and you could increase energy by more than 200%. Stand, stretch, move, walk — anything that will get you out of that killer chair.

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People are just as user-friendly as computers

People are just as user friendly as computers, and we need people more than we need technology in order to thrive in this digital age of speed. It should never be an either or situation.

Thirty years ago, we tended to blame other people for wasting our time. Excessive socializing, unscheduled interruptions, meetings, and gossip at the water cooler were all common complaints expressed in time management seminars. Fast forward to today, and you don’t hear as much about people wasting our time – at least not in person. Now it’s email, text messages, voice mail, cell phone calls and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Technology has not decreased our time problems as much as it has taken away the human element. And yet research is telling us that strong relationships lengthen your life, boost your immune system and cut the risk of depression.

The higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live. Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die of any cause than their non-social counterparts. Low levels of social interaction evidently have the same effects as smoking15 cigarettes a day – and even worse effects than being obese or not exercising.

Research published in the February, 2008 Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, showed that daily social contacts may boost brain power and cognitive abilities. In a University of Michigan study of 3500 people, it was revealed that more time spent chatting with friends was associated with higher scores on memory tests. Interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than watching a computer monitor or TV set.
Research by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection. And interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than a computer monitor or TV set.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say that having friends can increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness, reduce stress, improve your self-worth, and help you cope with traumas such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the loss of a loved one.
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Leaders of the future will be those who can master some of the more useful technology that becomes available while maintaining their interpersonal relationships and people skills. Not only will they be able to work efficiently, they’ll be able to relate to other people, negotiate, gain consensus, close deals, network effectively and motivate and inspire others.

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Procrastination is the biggest barrier to goal-setting

ProcrastinationProcrastination is the biggest barrier to goal-setting; but you can overcome with a little self-discipline. With the average Canadian spending over 45 hours online each month, there’s not much time left to focus on goals. And goals are seldom urgent so they take a back seat to our firefighting duties. In addition, research suggests that Internet use is having a negative impact on how we think and behave, affecting our ability to focus, store memory, and interact with others.

Yet goals add significance to your life, and along with it, a sense of pride and accomplishment, a boost in your self-esteem, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment that impacts your health and well-being.

You’re not alone in your tendency to procrastinate. Piers Steel, a University of Calgary psychologist, after analyzing psychological literature, concluded that 95 percent of people admit that they sometimes procrastinate. But because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s right or acceptable. You want to leave footprints behind when you leave this earth – some evidence that you have been here, impacted lives, and took advantage of whatever life had to offer.

Don’t use busyness as an excuse to delay your goal-setting. Busyness looks more like real work than real work does – because of the flurry of activity normally associated with it. But don’t let the many things of minor importance crowd out those few things of major significance. You – and the world – can survive without them. If not, you had better work on living forever.

Self-discipline is the rejection of instant gratification in favor of something better – a higher and more rewarding goal. Once you have written down your goals and blocked off times in your planner to work on them, you have a reason to resist the temptation to go wherever your impulses take you. The more you resist temptation, the easier it becomes.

Task initiation is one of the brain-based executive skills that allow you to begin tasks without undo procrastination. Some people have strong skills; but most of us seem to be weak in this area. But our brains are malleable, and we can strengthen these skills though continued effort.

Walter Mischel, in his book, The Marshmallow Test (September, 2014), suggests there is a limit to how much self-control we can exert before fatigue take over, so don’t take overwhelm yourself with too many goals. It took about 20 years for your executive skills to develop so it will take more than a few weeks to strengthen them.

Avoid goals that don’t excite you or you will be more vulnerable to digital distractions and unmindfulness. Telling other people about your specific goals and making commitments rather than just voicing intentions have been known to help as well.

Make it even easier by not trying to accomplish everything on your own. Weight Watchers claims that people who use a support group are three times more likely to lose weight than folks on their own. Have someone to be accountable to when you set goals. The” buddy system” can be applied to job and lifestyle changes as well.

