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Jul 25, 2013

The New Science of Feeling Your Best, Part 1

Do you ever feel that you’re working harder and harder but still getting further and further behind in terms of your health, stress levels, and economic status? If so, you have a lot of company. Recent research shows that we’re working longer, enjoying our lives less, and dying sooner.

In my capacity as Chief Science Officer at MonaVie, I have the best job in the world. I get to work with an amazing team of intelligent, committed, and caring people to develop and distribute natural products that positively impact people’s lives around the world.

Central to our mission is the idea of “Feeling Your Best”—which is much more important than “just” having abundant energy or a good mood. Feeling Your Best means an overall sense of well being where our stress is controlled, our mind is sharp, our physical energy is high, and our emotional outlook is in that place that we often call “the zone.” This feeling is what we measure in research studies as “vigor”—and it represents a unique feeling of motivation that many people have not experienced in a long time.

The reason I get out of bed in the morning is because I want to help others to achieve that state of high vigor and motivation that indicates they’re Feeling Their Best. Why? Because when you feel good in your mind and feel good in your body, you’re more likely to “do good” in your world. You’re more likely to be a better mom, or a better dad. You’re more likely to have the motivation to excel in your career, or even build a business of your own. You’re more likely to volunteer in your community or in your church. In short, “Feeling Your Best” is about living a more meaningful life for yourself, for your loved ones, and for anyone that your life touches.

Shorter Lives, Poorer Health

Research shows that the average American workweek has mushroomed from forty hours to fifty hours in the past twenty-five years. That level is higher than in any European country and equal to that of Japan. Those extra ten hours of work, however, have not gained workers very much. In fact, U.S. workers today are behind in their ability to maintain the same overall standard of living enjoyed a generation ago.

In addition to a declining standard of economic status, the United States is far behind its “peer nations” in overall health and longevity. According to a recently-released report (January 2013) from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council (NRC), Americans are dying at younger ages than people is almost all other high-income countries.

This trend toward poorer health and earlier death has been getting worse for three decades, and is expected to continue its trend with Americans falling further and further behind. The average American man lives for 75 years (17th out of 17 countries) and the average American woman lives for 80 years (16th out of 17 countries). As a nation, we have more health problems related to drug use (chronic stress), obesity/diabetes (poor diet), and heart disease (antioxidant deficiency). American kids are, on average, in worse health from the moment they’re born, compared to children in other high-income countries.

Generation Stress

As a nation, our stress levels—primarily financial stress from jobs and money—are at the highest levels ever recorded. When the American Psychological Association (APA) released its 2010 report Stress in America, it showed that the picture of an “overstressed nation” is as bad as it has ever been. One of the most striking conclusions from the APA survey was that “stress is not only taking a toll on our personal and physical health, but it is also affecting the emotional and physical well-being of children and our families.” The report highlighted the fact that children today are more stressed than in years past and also found that kids easily recognize and identify their parents’ stress levels as a key source of their own stress.

As you might imagine, the most common sources of stress identified in the APA survey were money (76 percent), work (70 percent), and the economy (65 percent). But “family responsibilities” also emerged as a significant source of stress (73 percent).

On February 7, 2013, the APA released their 2012 report on Stress in America and the results are even more dismal than they were in 2010. The new report found that “Millennials”—young Americans between 18-33 years old—are even more stressed out than the rest of the population. Like other age groups, the primary source of stress is from jobs and money, with a whopping 49 percent indicating that they are not managing their stress well.

Health experts identify a “healthy stress level” at about a 3 to 4 on a 10-point scale, with 1 representing low stress and 10 indicating extreme stress. The average stress level reported in the APA studies was 5.5, with 24 percent reporting stress levels at 8 to 10 (on the 10-point scale). Those with “more stress” (average of 6.2) tended to have poorer overall health, while those with “lower stress” (average of 4.9) tended to enjoy a very good health status. Individuals with even higher stress exposure (in the 8 to 10 range) tended to have significant problems with their weight (especially belly fat)—very likely due to problems with biochemical balance and especially to an overexposure to cortisol and its associated increase in appetite for “comfort foods” and consequent storage of belly fat.

Americans across all age groups and geographic areas generally recognized that their stress levels are “too high” (69 percent) and that stress is not good for their health. However, a majority of respondents also reported facing significant challenges in actually practicing healthy behaviors, such as reducing stress, eating better, exercising, getting enough sleep, and losing weight. Primary obstacles to those healthy behaviors included “being too busy” (22 percent) and a “lack of motivation or willpower” (29 percent).

In fact, the most interesting aspect of both APA surveys (2010 & 2012) was the clear indication that Americans know what they should be doing, but that they are not doing a good job of achieving their health goals. For example, if you look at the “gap” between knowing that something is important and actually doing it (achievement), we see the following pattern:

Aspects of Well-Being: Importance vs. Achievement

Behavior

Important?

Achievement?

Gap

Getting enough sleep

67%

29%

38%

Managing stress

64%

32%

32%

Eating healthy foods

58%

31%

27%

Getting enough exercise

54%

27%

27%

Having good relationships

79%

60%

19%

(Source: American Psychological Association—Stress in America Report [2010])

Clearly, people know they should be doing something to maintain their health in the face of poor diet and chronic stress—and they clearly want to do something, but they’re having trouble—and need help.

This is where MonaVie comes in. Stay tuned for The New Science of Feeling Your Best, Part 2 tomorrow where I’ll address how MonaVie is making a difference in helping you to feel your best.

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