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'The Ripple Effect': U of T expert's new book teaches healthy living (including how to sleep better)

Want to start the New Year a better, healthier you? You don't need to make dramatic changes, says Professor Greg Wells from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education. All it takes are a few simple steps – and consistency.

Wells, whose research interests include physiological assessment and training, and high-performance sport, spoke to Pursuit magazine about his new book, The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better,​​​ and shared tips for healthy living.

In a sea of health and wellness books, what makes your book different?

I think it’s great that there are so many books out there now on health and well-being, because it means that many people are interested in trying to live a healthier life. What I tried to do was to clear up the confusion that exists about sleep, nutrition and physical activity by distilling the science down and focusing on actions that people can take.

You say that optimal well-being can be obtained through a commitment to the 'holy trinity' of healthy living. What is that?

I see the holy trinity as sleep, eat and move. You need to sleep soundly and if you sleep soundly, your nutrition can improve, because sleeping well regulates the hormones that control your appetite and satiety. If you eat well, you will have more energy and be able to exercise more. Finally, if you move more, all of a sudden you’ll be sleeping better. Once these three areas are optimized, people’s mental health often begins to improve, and that sets the stage for interventions to allow us develop mental performance capabilities as well.

Achieving a health and fitness transformation sounds daunting. How can we do that without making major changes or sacrifices in our lives?

Making massive transformations is daunting, so I like to ask people: What little things can they implement right now that they are able to do for the rest of their lives? Can you go for a walk after dinner? Can you walk to and from the subway to work? Can you stand during meetings? Can you switch to water from soft drinks? Micro changes make a huge difference if you add them up over time and I believe that’s the key. It’s like compound interest for your body and brain.

How do we make the effects last?

The key is to be consistent. If you’re going to drink more water, for example, that means drinking more water for the rest of your life, not just for a few weeks. If you’re going to add walking to your life, that means walking most days for the rest of your life. Positive changes don’t have to be hard and they don’t take a lot of time. We just need to be really consistent over time.

Fit tips from The Ripple Effect

  1. We know there’s a link between sleep and physical health and we know there’s a link between sleep and mental health, so the No. 1 recommendation I have for people is to get between seven to eight hours of sleep and to do so consistently.
  2. Eat high nutrient density food, not high calorie dense food. You’ve heard it before, but adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet really is powerful.
  3. Move more. If you can add 15 minutes of physical activity to your day and you’re consistent with that, there’s going to be a huge positive benefit that accrues over time.
  4. Think clearly. Take some time every single day to focus on the most important thing you need to do in a completely undistracted environment. For 90 minutes each day, turn off all of your devices, turn off your email and phone, and focus. You’ll get much more done in much less time.