The most important thing is to build the habit of spending a certain amount of time each day or week working on a specific goal-related task. You can then apply this habit to any goal, no matter how large, whether it is writing a book one chapter at a time, completing a self-study course one lesson at a time or becoming a super salesperson one sale at a time.

One more thing – there’s no law that says you have to wait for New Years to start working on a major goal. After all, wouldn’t that be procrastination?

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Are we relying too much on technology?

Limits of techAre we relying too much on technology to do our thinking for us? Is it making us lazy, addicted, uncreative or even sick?

We still don’t know the long-term effects of using technology. For example, research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine indicates that bending your neck over a smart phone for hours a day could lead to early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. And smartphone users spend an average of 2 to 4 hours a day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking the social media sites. (The Toronto Star, November 24, 2014)

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle.

What about people sitting at their computers all day? If you’re sitting too long, you can’t be getting much exercise. A February, 2013 Australian survey of over 63,000 middle-aged men found that those who sat for more than four hours a day, were significantly more likely to have chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Is there a danger of becoming addicted to technology? Digital addiction, claims McMaster professor Nick Bontis, is having negative repercussions such as high levels of anxiety if their phones are not nearby. One survey showed that eight in ten smartphone users say they don’t leave home without their device. (The Toronto Star, July 30, 2013.)

My greatest fear is that the functioning of the brain itself may change for the worse. What will be the impact of being spoon-fed everything from problem-solving to navigation? If our GPS tells us turn by turn exactly how to get from point A to point B, will we eventually lose our ability to navigate on our own?

For example, the study of the brains of London taxi drivers in the year 2000 revealed that they had a much larger posterior hippocampus than men with a similar profile, but who did not drive for a living. That part of the hippocampus is responsible for a person’s navigational skills. The plasticity of the brain can work against us as well. If we don’t use it, we lose it.

A headline in the June 29, 2013 issue of the Toronto Star caught my attention: “Is handwriting becoming a lost art?” It was a letter from a concerned reader commenting on a previous article titled Why Johnny can’t sign his name. Evidently, some schools are phasing out cursive writing and teaching kids only to print. After all, that’s what computers do. And aren’t we bent on merging with machines? We not only work with machines, we are frequently controlled by machines.

Just how responsive should we be? “Sorry it took so long to answer, Sam. My cell phone was in the golf cart and I was teeing up my ball before I heard it ring.” Or, “I’m at my mother’s funeral now, Bill. If it can wait, I’ll call you back right after the internment.”

But we’ll become a little more obedient once we lose our tendency to think for ourselves. After all, we need do little of that these days. No need to add or subtract or read or write or look at a map or even remember anything. Computers do that for us.

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The best time management strategy

The best time management strategy is to live longer, healthier and happier. Until now there has been little or no attempt in time management books and training sessions to help a person extend the amount of time at their disposal by extending their lifespan. That is normally a completely different field of study. And yet living longer is the only time management strategy guaranteed to increase the amount of time at your disposal.

Between 20% to 50% of longevity is hereditary; but the rest is lifestyle, attitude, environment and other factors – mostly within our control. Some of the traditional time management recommendations of the past, such as multitasking, working faster and getting up earlier, actually may contribute to a shorter lifespan. And with technology added to the mix, introducing information and interruption overload, and possibly addiction to email, social media, Internet, excessive cell phone use and added stress – lifespan and certainly health span, are under even greater attack.

All aspects of our life – physical, mental, and spiritual – all interrelate when it comes to time management. For example, in my book, Slowing down the speed of life, I show how speed affects everything from multitasking and exercising to sleep, diet, and even our perception of how fast time passes.
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In the “old days”, when I started out as a time management trainer, traditional time management, including such things as to-do lists, quiet hours, and utilizing idle time were aimed at one thing – getting more done in less time.

But times have changed — including technology, the rate of change, and our working environment, the pace of life, and so on. In order to survive and thrive today, we need more than time logs, follow-up files, and time-saving tips. We need holistic time management, which is a relatively new concept.

