Flying healthy

If you prefer organic food, chemical-free cosmetics, regular exercise and sleep sound enough to recharge your system, airplanes may seem like a carefully constructed form of hell.
However, as more airlines recognise that today’s high flier is interested in arriving in at least as good a shape as they departed in, on-board amenities and services are leaning towards enhancing well-being. 
Here, how some of the airlines considered the best in the world fare. 

Think well, stay well

What’s in – or on – your mind while you’re contained in a capsule 40,000 feet above sea level can have a strong influence on the mental and physical shape you arrive in. 
Nervous flyers, and hypochondriacs, may see danger and exotic bacteria, at every turn. 
The solution, of course, is to not only fly with a top airline that takes safety and hygiene to heart, but to practice meditation or relaxation techniques on-board rather than imbibe a fortifying malt whisky. Alcohol not only dehydrates but can ramp anxiety levels after the sedating effect wears off.
Our favourite part of trendsetting Virgin Australia’s flight offerings are its mindful meditation series, presented by life coach Erin Kyna, including Overcoming Anxiety, In Seat Mindful Movement, Finding Peace and Gratitude.
Listening to any, or all, of these is guaranteed to switch the nervous system from ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic to healing parasympathetic mode. 
Most top airlines also include advice on well-being in their in-flight magazines, and offer exercise videos. 

Organic gourmet

There’s absolutely no problem getting premium alcohol, or gourmet food such as lobster in black bean sauce or glazed duck breast served on Royal Doulton dinnerware on the world’s top airlines.
But what sense does it make to eat organic muesli, activated almonds, or free-range chicken at home and splurge on rich food or alcohol in the anonymous surrounds of an aircraft?
Most airlines cater to special dietary requirements - order the AVBL (Asian Vegetarian Meal), LSML (Low Sodium Meal) or VOML (Vegetarian Oriental Meal) on board Emirates, which offers 19 special meals to meet religious and medical dietary needs.
Lighter meals, such as soups or salads, are also widely available.
However, tight profit margins have made prioritising sustainable or organic food products a low priority. 
Astoundingly, a small airline called Kullaflyg provides Economy class passengers with organic meals; but you’ll need to take a flight in Sweden to enjoy this service. 
Among larger carriers, Cathay Pacific’s seafood is sustainable and it restricts the use of wild caviar or endangered species. It also sources welfare-friendly pork from the United Kingdom while, currently, the menu design team is looking at hydroponic vegetables which follow organic principles. The tea it serve in First and Business Class is also organic. 
LAN Airlines features many natural ingredients from South America, including local fish such as salmon from the Chilean fjords while another airline using sustainable, locally sourced food and beverages is KLM. 
On British Airways you can savour cookies from an organic bakery located on the Scottish island of Mull while the fish, tea and coffee served are sustainably sourced.
Ordering the vegetarian meal is one easy way to increase well-being dividends.
On Virgin Australia, travellers have the good fortune of being offered vegetarian food designed by international chef Luke Mangan; at Qantas, it’s Neil Perry dishing up an asparagus, green peas and Ligurian olive salad, served with fresh South Australian Woodside goat curd in Business Class.

Bigger really is better

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the legs and can lead to a pulmonary embolism.
There’s a reason, however, that it’s also called ‘economy class’ syndrome. Long flights trapped in cramped seating can be a risk factor, which is one reason many airlines are increasing legroom in economy as well as the pointy-end of the plane.
Medical issues aside, the pressing question for Business and First Class travellers, is how seriously airlines take a good night’s sleep.
Etihad Airways worked with sleep experts from the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology to enhance in-air rest and, in Diamond First class, offers sustainable, all-natural COCO-MAT bedding.
Its luxuriously spacious three-room Residence, on its new fleet of Airbus A380s, also banishes any fears of cramping or DVT, while pillow mist and pulse point oil in First Class help anxious travellers drift off to sleep.   

 qantas.

qantas.

