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World WellBeing At Work Week: Workplace Wellbeing from a Functional Medicine Perspective

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In our fourth World WellBeing At Work Week article, sponsored by Deloitte LLP Jersey, Jersey-based Holistic Functional Medicine Practitioner Dr Sheila Richards delves into the dynamics of workplace wellbeing using a functional medicine approach. She examines the complex relationships between diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors to enhance health and vitality.

Foundations of Functional Medicine: A holistic view

Functional medicine embraces the idea that health is not solely the absence of disease but a state of optimal physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. It acknowledges the influence of diet, lifestyle, and environment on an individual’s health. This leads to improved employee satisfaction, productivity, and overall organisational success. We function at our best when our core needs are met, including food and water, exercise and sleep, supportive relationships, and a sense of purpose.

Optimising nutrition for peak performance

Nutrition is the cornerstone of wellbeing.

Making informed healthy food choices can support physical and mental health. Access to nutrient-dense whole foods in the workplace, with time and space for mindful eating supports clear thinking, creativity, and productivity. We can’t digest and absorb nutrients optimally when we are multitasking at our desks or running between appointments.

Balancing blood sugar levels for sustained energy

Stable blood sugar levels are crucial for sustained energy and mental clarity.

Avoiding sugary snacks and beverages and opting for whole plant foods providing complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats helps to prevent energy crashes.

Taking an avocado, tin of sardines, and a jar of nuts and seeds with you to work can help prevent sugar cravings.

Supporting gut health for overall wellness

Most of us have experienced how poor food choices can affect our mood and cause difficulty concentrating. Making the wrong food choices feeds the wrong bugs in our gut microbiome. The gut plays a pivotal role in overall health, influencing everything from digestion to immune function and mental wellbeing. Probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables support a healthy gut microbiome which is reflected in improvements in mood and clearer thinking due to the Gut : Brain connection.

Prioritising sleep hygiene for cognitive function

Sleep is a greatly undervalued resource for good health. Getting enough quality sleep is essential for cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall wellbeing.

Modern lifestyles have changed a lot over the last hundred years but our waking and sleeping hours still impact on our health. Sleep deprivation causes more than just fatigue as it affects our mood, decision making and general performance the next day. It is also associated with increased risk of illness, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and depression.

Our bodies are designed to rest and sleep when it’s dark and to go outside when the sun comes up. Bright lights and time in the evening spent looking at screens confuse the delicate cortisol and melatonin hormones that control our wake and sleep cycles. Melatonin is the sleep hormone that is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-ageing. Circadian rhythm affects how much time our body spends on healing, detoxing, and rebalancing our bodies when we’re asleep.

Late nights reduce this rejuvenating window and late meals also delay this vital process. Healthy sleep habits with a regular waking time support this.

Mitigating stress through mindful practices

Stress is a common workplace challenge that can significantly impact employee wellbeing.

Incorporating even brief mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga sessions and regular breaks helps to recharge and refocus, ultimately reducing stress levels for better performance.

Embracing movement for physical vitality

Regular physical activity is vital for maintaining physical and mental health. Anyone who incorporates movement into their daily routine with stretching exercises, walking meetings, or on-site fitness classes will find it easier to think clearly, with better stress and immune resilience, and enjoyment of their working day.

Even walking or running up and down the stairs at work whilst waiting for the kettle to boil improves cardiovascular and mental health. Ergonomic workspaces may be required to support posture and musculoskeletal health.

Addressing environmental factors for wellbeing

The physical environment of the workplace can significantly influence health.

We all benefit from good air quality, adequate lighting, and ergonomic furnishings. Artificial fragrances and personal and cleaning products can be bad for our health even if we have no obvious sensitivity or allergic reaction, as they disrupt hormonal balance. Green plants improve indoor air quality and create a more pleasant workplace.

Promoting social connection and emotional wellbeing

A sense of belonging, mutual respect and emotional support are crucial for overall wellbeing. Team-building activities, social events, and opportunities for open communication have wide ranging benefits in working communities. Negative impacts of poor colleague relationships where people believe their opinions are not heard or valued are seen in all areas of the workplace. Facilitating inter-employee communication, enabling different personality types to communicate and mental health support, such as employee assistance programmes or access to counselling services have been effective in successful business.

In summary, a Functional Medicine approach to workplace wellbeing recognises the profound impact of diet, lifestyle and environmental factors on employee health, happiness, and performance.

By prioritising these factors, organisations can create a work environment that nurtures the holistic wellbeing of their employees. This investment not only leads to healthier, more engaged employees but also cultivates a culture of vitality and productivity that benefits the entire organisation.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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