With your health, strategies that keep you from becoming sick are not the same things that make you healthy. And with your retirement, what keeps you from being poor or destitute and unable to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle, are not the same things that allow you to live a happy, healthy, productive, personally fulfilling life in your senior years.

In your strive to live longer, healthier and happier, it is important to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise both the body and the brain, develop close relationships, avoid excessive stress and make certain lifestyle changes – in addition to getting organized and practising sound time management principles.
I am writing a series of brief eBooks, available at, to help you do just that. Check out the latest ones at

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Prioritize in advance

PrioritzePrioritize in advance and you can save a lot of time and grief in the future. And there’s little excuse for not anticipating many of the events that will occur. For instance, you know that the car will eventually run out gas. Similarly, you can bet your bank account will run dry, the copier will run out of paper and the printer will stop working. Planning simply involves recognizing that these events will occur and taking action before they do.

Yet people continue to search for a service station while the gauge is pointing at empty, make a special trip to office supply store when the paper supply runs out, and call a repair person when the equipment breaks down. It’s as though they had never heard of topping up the gas tank at their convenience before it is empty, keeping a minimum quantity of supplies on hand, and having their machines serviced on a regular basis.

Planning is not so much a time management strategy as it is common sense. And most of us have our fair share of common sense. Why is it then that we don’t take the few minutes necessary to plan?

The answer lies somewhere between busyness and procrastination. Most of us are so busy racing from job to job or place to place that we don’t have time to think. When we do think of something that should be done soon, we delay it because we’re too busy at the moment to do anything about it. Unfortunately, when the gas gauge is on empty we’re just as busy as we were when we thought of it earlier – except that now we have the added stress of urgency.

What can we do about it? Well first we have to mentally assign labels of important or unimportant to all the repetitive tasks. Important tasks should never be allowed to become urgent.

If you run out of bread or milk, is it important? No, you can survive for a day or two on crackers and water. If you run out of gas, is that important? You bet it is. Can you imagine the lost time, the cost, the frustration and the inconvenience of being immobilized on a highway, perhaps on the way to an appointment?

Planning includes prioritizing the various tasks, including the repetitive ones. If it`s important do it as quickly as possible. If it`s not important, delay it until you have time to do it. If you never have time to do it, which is likely, that`s fine.

After all, you are getting the important things done. And that`s what time management is all about; getting the important things done.

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There are three types of multitasking

multitaskingAll multitasking is not the same. There are three types of multitasking. By multitasking, I mean the apparent simultaneous performance of two or more tasks. And since research has confirmed that it is impossible for the brain to fully focus on two things at the same time, all multitasking is not the same.

Let’s look at the three types or degrees of multitasking in reducing order of efficiency.

The first and most obvious, ineffective and potentially dangerous form of multitasking, involves physically performing two tasks at the same time, such as talking on a cell phone while driving, or text messaging while walking.

The second type involves working on only one task physically, while thinking about something else, such as planning your day while taking a shower or mentally rehearsing a speech as you collate reports or planning a dinner party while driving or worrying about finances as you iron clothes.

The third type involves what we used to refer to as a “utilizing idle time” — checking e-mail while a report is being printed or making a phone call while clothes are being dried or listening to information on your iPod while getting your hair done in a salon.

Only the first two are true multitasking, while the third one is simply making efficient use of time that might otherwise be wasted. This is not really multitasking and the worst that might forget to retrieve the printed page from the printer or forget to remove your clothes from the dryer.

Further, the seriousness of the second type of multitasking depends on the tasks involved. Daydreaming, while operating a machine or crossing in traffic is dangerous; but listening to the radio while taking a shower is not usually a problem. After all what’s the big deal if you miss the temperature report or forget to shampoo your hair.

In other words all multitasking is not the same, and much of it can be performed without serious consequences. But if you’re ever in doubt, the safest and most efficient thing to do is to err on the side of not multitasking. You can always use the idle time for rest, and relaxation, which most people don’t seem to have enough time for anyway.

