Singapore is a fast-paced city and life can be stressful. From work demands to family engagements, and from everyday commitments to social events, it seems there is no time left to rest and recover. If this resonates with you, then you might be familiar with the outcome: you probably feel stressed and sleep-deprived, trying to catch up with life, rather than planning and being in control. As you know, this lifestyle has negative effects on your cognitive performance, especially at work. In fact, it even extends to your overall health and well-being. But it does not have to be that way. So, what can you do to achieve peak cognitive performance?
The “Always On” Culture
We live in an “always on” culture. The combination of technology and modern lifestyles has created a dangerous situation where it is difficult to completely switch off. Sleep and rest are neglected and replaced by caffeine, which is not the most effective strategy in the long run. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), the human body is not designed to operate in that fashion. From a physiological point of view, human beings are meant to alternate moments of focus and effort with moments of relaxation and let-go, including deep restorative sleep. If you deny the second part, you create an unnatural imbalance with detrimental effects on your physical and mental well-being, where your productivity and performance are diminished rather than enhanced.
The Peak Cognitive Performance Strategy
Let’s face it: you simply can’t be always “on” and push ahead. It’s time to realise that for peak performance and optimal health, you need to follow a balanced rhythm. Considering that most of your time is normally spent at work, it’s crucial to find that balance during the workday. Imagine your typical workday to be an endurance race: it can be long and tiring and you need to manage your energy wisely. You can think of balance at work as an endurance activity and take lessons from elite athletes. Elite athletes alternate heavy bouts of training with periods of rest and recovery. It’s a well-known fact that overtraining damages athletes’ health, and it’s not helpful for sporting performance.
So how do you design a plan for “cognitive endurance” which helps you boost performance and productivity? The idea is to balance the “activity-intensity” during your workday and be flexible. You need to learn how to alternate low-demand activities (rest and recovery), medium-demand activities (menial tasks), and high-demand activities (focus and analysis). Basically, peak-cognitive-performance at work is a dynamic state where you smoothly shift gears according to your personal rhythm and resources.
To accomplish that, you need to listen to your body and understand when it’s time to go “all-in”, and when it’s time to re-charge and recuperate. In addition, each individual has a unique circadian rhythm. So, it’s important to find that out and play according to your strengths by following your natural biorhythm, rather than working against it. For example, if you are a morning type, prioritise high-demand activities early in the day when your energy level is at the peak; and leave the low-demand activities for later in the day, when your energy curve is declining.
Discover Your Stress/Recovery Triggers
The good news is that modern technology allows you to look into your physiology in an objective and scientific way, so that you can pinpoint exactly which daily activities drain your energy, versus the activities that replenish it. In this way, you can learn when to prioritise rest and recovery to recharge your battery without running the risk of energy depletion and over-exertion. Once you become aware of your stress/recovery triggers, you can plan your workday accordingly. The Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment helps you achieve exactly that.
Figure 1. This Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment report illustrates a prolonged sympathetic activation dominance (red colour = stress). This type of prolonged stress, combined with short amounts of sleep, contributes significantly to poor cognitive performance.
Figure 2. This Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment report illustrates a well-balanced distribution between sympathetic (red colour = stress) and parasympathetic activation (green colour = recovery). This is the most effective way to ensure enhanced cognitive performance and general well-being.
Forget the One-size-fits-all Approach
One-size-fits-all does not work because it does not take into account your unique individuality. What triggers stress/recovery for you, may not do the same for the person next to you. Through the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment you can identify exactly what activities are beneficial specifically to you. And by tweaking things just a little bit, you can be on top of your game and improve your cognitive performance both at work and in life.
Preventive Healthcare for the Masses
By Dr Sania Iqbal, MBBS, Medical Practitioner PMDC
Preventive healthcare is a term used for the measures taken to prevent the onset of disease, and as the adage goes, has always been better than cure. It helps with the maintenance of health rather than treatment.
There are three levels of prevention:
In general, environmental factors such as dust, smoke, teratogens, microbes etc. are responsible for the different diseases we may contract. In addition, genetic causes may exacerbate these problems. The good news is, the negative impact of many illnesses and diseases can be mitigated by way of preventive measures, helping you save both money and time – considering the financial and emotional toll these ailments can potentially cause.
This is especially important when set against the high incidence of sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy and poor diets, which are some of the leading contributors to cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, etc. What we can do in light of this, is simply to add a half-hour walk into our daily routine, maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, and above all, visiting our doctor once or twice a year for a complete check-up. This ensures that any major health issue can be discovered before it’s too late.
In line with preventive measures, here are some recommended guidelines:
Preventive measures do not simply extend to exercise and diet. In fact, health can further be promoted via the following measures:
For more information regarding the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment, visit https://sgstore.actxa.com/products/fbla
Sophia Rose Meyers, 17
FRIEND OF ACTXA
National Youth Sailor, 'A' Division Footballer
Q1: What is it like dealing with pressure or expectations to win as a national youth sailor? How does it compare to playing A Division football for Victoria JC?
It's definitely quite stressful to deal with expectations, especially at regattas. What I may define as doing well may not match up in the eyes of others, and this really affected me for a period of time in 2018, when I felt that I wasn’t good enough to be in the national team. However, my coach managed to convince me that my definition of success shouldn't be up to others to decide. Since then, I've tried to block out such “external noise” and set my own goals.
Playing for the Victoria Junior College A Division football team is a very different story. Although everyone has very high expectations of us since we have been defending champions since 2003, all the girls in my team are very encouraging. We spur each other on in a positive manner and fight even harder for gold. That definitely makes dealing with the pressure a lot easier.
Q2: Of the different NAPFA exercises (e.g. 2.4km run, standing broad jump), which do you excel at the most? Do you train harder for it?
I'm probably best at sit-ups compared to the other exercises; I somehow find it more enjoyable. I don't necessarily train harder for NAPFA but I do try and make sure that I do relatively well for all the stations. That’s why I try to train up for the standing broad jump and 2.4km run because I'm slightly weaker in those.
Q3: Choose one from the following: burger and fries, laksa, nasi lemak, bak chor mee. Any particular reason?
It's a tough decision but I would have to go for nasi lemak! Nothing can compete with a steaming plate of fragrant rice, crispy chicken and sambal with ikan bilis – it's one of my favourites! Although I know it's not very healthy, I can't imagine a world in which I can’t indulge in a plate of nasi lemak at least once a month.
Q4: What’s your ethnicity? Is there a typical reaction when strangers discover that you can speak Mandarin and you’re not actually a foreigner?
My mum is Singaporean while my dad is American, so I’m actually Caucasian. I've spent my whole life in Singapore and definitely feel like a Singaporean more than American, although my appearance says otherwise.
People definitely get a shock when they hear me speak Mandarin, especially teachers or coffee shop assistants. I love ordering my food in Mandarin and watching the stunned expressions of the coffee shop uncles/aunties. They'll normally ask if I'm a 外国人 (foreigner), at which I'll laugh and reply that I'm actually Singaporean. Sometimes they're so amused that they give me extra food! #bonus
Q5: Imagine that you’re stranded on an island with one other person. Who would you prefer that person be?
My choice would be Bear Grylls, haha! Being an amateur at survival skills, I figure I’d need someone experienced and capable of actually finding food and water in the wild, so who else than the infamous Man vs Wild host. Hopefully I don't end up having to drink my own pee, because that won't be fun!