Qantas also sought out ergonomic experts to help redesign seats and beds in its new A330 suite. 
One hundred percent cotton sheets, Givenchy pyjamas, pure wool blankets, electronic dimming windows and even a “deep sleep turn down” are other sleep essentials touted by top airlines.
But if you’re on a plane for a substantial amount of time, it’s vital seat/bed statistics that probably interest you.
Everyone likes to claim to be the biggest and best but Cathay Pacific’s boast that it has some of the longest and widest beds on any commercial airline, with a fully flat bed on its A330s 205.7cm to 220.7cm long and 91.4cm wide in First Class and over 208.2cm long and up to 70cm on some of its Business Class flights, not without merit.
Fully flat beds in Qantas’s A380 First Suites are up to 212cm and 73.6cm wide while those in Business are 203cm long and 61cm wide. 
Emirates First Class seating in its Airbus A380, Airbus 340 and most Boeing 777s features fully flat beds that are 208cm long and include a multi-mode massage system with adjustable speed and intensity.  In Business Class beds are up to 200.6cm long and 52.1cm wide. 
In Etihad’s Residence, you’ll sleep on a 208.2cm long fully flat bed; in Business its A380 and B787 seats that convert to a 204.4cm bed. 
Other major players on the more-space-for-sleep front include Singapore Airlines and Garuda Indonesia.
By early 2016, Virgin Australia will also be playing with the big boys, having completed a major redesign of the Business Class and Premium Economy cabins on its Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft that will include suite-style seating that converts to a 203cm long fully flat bed in Business Class and more spacious seating configurations in Premium Economy. 
In Premium Economy, other good choices for comfort and well-being include Qantas, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa, with seats up around 50cm in width on selected aircraft, according to www.seatguru.com
Aboard the major airlines that operate long-haul services out of Sydney and Melbourne, seat width in Economy ranges from 43cm to the 48.25cm offered by Singapore Airlines aboard all the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A380 and A330-300, it says.

Natural pampering

Most carriers offer luxury brands such as Bvlgari, Ermenegildo Zegna and Salvatore Ferragamo to First and Business class passengers, but chemical-free alternatives are starting to make an impact.
You’ll find an organic, locally-made product, Antipodes skincare, in Air New Zealand’s Business and Premium Economy classes; on Virgin Australia, Business Class amenity kits contain REN Cosmetics that use only 100% plant and mineral derived ingredients.
Cathay Pacific offers First Class passengers products such as Resurrection Body Balm and Fabulous Face Cleanser from Aesop, a brand that includes plant-based ingredients, while in Business Class it’s toiletries from biodynamic cosmetics company Jurlique.
Qantas First Class passengers receive skincare from Payot and Business Class Aurora, free from nasty ingredients like sulphates or parabens; British Airways dishes up Aromatherapy Associates in the women’s First Class kit and London grooming specialist The Refinery for the mens’ version, both brands based on essential oils.
Garuda Indonesia has partnered with French botanical brand L'Occitane en Provence for those in Business class; while on American Airlines, every First and Business class kit contains products from red flower, a New York-based, eco-friendly beauty and lifestyle brand.

Reducing stress

Having to listen to the stockbroker next to you extrapolate about market trends is certain to skyrocket stress. 
Noise cancelling headphones are the answer with most premium airlines offering them to high flyers – and some offering top-of-the-line Bose - as well as eye masks that effectively take you out of the game. 
Mood lighting designed to control cabin lighting in sync with the light outside the aircraft and help reduce jetlag is also widespread.
LAN claims advanced air humidification techniques on its new Boeing 787 that helps reduce possible discomfort for passengers in terms of fatigue and dryness.
On Virgin Australia, free transfers if you’re one of the travellers on international long-haul services (to Abu Dhabi or Los Angeles) eligible for a complimentary limousine service to and from participating airports, are sure to ease travel tension.

The cost of burnout

By Helen Hawkes

With the emphasis on peak performance in leading companies, many executives are risking something more personal than failure. 
Stress-related illness has been estimated to cost the Australian economy more than $14 billion a year in absenteeism and presenteeism, where people come to work but have low levels of productivity.
According to a 2015 report by Comcare, during 2013–14 mental stress claims accounted for 16 per cent of all workers compensation claims and 37 per cent of total claim costs, with an average total cost per claim of $342,000. 

 Edwin Trevor-Roberts.

Edwin Trevor-Roberts.

