Dr Sam Manger from The GP Show joins me again today with loads more practical advice for teachers working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this episode:
- How can movement improve teachers’ physical and mental health.
The benefits of regular sleep on teachers’ health.
- The one thing you should stop today to help improve your wellbeing during COVID-19.
- The importance of personal connection during physical isolation.
- The correlation between mental and physical health – mind and body connection.
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COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing for Teachers Part 2 Full Episode Transcript
Bronwyn: I’m joined by Dr Sam Manger, who hails from the gorgeous Sunshine Coast hinterland. Dr Sam is a medical practitioner and educator and he hosts a brilliant podcast for medical professionals called The GP Show. Sam is also the president of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. Welcome Dr Sam to For the Love of Teaching today. We’re going to look into some ways that teaching professionals and school support staff can look after their health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis. Hi, thanks Dr Sam.
Sam: Hello Bronwyn. Thanks for having me.
How does exercise help us boost our immunity and what are the best types of exercise that you can recommend?
Sam: Hmm. Well, I don’t like the word exercise. I’ll be honest. I just like ‘movement’ because personally I think whatever way you like to move is the way you should move. Now I, I’ve always done martial arts. I love martial arts, but I also love doing pushups and chin ups, that sort of stuff. But I also love dancing. I’m not a very good dancer, but I certainly like it and so it, you know, whatever way that you enjoy doing, that’s what you should do. If he gets your heart up and it makes you feel good, then that’s what you should be doing. So I wouldn’t say that there’s the, there’s no best exercise or best movement is the best for that person. You do it anytime, anywhere for any duration in any way. That’s my advice when it comes to movement. Now, when it comes to what impact that has on our immune system, well, it’s actually only 30 minutes, five times a week, which is not a lot, 150 minutes a week.
It’s just two and a half hours a week, which is almost nothing compared to the number of hours we have in a week as being shown to actually improve our immune immunity to things and also our immune systems and reduce the incidents and number of symptoms that we have when we have like let’s say the common cold. So I’m not talking about intense activity here, I’m not talking about burn yourself out and make yourself sore the next day and you know, falling apart. I’m just talking about mild to moderate activity. Something that makes you feel good, gets your heart up and a little bit of a sweat. But that’s about as much as you need to push to. And it’s quite an amazing thing because when we actually watch people’s immune cell activity after exercise that their immune cells actually far more active and then there are more of them so that they’re more in the circulation around the body and they’re more effective at their job for three hours after you exercise.
30% of Australians are Vitamin D Deficient
So this is not just something you get when you exercise. This is a quite a long lasting lag of improvement in the body. And I will say that for those who, you know, we’re isolating, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay indoors to exercising and get outside and enjoy nature and life. And as much as you can. I know some people are in apartments and it’s not as straightforward as that, but there are plenty of green spaces in Australia and other countries. So go ahead and enjoy them. And that’s important because, well, vitamin D, I mean 30% of Australians are vitamin D deficient, which is, which is fairly alarming and that’s associated with increased risk of infections like viral infections. And we also know that vitamin D, when people do get a reasonable dose and you only need 15 minutes a day to get the amount of vitamin D, so there’s very little amount of sun one actually needs.
Get Some Sun to Boost Your Immunity
So take your shirt off, keep your undies on, um, but, but take your shirt off and just enjoy a bit of sun. Do some do some stretches or a bit exercise we know that are also actually stimulates your immune system. And allows your immune system actually produce it’s um, weapons as it were. It’s, it’s, it’s what we’re called peptides, which are sort of proteins that attack viruses and bacteria. They make more of them, um, when you are exposed to the sun. So you’re much at where when you get your appropriate vitamin D I should say. So you’re a much better virus and bacteria fighting machine when you move. But also when you move outside, and there’s been some really interesting studies from Japan where they did practice called Shinrin Yoku, which is a forest bathing essentially. And they got people to expose themselves to the forest and there are certain activities within that. And then they did immune essays, which means they took blood samples and they looked at their different immune activity and numbers and they showed, they showed that a number of different types of white blood cells, which are what fight infections were higher and more active the 30 days after that. So this is quite an impressive thing that you can do, you know, a couple times a week and you will be protecting yourself the whole time, not just during that one you know, time?