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What to feed your brain

Brain foodIf you want to know what to feed your brain you might be interested in knowing which foods in particular have been found to be good for the brain. Proper nutrition can help prevent cognitive decline. For example, blueberries are believed to reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Janet Maccaro, in her book, Brain boosting foods, mentions supplements such as gingko biloba, known for its ability to improve memory and concentration. It is used in Europe to treat dementia.

Avocados are thought to be good for the brain because of their monounsaturated fat, which increases blood flow through the brain and lowers blood pressure, and organ meats because they are high in brain-healthy nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, as well as folic acid.

Egg yolks are rich in choline. A shortage of choline has been linked to insomnia, memory problems, and fatigue. Egg yolks also contain ant-inflammatory omega-3s, as do salmon, herring and sardines. Most nuts are also a source of vitamin E, which protects the brain’s iron from exposure to oxygen. According to a special issue of Newsweek published in October, 2014, 90 percent of Americans overlook vitamin E in their diet.

Any food that reduces high blood pressure or helps the cardiovascular system in any way is good for the brain, since the brain’s blood supply is critical. This includes such foods as oatmeal, brown rice and grain breads.

EPA omega-3 fish oil is also recommended since it keeps the cell membranes in the brain flexible. There is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids – the ones found in many types of fish such as salmon and rainbow trout – slow up cognitive decline and reduces the risk of Alzheimer`s disease.

Researcher Rodney W. Johnson, PhD, claims that chamomile tea, rich in luteolin, is not only relaxing, but also guards you against forgetfulness. He says it works by preventing brain inflammation that contributes to age-related memory lapses. Luteolin is also present in carrots, celery and green peppers.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, RealAge expert and host of a national TV show, recommends five important foods to give your brain a boost:

  • Blueberries, to help shield against harmful processes tied to Alzheimer`s disease and premature aging.
  • Eggs, since they are loaded with selenium, a mineral that could help make your brain years younger.
  • Mustard, because it contains turmeric. He claims that getting just 17 milligrams of it a day (about a teaspoon of mustard) can help genes control the clean-up of cellular waste in the brain.
  • Salmon, since it is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, including the type thought to have the most anti-aging effects on the brain.
  • Kale, since getting at least three servings a day of these leafy greens high in carotenoids and flavonoids can slow mental decline associated with aging.

Drinking water may also sharpen your recall skills according to research conducted at University of East London. The UK researchers believe that bringing water into an exam room can raise students’ marks. Studies indicated that those who drank water while writing exams outperformed those who didn’t. In one study the scores averaged 4.8% better. One explanation is that students are in a mild state of dehydration when taking exams and it is corrected by drinking water.

Skipping breakfast is a not a good idea. Studies have shown that children and adults who skip breakfast do not perform well on tests at school or tasks at work.

Obesity leads to high blood pressure, which lowers cognitive function so watch your weight as well. A study published in the journal Neurology showed that people who are obese in middle age have almost 4 times the risk of developing dementia later in life than those of normal weight.

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Exercise your brain

Brain exerciseYou can exercise your brain and keep your brain active as well as strengthen neural connections by learning new skills. You might start by doing everyday tasks differently. Use your left hand to control the computer mouse (if you’re right-handed), or to brush your teeth.

Exercising your brain – even without moving from your chair – could reap physical benefits. Cleveland Clinic Foundation research has indicated that just thinking about exercising a muscle will strengthen that muscle.

In stressful situations, your weakest skills fail first and become more pronounced. Fatigue and information overload tend to weaken them further. Avoiding, releasing or being able to manage stress is important. Also you should re-examine your workload. Keep organized, plan, and allocate your time to things of importance. Simplify if possible. Delegate and outsource. Pace yourself. Too much exertion without breaks taxes the executive skills. In fact studies have shown that people who exert themselves mentally, such as resisting the temptation to eat chocolate or whatever, gave up on problems sooner when presented with them immediately afterwards. (Scientific American Mind, May/June, 2011)

Many of these skills have to do with self-discipline and that definitely can be improved through practice. For example turn down desert once in a while, or second cup of coffee. Give up your favorite TV program or sporting event and so on. You could have a glass of water instead of a milkshake and resist that chocolate bar after golf.