“Burnout, a form of work-related stress, is more likely to occur in middle professional levels where tight deadlines and high volume means that long hours are necessary,” says Edwin Trevor-Roberts, CEO of the national career management firm, Trevor-Roberts.  
“Senior executives are also likely candidates as the expectations for accessibility and output are relentless and usually include weekends and holidays. “ 
For Stuart Taylor, CEO of the Resilience Institute Australia, which consults on sustainable high performance to global organisations  including Shell and Price Waterhouse Coopers, it took a brain tumour for him to realise he had reached his physical and emotional limit.
“I thought I was bulletproof,” says Taylor, whose diagnosis came with a prediction, in 2002, that he would live only two and a half years.
With degrees in aeronautical engineering, IT, business and psychology, he had worked extensively in government, professional services, banking and finance, telecommunications and the manufacturing sector.  Taylor had also been an Associate Director with KPMG Management and worked as a senior leader in a global corporation. 
 “I was working 60 hour weeks, sometimes more, to deliver,” he says.  “I was putting myself in an unsustainable situation.”
He describes his illness as a “huge eye opener” that changed how he approaches work as well as his lifestyle, nutrition and mindset – helped along by 10 days at The Gawler Cancer Foundation.
“The challenge in most organisations is that there is a lot of change – mergers, disruptions, technology,” says Taylor. “And peak performance ultimately leads to burnout because you are being asked to spring 100metres 100 times.”
In a recent study conducted by the Institute with 16,000 people across 250 organisations 43.3% of all respondents ranked highly on questions relating to tiredness and fatigue, 35.7% work late into evening, 24.1% exhibit stress symptoms and 30.6% experience worry.
Psychologist and author Ellen Jackson, of Potential Psychology Services, believes personality is a factor for those who experience workplace stress/burnout with some evidence suggesting perfectionist personality are at greater risk.
“Work gets more complex as we move up the organisational chain,” she says. “Decisions are less black and white and we are interacting with a greater number of people with different interests and opinions.  If you’re someone who likes to get everything ‘right’ every time this can be stressful and continued stress can lead to burnout.”
The impact of the organisational climate and the role of leadership should also not be underestimated in terms of the emotional impact and experience of employees, either positive or negative, says Jackson, who runs wellbeing training and education programs. 
According to Trevor-Roberts, a major and often overlooked factor common in those with burnout is value dissonance.
“This is where an individual’s values do not align with those displayed by the majority of people in the organisation,” he says. “This quickly reduces job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity which all may lead toward burnout.” 
While burnout is often thought of as the incapacitation of a person who is unable to work, far more insidious and common is the ‘working wounded’, he says. “That is those who continue to do their job but at reduced levels of productivity and morale and who start to suffer from health issues.”
The three components of burn out are emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a feeling of ineffectiveness, says Adam Carozza, director of MindWorks Australia, a Melbourne-based company “a Melbourne-based company which designs and delivers proactive employee assistance programs, tailored training programs, wellness products and consulting services.
“Being burnt out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring,” he says.
“People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. “
To prevent burnout, he recommends starting the day with a relaxing ritual; adopting healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits; learning to say no to requests on your time; taking a daily break from technology; engaging in a creative activity that has nothing to do with work; and maintaining or reinstating good routine in your life including exercise, relaxation and regular sleep and wake times.
Taylor encourages high flyers to “play hard and set high expectations but rejuvenate hard”. 
“What are you passionate about and how often do you make time to do it,” he asks. “What do your days look like and how much of them are about tending to others needs, with only a slither of time for yourself? “
Many executives are addicted to adrenalin, he says, and caught in an ego trap, whereas they need to master meditation, exercise and sleep, and emotional, cognitive and spiritual health to go beyond surviving the treadmill to thriving at life.
For those suffering burnout, a period of rest is critical to regain the energy and strength to continue working, says Trevor-Roberts. 
“A longer term solution requires an understanding of what is causing the burnout in the first place. Is it the work itself? A lack of knowledge or skills? The people with whom one works? The company or location? Often a few minor tweaks can yield a very positive result. “

Burnout signs and symptoms

Feeling tired and drained most of the time
Disruption to sleep patterns
Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
Change in appetite or sleep habits
Loss of motivation
Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
Sense of failure and self-doubt
Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
Detachment, feeling alone in the world
Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
Taking out your frustrations on others
Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
Withdrawing from responsibilities
Isolating yourself from others
Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done

Credit: MindWorks Australia

Survive the toxic office

Perhaps it’s the fluorescent lighting, the back-stabbing co-worker, or the incessant, unrealistic deadlines. Whatever the stressor, working in a toxic office can negatively impact your health.