Bronwyn: Yeah, that’s really great actually that’s really great news because I know a lot of families have been looking, I’ve been taking my kids on bush walks just to get them to stretch their legs and get some energy out of their systems. But it’s good to know that that’s actually great for us as adults as well and having a good effect on us even after we’ve left the park or the forest or wherever we’ve been. So, and it’s also really reassuring to hear that movement can include all sorts of mild to moderate. Well, because wellbeing for teachers is a big thing and, and a lot of teachers have taken on things like yoga and Pilates and gentle exercises like that, which are available for us to do at home. So it seems like those are perfect things as well. It doesn’t have to be a aerobics exercise. That’s really interesting to hear you say that as well.
Sam: Mm. Yeah. I mean there’s this, this is a pretty complex area, just like masks where there’s loads of researchers where it’s conditioned to debate whether it’s resistance training or aerobic or anaerobic or high intensity or and all these other types. I don’t think it matters nearly as much as people make it sound like it matters. Do what you love and just do it regularly.
Bronwyn: Yeah. So, yeah, I love that something is better than nothing just to make sure you’re moving your body like it. That’s basically what it comes down to. That is great to hear. So can we move on to talk a little bit more about mental health and wellbeing as well because that’s another area of interest for you professionally. But it’s also something that our teachers are often, um, inquiring about us supplying them with more resources and support. So how can we protect ourselves mentally and be able to sort of build some resilience, emotional resilience in a time like this where it is very stressful and a difficult time for all.
Mental Health and Wellbeing for Teachers During Covid19
Sam: Yeah. The mind in this is the elephant in the room. It’s the thing that for some reason people are fairly resistant to accepting has such an enormous role. Like we all know it on the surface. Um, but when you actually say actually, you know, if you approached your mind in this way, you would be, um, you know, you’d be in less pain, you’d be happy to let people know that can be possible. So it’s, it’s, it’s the elephant in the room and it’s something that it’s really important that you brought it up. It’s really important that we talk about the, um, I often when I’m talking to my patients about resilience, I talk about the onion ring model of resilience. Meaning that how do you build resilience and where do you start? And, um, I had done bush survival courses like Bear Grylls for a number of, about five years.
And the first thing that you teach when you learn, you know, we always ask, what’s the most important thing in survival in the bush? Is it water or is it fire? Is it shelter, is it food? Is it rescue? But the answer is that the mind.
They say that you’ll die without order in two days, you’ll die without food and two weeks you’ll die without shelter in two hours, but you’ll die with a bad mind in two minutes because you make bad decisions. And so it’s very important that we take care of our mind.
And interestingly what I’ve just talked about, food movement and sleep as well and, and all those old things which we can come back to, um, are also very good for our mind. And so I’ll talk about the mind, the activities you can do, but just to quickly review the food and the movement, we know that regular movement is as effective for depression as psychotherapy or antidepressants.
It’s as effective and it’s also a lot better for you, better quality of life, happier and all those other things. We know that good food, as I said before, a Mediterranean whole food diet. These studies have been done in Australia by professor Felice Jacka randomised controlled trial showing that people with moderate to severe depression. So not just mild depression, moderate to severe depression. If they went on a whole food Mediterranean diet, a third of those went into remission versus the control where any 8%. So we know that a healthy body is a healthy brain and all those things I mentioned before about inflammation and immune system is very relevant here to a healthy mind. So it’s not just about what you think, but how you live as well. Now if we come back to, to what you think this is really interesting thing and it comes back to my point for me, there’s no difference between mind and body.
