Matt Kansy is a health and wellness coach with more than 20 years of experience helping people achieve their goals. Author of Optimize: Steps to Lose Weight, Fight Disease and Maximize Mental and Physical Performance, he specializes in nutrition, physical activity, sleep hygiene and stress management. Recently, Kansy spoke with employees at WorldQuant on the effect of the global quarantine on personal wellness, tips for optimizing our health and best practices for working remotely. Below is a recap of the conversation.
As a global community, we have experienced a shift in our daily lives. What’s your best advice for maintaining a strong immune system?
Matt Kansy: It can be difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle even during ordinary times, let alone in our “new normal.” These days, it’s much harder but more important than ever. I have four tips that I keep telling my clients: Optimize sleep, reduce your stress, nourish your body and prioritize physical movement. These are the primary influencers of a strong immune system.
Let’s go through each one. What role does sleep play in immunity?
It is the primary system responsible for restoration and recovery. Proper sleep restores damaged cells and tissue, cleans up metabolic waste and resets hormones. It’s also anti-inflammatory. Poor sleep is pro-inflammatory, weakens the immune system and impairs cognitive and physical functions.
Do you have any tips for better sleep?
Come up with your own pre-bedtime routine — whether that’s drinking herbal tea, taking a shower or reading a book. It’s important to sleep at a consistent time each night. Blackout shades can be helpful so that you’re not up too early from the natural light. Also, stop eating and drinking two hours beforehand, and avoid excessive screen time one to two hours before bed. The blue light will keep you up!
COVID-19 has triggered stress for all of us, in some form or another. How do we manage stress — or better yet — avoid it altogether?
Stress is a contributor to many modern-day diseases. It is a product of our thoughts. So if you can manage your thoughts, you can manage your stress. It’s hard to avoid it entirely, as it’s a part of life. There are a few different breathing exercises you can do to cope: diaphragmatic, box and 4-7-8. I’d encourage you to look them up and see what works for you. Mindfulness and meditation exercises can also help manage stress. If you’re new to all of this, I’d check out the following apps as a first step — Headspace, Calm, Oak and Insight Timer. And it goes without saying… being more physically active and getting more sleep will reduce your stress.
We’ve all heard the phrase: “You are what you eat.” How important is a good diet these days?
A good diet is critical right now. Get into the mindset of nourishing yourself, rather than feeding yourself. Whatever you decide to follow or not, not to drink your calories if possible should be your one takeaway. Liquid sugars like soda, juice and other sweetened beverages are very problematic. Instead, try and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Always start with a nice big glass first thing in the morning. Consume plenty of fruits and veggies for nutrients and prebiotic fiber. If adding any supplements, it’s good to consult with your doctor first — but in my experience — the best ones are zinc, vitamins A, C, D3 (with K2), omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric (or curcumin) and echinacea. Ideally, it’s best to avoid alcohol, sugary drinks, refined grains and processed foods. They can cause excessive amounts of insulin to be produced and the inflammatory ingredients found in these products lead to weakened immune function.
Are there any simple eating habits we can incorporate to stay on track?
I like to follow a version of time-restricted eating (TRE). For my clients, I suggest that they eat between 9:00 in the morning and 7:00 at night, and then fast until 9:00 the next morning. This helps them control their eating window and stick to a healthier schedule. Water, seltzer and herbal teas are okay to consume when fasting.
As we’ve now been quarantined for months, getting enough exercise is top of mind. How do we optimize our physical health?
Think about it. Your routine — which may have involved dropping the kids off at school, walking to work, going to the gym or just being on your feet — has been upended. My best advice during this time is to keep moving throughout the day. Get outside and go for a walk, at least once daily. You need the fresh air and the sunlight; your vitamin D levels are likely lower by staying indoors. In addition to walking, resistance exercises at home are great. You can use bands or weights if you have them, or even your own body weight. These exercises have a direct impact on the nervous system and can be a powerful stress reducer. It’s also important to think about exercise as it relates to your lymphatic system, which is essential for eradicating toxins and fighting infections. Rebounding, jogging, jumping rope and resistance exercises aid lymphatic drainage. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity, which translates to 30 minutes five times a week. Another tip is to do 15 minutes of physical activity before each meal; you can squeeze in some exercise before breakfast, lunch and dinner during the weekdays.
Many of us in nonessential industries are fortunate enough to be working remotely. What are some best practices for making the home a functional workplace?
Whereas some people love working from home, others are finding it more challenging for a number of reasons. Our homes are a place of rest and relaxation, not necessarily places of motivation. Break the habits that you have associated with your home and create new ones. If you can, create more than one work space, rearrange your furniture and make some room for indoor physical activity. Eat lunch at scheduled times. Set alarms for different tasks that need to get done, whether it’s work, chores around the house or helping your kids with virtual school. Make sure you and your family take breaks, too. It may be the most important thing you can do.