Muscular pain, disturbed sleep and excess use of alcohol or painkillers are all early warning signs, says Melbourne-based clinical psychologist Adam Carrozza, who has consulted on senior leadership issues.

“One of the most significant areas people need to determine for themselves is resilience,” he says. “Type A personalities expect and want to thrive in a competitive environment but, on the sabotage spectrum, when they fall they fall hard. There is always a tipping point at which no one can reasonably be expected to function.”

Simply put, the crushing outcome of a range of detrimental workplace factors, from poor air quality or building design, to a management culture determined to grow profits at employee expense, can be physical and emotional breakdown.

Some companies are simply more fun places to work than others, at least environmentally.

At Google, Sydney, gaming facilities and themed relaxation rooms, as well as a library for quiet contemplation, take the edge off the stress of competing in a digital world. At iselect in Melbourne, a two lane running track around the core to facilitate walking meetings and sun hammocks complete with ocean views make the hard sell a less taxing experience.

For those of us who work in less titillating corporate surrounds, however, the responsibility for maintaining wellness – and a sense of fun – falls more heavily on our own shoulders.

It’s true that your employer has a legal obligation to ensure essential equipment will not damage your health. That means document holders, wrist and foot rests should be supplied; desks must accommodate a range of heights to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury; and chairs should provide support for your back, according to the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission.

However, Matthew Beechey, director of R&R Corporate Health www.rrcorphealth.com.au, says while ergonomic office design can improve musculoskeletal outcomes, old habits die hard. “You can still slouch when sitting,” he says.

Considering you’ll sit in an office chair for two, maybe three decades, it may be worth investing in something deluxe. You can build your own, physiotherapist-designed chair at Gregory Commercial Furniture, a service used by many of Australia’s top 100 companies.

Eyestrain, headaches and neck pain can be reduced by anti-glare filters on your digital devices, says Beechey – try www.amazon.com

Setting an alarm on your smart phone to take small breaks every 20 to 30 minutes, and having a regular remedial massage, will help keep your spine in good shape while building stronger core muscles is also crucial, says personal trainer, Pilates and yoga teacher Josie Cain. A bonus: increased energy reserves.

Beechey adds that, whether it’s downsizing or pressure to escalate board profits that’s at fault, eating lunch at the desk is an increasingly common but wellness-zapping practice among managers.

“People in the corporate world are overwhelmed and there is a perceived or real pressure to keep up,” he says. “They feel the need to push on through breaks, but the brain needs a rest. “

A short walk, outdoors, may be beneficial in more ways than one.

The CSIRO estimates that the cost of poor indoor air quality in Australia may be as high as $12 billion a year with pollutants such as formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (benzene and trichloroethylene or TCE), airborne biological pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, pesticides and disinfectants (phenols) and radon all potentially affecting health.

Dizziness, nausea, eye, nose and throat discomfort, itchy skin, fatigue and an inability to concentrate can signal your office has an air quality problem.

Lidia Morawska, Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology, a collaborating centre of the World Health Organization, says adequate ventilation is key to health and performance.

A high quality air-conditioning system removes carbon dioxide and other pollutants, but must be well-maintained.

However, if a building is situated on a traffic-clogged road, the same system may bring in pollution from the outside, she warns.

“There is no one prescription (for air quality),” says Professor Morawska, although companies who are fastidious about employee health can have air quality tested.

More than banks of computers – “the jury is still out on the effects of electromagnetic radiation” - printers are the main concern in offices because some emit volatile organic compounds from the toner, she adds.

The NOHSC suggests that high use photocopiers are isolated, while Professor Morawska suggests printers are at least placed under a vent.

NASA researchers have found that certain plants, including peace lilies and rubber plants, absorb pollutants and provide the fresh air and humidity that makes us healthier.