Neuroscience has proven that the more you use a circuit in the brain, the stronger it becomes. The reverse is also true, so don’t relinquish all your tasks to a computer. Training your memory, creative writing or any skill can be strengthened through practice. But variety seems to be the key. Improving one executive skill does not necessarily improve all the others. Doing crossword puzzles only increases your ability to do crossword puzzles. And this is true for most computer games as well.

There are exceptions, however. Physical exercise, for instance, stimulates the creation of new neurons not confined to the region of the hippocampus that stores new memories. Art Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that a year of exercise can give a seventy-year-old the connectivity of a thirty-year old. Harvard researchers have linked aerobic exercise with improvements in food choices and the ability to resist temptation. They feel it may inspire healthier choices by altering structures in our brains that deal with regulation and impulse control while also making us happier and calmer. This could account for weight loss in addition to the calories you burn through exercise.

Other activities such as meditation and certain video games can change brain structure so that brain processes are more efficient. Meditation has been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system and cardiovascular function as well as the brain. In one study, those who meditated showed less activity in the brain area associated with negative emotions such as anger and anxiety and more activity those areas associated with optimism and confidence.

And learning a second language can sharpen many of the executive skills. Ellen Bialystok of York University in Canada found that the workout the brain gets in bilingualism carries over to improve such skills as problem solving and attention switching.

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An easy way to set goals

GoalsIf you want an easy way to set goals stop thinking of it as some structured process that takes a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be any more structured than keeping a “To Do” list. And you don’t have to be afraid of losing the spontaneity and flexibility of simply “going with the flow.”

All you have to do is formalize something you have been doing all your life without really being aware of it. As a child, had you ever set your mind on getting a new bicycle, for instance? If so, not only did you have a specific goal in mind, you probably had an action plan as well. It may have been to earn the required sum of money by getting a paper route, or saving your allowances or methodically harassing your parents until they finally broke down and bought it for you. You may even have had a deadline date in mind. You wanted it in the summer so you could it show off to Jane down the street.

Buying a car or a house, visiting Disney World, going on a cruise, or simply spending a weekend with friends all require the basics of goal-setting. You decide what you want, when you want it, and establish an action plan in order to get it.

All the other characteristics of goals are self-evident. It stands to reason that they must be specific so you will know how much money you will need in order to buy the bicycle you want, and you also know your goal is realistic since you have already thought of several ways you can get the necessary money.

There’s nothing mysterious, complicated or difficult about setting goals. Yet less than five percent of the population claims they actually have personal goals in writing. Why?

It’s probably because we tend to resist change. We’re a little afraid of anything we don’t fully understand. We crave simplicity. That’s one reason we are feeling the stress of this digital age of speed where everything is changing so quickly

Accept the fact that goal-setting is not something new to be learned and mastered, but something old that should be used more fully. Goal-setting has been in use ever since Eve spotted that juicy fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And for good or evil, goal-setting does get results.

Sure there are time management experts promoting SMART goals – saying they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-framed. And that they should be what you want and not what other people want for you, and that you shouldn’t have too many goals, and that they should be compatible with one another, and they should cover all areas of your life and they must be in writing ….. Ignore all that.

Instead, simply decide what you want and when you want it, write that date in your planner (Yes, I said write, because a paper planner works best), and then flip back the pages of your planner to today’s date, and schedule blocks of time each week to work on your goal. You are actually scheduling appointments with yourself to work on those things you want. When you see the deadline date getting close, simply schedule more time each week. Or simply continue past the deadline.

After all, if it takes a few weeks longer than expected, who cares? Jane down the street will still be impressed.