Is Work Killing You? Improve Your Work Health: Interview with Tom Rath

Tom Rath is a bestselling author of books such as “StrengthsFinder 2.0” with more than 5 million books sold.

But what many people don’t know about Rath is that in addition to being one of the most influential voices today in human behavior, he also suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Von Hippel-Lindau that leads to what he describes as “rampant cancerous growth throughout the body.”

When he received the diagnosis as a teenager, Rath was told that he could stay ahead of his condition with annual medical scans so that tumors could be caught early and dealt with before they could spread. To further tackle his condition, Rath voraciously began collecting information on what he could do to stay healthier based on the best, most reliable evidence.

Rath is well suited for such research after working for 13 years for the Gallup Organization, leading the work on employee engagement, strengths and well-being. Now serving as a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, Rath has written another book based on his own health practices, the science behind it and how others can benefit from it.

Eat Move Sleep,” is a book that promotes a way to make small choices that can lead to big changes in your health and well-being.

“I started working on this book because I was tired of seeing so many people I care about suffer from poor health,” Rath says. “There is an extraordinary amount of high quality research about how we can prevent everything from heart disease to cancer. But somehow this research is not translating into what simple things people can do differently on a daily basis to improve their overall health and longevity.”

Rath says that many of the poor health choices made by savvy career professionals are rooted in a “good-natured and dedicated work ethic,” that has them grabbing a packaged snack to eat on the go or skipping a workout when pressed for time – or forgoing sleep to complete a project.

But all those small things can cause big problems, he says.

“If you look at any of these little decision points in a day, investing in healthy food, a brief walk, or an extra 30 minutes of sleep can make or break a day,” he says. “The challenge for all of us is to think about how making better decisions in the moment can actually increase our productivity, energy, and well-being throughout the day.”

For example, some of the tips in the book include:

  • Getting off your keester. As soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off and the number of calories you burn drops to one per minute. Enzyme production, which helps break down fat, plunges by 90%. After two hours of sitting, your good cholesterol drops by 20%. Rath suggests taking short walks throughout your day, which can also help jumpstart creativity and make you more focused.
  • Forgetting the snooze button. If you’re hitting the snooze button every morning trying to get more sleep, you’re making a mistake because studies show those broken chunks of sleep don’t count toward the total amount of restorative sleep. One simple way to stop such a bad habit is putting the clock across the room, he says.
  • Being smarter when dining out.  Studies show that when dining out with a group of four or more people, you increase your consumption by 75%. The first person ordering sets the tone, which means that a colleague who orders fried chicken, for example, will prompt others to give into temptation and make an unhealthy choice. Try being the first one to order something healthy, and you’re likely to influence others.
  • Mixing it up. Many workers complain of chronic back, neck or wrist pain that comes from sitting at a desk and computer all day. Try switching a computer mouse to your non-dominate hand, or switching the phone from ear-to-ear while talking. Rath says he has trackpads on the left and right side of his computer to force himself to use both arms interchangeably. “Doing this for a few years eliminated my chronic wrist and shoulder pain,” he says.

If you need more help in figuring out your health status and improving it, Rath also offers a free assessment on eatmovesleep.org. You can use it to build a personalized plan based on the content of the book.

Rath says he hopes that the book and the assessment will  lead “ to a few small behavioral changes that contribute to better days. It is these small choices that accumulate over time and eventually help people to live longer and healthier lives.”














Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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