Other physical office hazards, according to global expert Initial Hygiene, include phones, that carry thousands of germs per centimetre and desks, that house 400 times more bacteria than the typical toilet seat. The solution is old-fashioned but savvy: antibacterial wipes, used lavishly.

Of course office politics can be more damaging than any one environmental stressor.

As French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people” and nowhere may this be more true than in a dog-eat-dog corporate environment.

In Toxic People: Decontaminating Difficult People At Work Without Using Weapons Or Duct Tape, Marsha Petrie Sue suggests the negative health consequences of absorbing toxic people's venom range from eczema and increased anxiety to insomnia and high blood pressure.

Some companies provide in-house counselling services, although you may wish to keep your issues to yourself and use a private, professional service.

Alternatively, a punching bag mounted in your office can help diffuse anger and frustration as well as build fitness and provide respite from desk-sitting. Try Harvey Norman’s Ringmaster Boxing Fitness Kit.


The Om guide

 Dr Paula Watkins

Dr Paula Watkins

If you’re not a meditator, or you’re a failed one, being told it’s the answer to reducing stress, disease and even ageing is incredibly irritating.

After all, how can a simple little thing like meditation do that. And, if it’s so simple, how come you can’t do it or find time for it.

Not only that but isn’t meditation for alternative spiritual types?

Well, no. Increasingly it is for corporates, many of whom are taking part in programs where meditation is stripped of any hint of Eastern spirituality and used as a solution to maximising staff potential.

More than 500 workers at IBM Australia and New Zealand now take part in a mindfulness program which an initial trial showed reduced stress levels and increased teamwork.

Ford, Google, Target, Adobe and even Goldman Sachs have all dallied with mindfulness programs while, at the National Australia Bank, meditation is offered through an online interactive health portal.

NAB Group Executive Michaela Healey, who practises Transcendental Meditation, says finding moments of stillness to refresh her mind is part of her approach to sustainable leadership.

“I work in an intense environment at an intense pace,” she says. “It’s important to remember to stop and breathe instead of clicking through your iPad or checking your phone.”

Healey initially learnt meditation because she realised her pace of living was taking a toll on her body. “I had no energy left.”

That’s changed since she meditates daily, and uses a visualisation exercise once a week.

For Kylea Tink, former CEO of the McGrath Foundation, anxiety was the motivation to explore meditation.

“My life had hit a point where between my work, my family, my friends and my interests, everything was moving so incredibly quickly that my dominant feeling on a day to day basis was a sense of being completely overwhelmed,” she says.

“For the first time in my life I had started to experience panic attacks - something I had never thought of as even being a possibility for me. Up until then I prided myself on thriving under pressure- the more stress the better the outcomes tended to be for me.”

Today the director of her own company, Tink & Associates, that helps community-orientated businesses and not for profits to become more sustainable, says she has more energy and patience and, from a work perspective, everything is much less personal.

“Learning to meditate has let me stand in a space where I can choose which balls I want to play.”

Says clinical psychologist Dr Paula Watkins, of Calm, Conscious and Connected: “Mediation is not a panacea for stress - nutrition, exercise and other factors matter too – but it’s another string to your bow.”

Research has shown that not only can it balance out a stressed nervous system but cultivate sharper thinking and clearer, more creative decision-making and enhance interpersonal skills to make you a more effective leader, says Dr Watkins who teaches high flyers how to move out of a space of hyper-adrenalin addiction and fatigue.

Even quick sessions of meditation – perhaps three minutes every hour - incorporated into the workday at regular intervals – may pay results in terms of attention, productivity and wellness, says neuroscientist Richard Davidson, founder of the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin that is exploring the impacts of meditation on the business world.

Meditation may also increase knowledge use and storage, according to a 2007 study by Richard Chambers of the University of Melbourne, that found those who took part in an intensive 10-day meditation course performed significantly better in tests than they had previously.

Besides the corporate benefits, evidence suggests meditation boosts the immune system and reduces markers of inflammation associated with a range of illnesses from ulcers and diabetes to asthma and cardiovascular stress, as well as decreases biological age.

