THE BLOG
07/02/2014 10:57 am ET Updated Sep 01, 2014

The Three Basic Steps to Thriving Most Women Overlook

Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

How much sleep did you get last night? Do you remember to get up and move every 20 minutes? Did the last thing you ate, dial your energy up or down? With 40 percent of professional women reporting they are "hanging on by a thread" perhaps it's time to revisit the basics of well-being when it comes to creating the careers and life we love.

I was pretty sure I had this all figured out until I recently interviewed best-selling author Tom Rath for this podcast and discovered that sugar is the new nicotine, exercising three times a week is not enough and the best performers get eight hours and 36 minutes of sleep each night.

"Everything from how well we sleep at night, the foods we put in our mouths, and how much we're moving particularly while we're at work, has a profound effect not only on our own levels of energy, happiness and productivity but on your colleagues as well," explained Rath.

For example, a study of more than 80,000 people suggests that total intake of fruits and vegetables is a robust predictor of overall happiness. Every additional daily serving of fruits or vegetables, all the way up to seven servings, continues to improve well-being and move us toward flourishing.

And while working out regularly is a great habit because most of spend around nine hours a day sitting down it's essential we're active throughout the day if we want to remain healthy.

Finally while your natural tendency may be to get one less of sleep to tick that last thing off your to-do list or have a little fun with friends, the exact opposite occurs when it comes to your achievement and enjoyment. When you lose an hour of sleep, it decreases your well-being, productivity, health and ability to think. Yet how often is sleep the first thing you're willing to sacrifice?

The good news is small decisions -- about how you eat, move and sleep each day -- count more than you think when it comes to your ability to thrive at work. Here are some recommended changes Rath suggests we start with:

  • Eating -- For your overall approach to eating, find foods with less fat, fewer carbohydrates, and as little added sugar as possible. Set your sights on foods that are good for your near-term energy and long-term health. If you make a decision that does more good than harm, such as opting for water over soda, think of it as a net gain. When you pick a side of fries instead of vegetables, think of it as a net loss. Ask yourself if what you are about to eat is a net gain, based on what you know about all the ingredients. If you develop a habit of asking this question, you will make better decisions in the moment.
  • Moving -- Every hour you spend on your rear end -- in a car, watching television, attending a meeting, or at your computer -- saps your energy and ruins your health. The key is to stand, stretch and increase activity as much as possible -- every 20 minutes try to move for at least two minutes if you can. Walk to someone's office instead of calling. Park the car a block from where you need it. Grab a pedometer and try to get to 10,000 steps each day. Instead of viewing a long walk as something you don't have time for, think of it as an opportunity to get in some extra activity that will make you healthier.
  • Sleeping -- While it may seem like skipping sleep is the only way you can get other things done, doing so comes at a cost. Losing 90 minutes of sleep has been found to reduce your daytime alertness by nearly one-third it's no wonder when you get less sleep you achieve less at work, skip regular exercise, and have poorer interactions with your loved ones. To improve your sleep turn off technology an hour before you go to bed, make sure your room is 3 to 5 degrees cooler than what you experience during the day and make sure you get up at the same time each morning - even on the weekend.

"If you eat, move, and sleep well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work and give more to your community," explained Rath.

Take Rath's free 30-day challenge to well-being here.

This post first appeared in womensagenda.com.au.

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