It’s a false dichotomy largely originated by um, Rene Descartes, I think therefore I am and the church because they owned the mind and so the doctors could study the body. Um, but it’s actually a false dichotomy. They are one and the same thing. And so what is good for the mind is good for the body. Um, but if we look at some really basic, um, principles of physiology, which your science teachers will know all about, and we look at the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system. So the sympathetic nervous system is your fight and flight system. And that’s where a lot of us are at the moment. We worried, we see threat, we worry about money, we’re worried about infections, we’re about our children, we’re worried about society, we’re worried about, you know, Trump, COVID, Gates, vaccines, all that sort of stuff. Right. Lots of fear and social media is not helping.
And I think the biggest thing we can do to improve our mental health is get off social media. But um, so, so they were constantly being threatened or we are perceiving a threat. And then the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system, which is designed for us to survive in the short term, to either run or fight is being switched on. Now what happens? Physiology with physiologically there, um, the blood to the brain goes down. Okay. Cause you don’t need to think when you’re fighting a tiger, you need to fight. So the blood to your muscles goes up. The blood to your head actually constricts. So you don’t need to digest food or have anything to do with your gut microbiome when you’re stressed. You just need to fight the tiger, um, and et cetera and et cetera, et cetera, and your immune system switches off.
Your repair system switches off because you don’t need to fight infections when you’re fighting a tiger. You just need to survive for the next 10, 15 minutes. And that’s great when you’re fighting a tiger. But it’s really, really not good when you’re just trying to live a life. And so the consider that is the parasympathetic nervous system called the rest and digest system. And we can switch that on deep breathing exercises. Four seconds in hold for four seconds, four seconds out. Meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, good exercise, laughing with your family, watching a funny movie. All those sorts of things can switch on your parasympathetic nervous system and people can look that up and there’s no shortage of information out there about that, but it’s very important to switch, actually proactively switch that on because one, you’ll actually get a sense of the difference and you’ll realize, wow, I’ve actually been just constantly sitting in a fear response for hours without realizing it.
Speaker 2: (10:58)
Um, and then you’ll suddenly realize, wow, that might be explaining this and this and this and my symptoms. Um, and also you’ll be switching on your immune system and you’ll be switching on your gut and you’ll be switching on your brain repair systems and you’ll be thinking clearer and you’ll start actually repairing. Now this doesn’t happen in five minutes, um, but it’s a, it’s an accumulative, a thing. So it’s really important to a number of times a day is my opinion is just to check in and go, where am I at at the moment? Do a couple of four breaths. I do this with my patients all the time, four breaths, full seconds enforcing that. Now tell me how you feel and everyone feels better. And so it’s a very, very easy thing to do. Just check in and you’ve got a, your your audience and you’ve got a very stressful job.
Speaker 2: (11:40)
Uh, I’ve only got two kids. You met managing 30 would be a real challenge. And, and so, um, you know, it’s very important to check in, in between philosophies or however you guys structure your life and just switch on person that knows the system again, because those, those systems have a flow down effect on the body. So I mentioned all the other symptoms that affects, but if you look at let’s say the sympathetic, that fight flight stress response, it switches on from the hypothalamus, which is, it’s a part of your brain that’s triggers to a gland called the pituitary. And then that flows down to all the systems in your body, your ovaries, your adrenal glands, um, your thyroid, your, uh, growth hormones, et cetera. And it switches those on or off depending on the stress response. And if we look at cortisol, which is your stress hormone and adrenaline, which is another stress hormone, you’re switching those on all the time. And that’s the mechanism by which it switches off your immune system and causes all these problems. So it’s just, we understand so clearly that you just have to get out of that stress and fight response as often as you can.
Speaker 1: (12:45)
Great. That is. So what a great explanation. I love, um, Dr Sam, how you are able to just make that so, um, easy to process for nonmedical people. So yeah, really great info and loved the delivery. So thank you so much for that explanation. So top tips, um, we’ve kind of covered off on a whole heap of tips that you have for teachers to build and boost their build and boost their immunity. Um, but for people working remotely, what are your top tips for remaining healthy?