A now famous study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience into the effects of TM on the ageing process found the mean biological age of the controls was 2.2 years younger than for the general population; of the short-term TM subjects, 5.0 years younger; of the long-term TM subjects, 12.0 years younger.

Unfortunately learning to meditate can be incredibly difficult and many people fall by the wayside before they accrue benefits.

Dr Watkins believes: “A key reason people give up on meditation is because they can’t stop their minds from thinking. This shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the practice and reflects one of the biggest and most unhelpful meditation myths, which is that when you meditate, you should try to stop all of your thoughts.

“The goal of meditation is not to stop all thinking, but to change your relationship to your thoughts so that you’re not so caught up in them, swept away in them and finding yourself fighting with them.”

As for choice of technique, she says research shows most forms of meditation, from mindfulness, breath oriented meditation, mantra, open awareness and meditations for cultivating empathy and compassion involve the same fundamental brain functions.

One, two three, breathe

Try apps like Equanimity, Take a Break and Omvana or this simple meditation technique to get started. Build from five minutes a day to what is comfortable for you, but ideally 20 to 30 minutes at least twice a day.

1. Sit in a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.

2. Enjoy three full, conscious breaths and then let your breathing settle into a natural rhythm.

3. Begin with a brief body scan. Let go of any obvious tension in your body.

4. Rest your awareness on an anchor for your meditation. Your anchor could be your breath or a mantra. Let your mind rest and pulse on this anchor.

5. You may become distracted by thoughts in your mind, noises in your environment or sensations in your body. Let them be but let them go. When you realise your mind has wandered, simply float your attention back to your anchor.

6. At the end of your practice let go of the anchor. Expand your awareness to your breath, body and then into the room around you and as you feel comfortable to do so, open your eyes.

Credit: www.calmconsciousconnected.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brain training

Business systems may once have been designed for the Industrial Age. But, in the Information or New Media Age, star performers are paid to think, says Linda Ray, co-founder of the Neuresource Group, a business that builds “brain friendly organisations”.

In short, it focuses on teaching business leaders “attentional intelligence”.

“We all suffer from bright shiny object syndrome because our brain is wired for novelty,” says Ray, who has a postgraduate degree in neuroscience and leadership. “Our question is how do we become the boss of our attention.”

According to Ray, attentional intelligence is an important part of brain training that supports leaders to build new neural connections, reduce stress levels and bring their attention easily back to what matters.

“One of the revolutionary insights to come out of neuroscience research over the last decade is that of neuroplasticity. We now know that the brain has the ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections, something that continues throughout life.”

While the Neuresource Group, that has offices in Brisbane and Perth, is one organisation supporting companies and corporate individuals to become “high performing”, an increasing range of “brain training” programs and apps are available to those who want to sharpen their cognitive abilities or that of their staff.

According to SharpBrains, an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of neuroscience, the digital brain health market is currently worth more than $1 billion and, by 2020, is forecasted to reach $6 billion.

It says staying mentally sharp outrates social security and physical health in adults over 50 as the top concern and predicts that employers will increasingly use digital tools to enhance mental performance and wellness in employees, addressing the causes of productivity loss in the workplace.

Robert Wood, a Professor of Psychology Melbourne Business School and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, has worked extensively with companies globally including Dubai Ports World, Saudi Aramco, Dow Chemical, Westpac, Santos, NSW Police, Qantas and ANZ in the development, implementation and evaluation of training programs for senior executives and other leaders.

Some of these companies took part in an Accelerated Learning Laboratory focused on the development and applications of flexible expertise in leadership roles, he says. The result: “They showed significant improvements in strategic thinking and leadership skills.”

This led Wood and colleague Dr Damian Birney, also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, to help the ABC develop Active Memory, a personalised, scientifically-structured brain training app that exercises memory, flexibility, attention and knowledge.

“Even small improvements in these cognitive functions can potentially have a significant impact,” says Wood while Melissa Firth, Acting General Manager of Digital Business Development, ABC Commercial, says Active Memory has drawn considerable interest from businesses running wellbeing programs for their staff.

