Breathe, move, energize, thrive — this is your four-part framework for maintaining healthy high performance, healthy being the key word.
Psychologist and high-performance expert Dr. Greg Wells joined us for our FIRST in-person event since 2019, helping us re-launch our At The Spotlight client-exclusive event series. Drawing from his new book Powerhouse: Protect Your Energy, Optimize Your Health, and Supercharge Your Performance, Greg walked us through a scientific but accessible path to sustainable high performance fueled by optimizing our mitochondria.
Yes, this is a term from your grade 10 biology class, but, as Greg says, stay with us because this cellular powerhouse could be the key to tackling the high rates of burnout and low energy we’re experiencing right now.
Greg wrote his book based on research he conducted as a senior scientist at SickKids hospital in Toronto. He’s learned that mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with every type of chronic disease experienced by humans — that means cancer, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, etc. — as well as mental illnesses.
The good news is that the mitochondria is hyper-responsive to our environment, which means we have the power to optimize our lives for greater mitochondria function. When our mitochondria perform optimally, Greg said, they generate all the energy we need to support our health and ability to perform. Simply put — healthy mitochondria = a healthy, thriving you.
Below, we give a brief breakdown of Greg’s four-part framework for sustaining healthy high performance in all areas of our lives. He gives an in-depth exploration of this framework in his keynote “Powerhouse: Healthy High Performance in a World of Uncertainty and Burnout”. Contact us to learn more about Greg and how he’s helping audiences become true powerhouses, both at home and work.
The most fundamental thing you can do to power your mitochondria and increase your energy levels, Greg said, is to take a breath.
If you are feeling stressed and anxious, a deep breath and long slow exhale signals the stress region in our brains that we’re ok and we can relax. This shifts us out of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight mode) and into the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest mode). You’ll be able to feel your entire body relax through this process.
A more advanced form of this is box breathing, something used by special forces soldiers or SWAT teams to help them stay at a calm level during extended periods of high stress. It works like this:
- Breathe in for four seconds.
- Hold for four seconds.
- Relax and exhale for four seconds.
- Hold for four seconds. And repeat as needed.
You can also use breath to energize yourself, Greg added. If you’re heading into a meeting and feeling low energy, quick, short, and sharp exhales will spike stress levels in your brain and activate your body.
Hear more from Greg on the power of breath in the video below:
This is simply about moving your body — not exercise, just movement. One good thing that came out of the pandemic, Greg said, is that after lockdown conditions lightened, people were suddenly going outside for long walks. This is what we need to see continue.
Movement gets us breathing harder, which moves more oxygen throughout our body and gets our heart pumping more blood to our tissues. Our muscles get activated and our body releases stem cells, which are responsible for healing all of the different parts of our body.
Most importantly, Greg said, it sparks the creation of new mitochondria. If you don’t move, your body dissolves mitochondria because they take energy to create and maintain. But as soon as you start moving, your body will quickly replenish them.
And it doesn’t take much. As little as 15 minutes of walking per day lowers our risk of cancer by 20-40%, reverses cardiovascular disease, and instantaneously reverses type 2 diabetes, Greg said. Plus, it can be a primary treatment for depression and anxiety. Doing 3-5 workouts per week has been shown to lower the risk for mental illness. Greg’s recommended mental health protocol is three, 45-minute sessions of movement per week as this has been proven to optimize mental health.
Hear move from Greg on the healing power of movement in the video below:
An important physiological concept that Greg says is key to elevating our health, performance, and energy is the idea of hormesis, which suggests that a little bit of stress is good, a lot is not. For example, Greg said, salt is a stressor on the body, a little bit of salt is good for us, a lot of salt is bad.
Hormesis is particularly important because it controls the inflammatory process in our body, Greg said. When we are stressed, physically or mentally, that causes damage inside of our cells akin to a forest fire — it blows through the tissues, breaks them all down, leaving a trail of destruction behind. This stimulates a whole lot of molecules to start circulating around our body to heal, repair, and regenerate.
This is why hormesis is a fundamental practice for high performers — a little bit of stress and inflammation is good, a lot is not.
Learn more about hormesis and how to incorporate deep performance and high recovery into your lives to sustain healthy high performance in the video below:
Coming out of the pandemic, we need to get back to joy, Greg said, to move from languishing to flourishing. It comes down to the three Ps — your people, places, and pursuits.
The greatest predictor of decreased mortality is our social connections. After being kept apart for so long, take this time to build your dream team back up, Greg said.
Equally important are the places you put yourself in. There is no separation between humans and nature, Greg said, mathematically we are identical. When we immerse ourselves in nature, it enables us to heal, repair, regenerate, and recover. Doing this even just once a week helps us get those benefits.
Lastly, your pursuits, or as Greg calls it, your ikigai, which is Japanese for your reason for being. Take time to reflect on where you want to direct your attention and energy. Building ikigai into your daily activity heightens joy in our lives.
Learn more about the “three Ps” and their impact on our health in the video below:
Dr. Greg Wells is a renowned health and high-performance expert. He has dedicated his career to studying the science of human limits and developing practical strategies to help individuals and organizations perform at their best, even under the most challenging circumstances.
Contact us to learn more about Greg and how he helps audiences optimize their health and performance both at home and work.