Speaker 2: (13:16)
Well, this is, you know, to do all the things I’ve just mentioned, but really this is now about practical application because it’s, it’s well and it’s easy enough to just understand that yeah, I get it, eat more food, sleep eight hours, et cetera. But what I really want to inspire and motivate is actually the application of that cause it’s all useless unless you actually do it. And so these are the two things I sort of want to say. The first is just try these things. Eat whole food. Mostly plants. Move for 30 minutes every day. Get out in nature. Call a friend that you love or a family member. Um, sleep eight hours, go to bed about 10. Wake up at six, roughly. Um, get off social media. Put your phone away, um, just for 10 days, just for 10 days, not asking for a life, not even asking for a month, not even asking for two weeks, just 10 days. And just tell me, not me personally, don’t write to me, but just reflect
Speaker 1: (14:05)
in the kindest way possible to meet you cannot to me podcast at [inaudible] dot com
Speaker 2: (14:12)
okay. Rotten from when. And just tell it how you feel. Everyone. Everyone feels better when they do that. And when you actually realize how much better it makes you feel, you don’t need to tell. You don’t even need to tell you anymore. You know what I mean? To persuade you. You don’t need all these magazines and blogs and other strategy anymore. You have experienced it and you will want more of it. And that’s just the beginning. I mean, imagine doing that. Let’s say you did it 10 days every month where you would just did something like that. That’s a very practical and achievable goal. Um, so having personal experience with feeling stronger, clearer in the mind, stronger in the body. It’s so powerful. So, and I get it. It’s not all the time. Sure we will have light movies at night. We will have work deadlines, but just remember that you can come back to those foundations.
Speaker 2: (14:56)
You know, you have that power. And that brings me to my second point, which is the [inaudible] principle, which I’m sure most of our teachers will know about, but it’s, you know, what 20% of input yields 80% of results. So what is, what’s something you can put in that will give you most of the benefits and it’s often far easier to reflect and approach it like that than expecting you have to be perfect all the time because that last 20% of output, um, takes the 80% of input, right? So you know, you want to be smart about this so you can eat healthy 90% of the time, but you can still enjoy your Easter chocolates, right? Because the, the, all the benefits of whole food, mostly plant diet is going to be there and negating all those other things. Um, you know, no one is perfect unless you, your environment is perfect and you live in like a shell in monastery or something, so it just do what you can.
Speaker 2: (15:44)
But like I said, with movement, now I’ve moved pretty much every day, but I don’t go to the gym every day. I don’t do weights every day, but I might just go down and I might just stretch or listen to some music and dance a little bit or just move freely for 30 minutes. And I’ll feel good about that. I might sleep, I might get my eight hours from 10 to six, um, four to five days a week. But, um, I stay up late two to three days a week because of work or just reading a book or watching Netflix or something. So I give myself the flexibility, but also don’t beat myself up about it because I know that I’m going to get back and just do it. This is my break time and I’m going to get back. And so I’m doing, I’m yielding 80% with minimal effort. So really it’s coming down to, you know, work smart, not hard as you teach, as I’m sure say all the time and treat yourself and treat yourself with compassion, not like a drill Sergeant. And treat yourself as if you would your best friend or family member, someone you love, don’t treat yourself like someone you’re panelizing or you’re in your and you’re frustrated with. Treat yourself like someone you love.
Speaker 1: (16:44)
That is excellent advice and very actionable tips. And I’m definitely gonna try 10 days. I think 10 days is very doable and I think that it’s going to kick off a whole different way of living and it’s, there’s no better time to try this then now because we, some would say were at the most, um, in native of a bit of a, an overhaul or lifestyle overhaul. And we’re kind of getting it from the university at the moment anyway. So it, it’s a time of period of change for many of us. And just to, um, incorporate one more change is not going to tip the balance too much. But dr Sam, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. My pleasure. Thank you for having me. Thanks very much. And if you would like to visit dr Sam’s website, it’s at the GP show.com and Sam has blog posts, show notes, and all of his episodes are available there. So don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast while you’re there.