Other current major players in the brain training program/app field include:

lumosity.com, that claims to collaborate with researchers from 36 universities worldwide and offers games that incorporate neuropsychological tasks.

www.BrainMetrix.com, billed as an educational website that encourages brain fitness, tells users: “Here you stretch and train your brain to the limit, train and test your memory, or test your reflexes.

www.BrainHQ.com is a brain training system “built and tested by an international team of more than 100 top neuroscientists and other brain experts” with exercises that are "scientifically designed" -“more than 70 published papers (and counting) show real benefits from using them” – that can be personalised.

At www.mybrainsolutions.com, more “scientifically designed exercises target attention, memory, flexibility, stress reduction and positivity”, developed with “a research network of 350-plus scientists”.

While those who are expected to be mentally sharp 24/7 may well be lured by such promises, there has been robust debate within the scientific community about some of the claims brain training programs and apps make.

This year The Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development gathered many of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists to share their views about brain games and offer a consensus report to the public.

They found claims promoting brain games were frequently exaggerated but also believed that cognitive training produces “statistically significant improvement in practiced skills that sometimes extends to improvement on other cognitive tasks administered in the lab”.

As findings have accumulated, however, compelling evidence of general and enduring positive effects on the way minds and brains age has remained elusive, they said.

However Wood believes: “People who engage in brain training become more confident in their cognitive skills, which contributes to more effective use of knowledge and memory in everyday tasks like recalling conversations, organizing data and adaptive problem solving.

“This may be a placebo effect, but if confidence increases use of working memory and existing knowledge, that may be enough of a benefit in itself.”

Dr Chris Hatherly, National General Manager – Research, of Alzheimer’s Australia, says current research strongly suggests brain training can produce short and medium term improvements – “you can improve your problem solving abilities and building new neuron pathways”. Yet he too says there is much less evidence these specific tasks translate into improvements in real world cognitive abilities.

Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s Australia www.rightdementia.org.au has developed yourbrainmatters.org.au and released its own app Brainiac, a game of skill that uses the international Scrabble dictionary.

So where does that leave the powerbroker who wants to shore up his or her ability to deal with the neurological challenges of business?

Hatherly is quick to point out that those who want to stay ahead of the pack in cognitive abilities would do well to look at lifestyle factors including exercise, a healthy diet and quality sleep.

Meanwhile, over the next three years Active Memory’s researchers will address gaps in research to date on the extent to which brain training can improve conversation recall, mental arithmetic, systematic thinking to adaptive problem solving in one of the largest studies of its kind, funded by the Australian Research Council.

At the same time, some neuroscientists suggest that, before investing time and money in brain games, users consider what economists call opportunity costs: an hour spent doing solo software drills is an hour not spent hiking, learning Italian, or pursuing a pastime that may well have its own cognitive reward.


10 ways to live longer

If you want to stay youthful and competitive into your later decades, the good news is that you can.

While we live in a culture that actively promotes the idea of age-related degeneration, in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, a growing band of researchers and medical professionals are preaching a different message.

 PHOTO: Goji Fitness.

PHOTO: Goji Fitness.

That message is that your beliefs are your biology and that by rejecting the traditional model of age-related decline, and caring for the whole body, mind and spirit, you can retain both vitality and function.

International bestselling author and medical practitioner Dr Christiane Northrup says many health professionals now recognise that the “causes of health” including exalted emotions such as compassion, joy and love; elevated cognition (focussing on what’s positive); and expressing righteous anger can help us stay ahead of the pathology curve.

Even our genes need not be our destiny, she adds, with the new science of epigenetics set to discover what causes genes to be expressed – or not.

At the same time, organisations such as The AustralAsian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine or A5M  are dedicated to advancing longevity science, medicine and technology to detect, prevent and treat ageing-related diseases. It promotes an integrative and preventative approach to maintaining the best possible health outcomes, using a scientifically proven, holistic, “entire body” approach to maintaining and restoring wellness.

Meanwhile stem cell therapy, therapeutic cloning, genetic engineering and genomics are what anti-ageists say will further shore up health and longevity in the next decades.

Whatever path you are on now to wellness, here are 10 ways to improve or maximise lifelong health.

