Excerpts from NAHC President Val J. Halamandaris’ Interview with Tom Rath, One of this Year’s Annual Meeting General Session Speakers
October 18, 2013 08:52 AM
Tom Rath is one of the most influential authors of the last decade. He studies the role of human behavior in health, business, and economics. Rath writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, from well-being to organizational leadership.
Rath’s latest book, Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes, is already receiving critical acclaim as a “transformative work.” His roadmap for “leading a long and meaningful life” is the latest of several international bestsellers including the #1 New York Times bestseller, How Full Is Your Bucket? In total, his books have sold more than 5 million copies, been translated in 16 languages, and made over 250 appearances on the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list.
Rath serves as a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, where he previously spent 13 years leading the organization’s work on employee engagement, strengths, and well-being. He also served as vice chairman of the VHL cancer research organization. He earned degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania, where he is now a regular guest instructor. Rath and his wife Ashley, along with their two children live in Arlington, Virginia.
Below are excerpts from his interview with NAHC President Val J. Halamandaris. The full interview will be featured in an upcoming issue of CARING Magazine.
VJH: There have been many studies that have been contradictory about whether something is good for you or not. With coffee, for example, some studies say it’s good for you, some say it’s not. Recently some definitive studies suggest that a cup or two a day is therapeutic, and even those who don't like coffee ought to take it medicinally.
Is that where the science on that issue stands?
TR: The challenge is that for some people coffee isn’t a good idea – people with specific heart conditions, pregnant women, and so forth. For the vast majority of people, coffee is very positive and one of the more powerful antioxidants that can prevent disease. It’s all about our own unique situation and tolerance.
We all have a responsibility to learn a bit more about our own personal situation and conditions and how different things that we eat and our activity levels and sleeping can help prevent disease and improve good health in the long run. A lot of that research is dependent on your specific condition. I recommend people spend an hour looking through the research out there in terms of relationships for some of your greatest health risks and conditions and what you can do to be in control of those.
VJH: We're moving into an era of individualized medicine that also applies to the food we eat.
TR: Every bite or drink we take is essentially either a net positive or a net negative. If you order a healthy salad filled with vegetables, that's a clear net positive. However, if that salad is covered with a fat‑laden dressing with a lot of sugar, it might be more neutral or a negative.
What's important to think about is how you can use not only food, but activity and rest to help ensure that you have more energy throughout the day. The good news is what's best for your long‑term health is also the best for the short-term. It's easier for us to make changes because we know it will result in a better day today instead of to prevent heart disease or cancer 30 years down the road. It's important to make a lot of the short‑term connections.
VJH: The second word in your book is "move." What are the most important rules for exercise?
TR: Even if you exercise for 30 or 50 minutes, five or six days a week, that doesn’t counteract sitting down for seven, eight or nine hours a day, as most of us do. We circle around in our car for ten minutes to find a closest spot instead of parking in the back of the lot and taking an extra 30 steps. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to engineer activity back into our lives
VJH: We need to reengineer how we spend our day, try to get as much movement throughout the whole day.
TR: The little things add up. I found that using an inexpensive pedometer to track my steps during the day helps. Once you see how much you’re moving, it’s incentive to add a few more steps every day. It's not that hard to get to a real good number, which is about 10,000 steps in a given day. Most Americans hit just over 5,000 steps a day.
VJH: The third word of your book is "sleep.” Talk about the importance of sleep. What’s a reasonable amount of sleep we should strive for?
TR: Sleeping may be just as important for what we've learned prior to that night as it is for being fresh the next day. Good sleep makes a real difference. There’s value in it. I used to view sleep as an expense or something that I had to get done. Now I view sleep as an investment in my future and an investment in the people I'm going to spend time with the next day. Once I started to think about sleep through that lens, it helped me prioritize sleep.
A lot of emerging science is looking at how chronic disruptions to your sleep is linked not only heart disease, but increases in cancer and metastasis. Those disruptions aren’t good for your body’s rhythms. A sound night of sleep not only resets a bad day and provides you with a fresh start, but it also affects what's going on inside you.
VJH: If you can only do one thing - sleep seven or eight hours a night or get in an hour or two of daily exercise - your book suggests that sleep is more valuable.
TR: We need to think about all three of these things as being greatly interdependent. If I get a poor night's sleep, it's a statistical fact that I'm more likely to wake up in the morning and eat lousy foods, I'm more likely to skip my workout, and as a result, I'm likely to get a poor night's sleep the next night. It can start a downhill spiral if just one of those three falls out of sync. It's tough to recover from that and move it back in the right direction.
VJH: What does happiness mean to you? How do you get happiness? How do you keep it?
TR: One way to get happiness is by not trying too hard to get happiness. The research is just fascinating if you look at how people spend their money. If you spend money on yourself and indulge in purchases for yourself, it actually decreases your happiness over time.
VJH: Can you tell us what caring means to you?
TR: I've read a lot of books about great leaders, and there are a lot of good ideas and theories about it. We wanted to ask ordinary citizens in countries around the world what leader has had the most positive impact in their life, and how they would describe that. Sure enough, one of the first words that came to people's mind was "caring." In most cases, they used the word "love" to describe the most influential leader in their life over time. Leaders influence people through caring. There's no greater service to the world than to care for another human being and for them to know that and embrace that and for that to make a difference in how they lead their lives. I define caring as the thoughts and words and actions that I take and make that have a positive influence on other people.
To register to attend NAHC’s Annual Meeting, and to hear Tom Rath in person, please click here.