1. Release toxic emotions

The more critical and unforgiving we are towards ourselves, the more miserable and sick we’re likely to be, says Northrup. “The body has a remarkable ability to manifest shame as illness or physical problems – it produces inflammatory chemicals in the body that set us up for illness,” she says in her latest book Goddesses Never Age

“This is why, in the famous CDC-Kaiser Permanente study of adverse childhood experiences, it has been documented that those who experience events generally associated with shame, abandonment and betrayal are far more likely to experience health problems and die prematurely that those who didn’t.”

2. Ditch the bad habits

In a study of nearly 17,000 people between 16 and 90 years of age, University of Zurich researchers found there were four lifestyle choices that can subtract years from your life: tobacco smoking, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol consumption. Someone who smokes, drinks a lot, is physically inactive and has an unhealthy diet has 2.5 fold higher mortality risk in epidemiological terms than an individual who looks after his/her health. 

3. Do whatever you can to reduce negative stress

Some stress can be positive – to help you achieve deadlines, or motivate you to chart results. However, a prolonged fight or flight response triggers sympathetic nervous system overdrive and persistently elevated cortisol levels, with secondary sex and thyroid hormone suppression, says Dr Tania Ash, clinical director of integrative medical clinics, Vitality Hub, in Prahran and Malvern, Victoria. 

“High cortisol also switches off melatonin production, disturbing our REM sleep - our key repair time overnight,” she says. “It disturbs our mood, making us feel anxious and irritable, and tired but wired and, over time, results in adrenal reserve depletion with concomitant chronic fatigue, chronic inflammation and cognitive dysfunction.”
Her suggestion: a regular mindfulness practice.

4. Have a passion

Numerous studies suggest people with a passion live longer, healthier lives. Maximise the time you spend doing what you love.

5. Keep moving

It is cellular breakdown that produces the physical changes we associate with ageing, says Dr Northrup. “This deterioration occurs in large part because of the accumulation of toxins,” she says.

“The toxic build up’s effect on the body is exacerbated by the development of dense fascia: that is scarring of connective tissue caused by physical, emotional and mental stress.”

Spending too much time sitting and lying down speeds up the ageing process, she says. “One reason movement is vitally important is that your fluids can more easily move toxins to organs that process them if you aren’t sitting all day long.”

6. Don’t overeat

Restricting kilojoules has shown some benefits in increasing longevity, although research on humans is limited, says author and anti-ageing practitioner Dr Michael Elstein, of Eternal Health in Sydney. He recommends the 5:2 Diet. 

7. Indulge in pleasure

Cells in our brains, blood vessels and lungs produce a signalling molecule, or gas, called nitric oxide, says Dr Northrup.

“Its production is triggered by laughter, orgasm, and other experiences of pleasure, as well as by eating fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, meditating and exercising,” she says.

Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessel walls and sets off a chain of reaction of other feelgood chemicals in the body. “It also signals white blood cells to fight infections and destroy tumours and reduces cellular inflammation.”

Simply put: “The biochemistry of pleasure can counteract the biochemistry of ageing.”

8. Value relationships

Most centenarians have strong social networks now a new study from the United States suggests that social interaction should be considered an important factor for extending lifespan.
Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah conducted a meta-analysis of published studies and found that having social ties with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues can improve our odds of survival by 50 per cent.
They say low social interaction has a similar impact on lifespan as being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

9. Detox your diet

Research proves vegetarians have less cancer and heart disease but must watch out they get enough vitamin B12, zinc, protein, says Dr Elstein.

Reduce meat consumption, especially processed meats that an analysis of 800 studies from around the world by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently concluded showed "sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer".

Eschew processed foods and choose organic or biodynamic fruits and vegetables and grass, not grain-fed, organic meats and wild caught, not farmed, fish as well as plenty of omega-3 fats in the form of flaxseed oil, avocados and nuts and seeds.

Dr Ash also recommends including fermented foods to feed a healthy gut flora population, such as sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha tea; as well as nutrient-dense bone broth for gut wall repair.

10. Get as much sleep as you can

“Sleep is hands down the most effective way to metabolise excess stress hormones,” says Dr Northrup.

Dr Ash suggests keeping the lighting dim in your home in the evening as bright light shuts off melatonin production, not going to bed with your laptop, smart phone or iPad as their blue light switches off melatonin production, switch off your wifi at night to reduce EMR which can disturb sleep cycles.