Episode #27 The Compounding Effect of Healthy Lifestyle Habits with Arianna Huffington and Dr. Aaliya Yaqub
Lao Tzu, the 6th-century Chinese philosopher, wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 500 years later a growing number of studies demonstrate the powerful compounding effects of a singular action repeated over time.
We welcome Arianna Huffington and Dr. Aaliya Yaqub, leaders of Thrive on this episode. Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive, the founder of The Huffington Post, and the author of 15 books. Dr. Aaliya Yaqub is the Chief Medical Officer at Thrive and a board-certified internal medicine physician. Thrive, a behavior-based technology company, launched in 2016 with the mission of changing the way we work and live. Since launching they have partnered with the world's leading enterprises to study how microsteps, or small changes in behavior, impact health.
Dr. Weil and Dr. Maizes meet with Arianna Huffington and Dr. Yaqub to discuss microsteps, the value of sleep, and to challenge society’s industrial-age conception of productivity. They discuss how small, intentional steps combined with a purposeful mindset can lead to long-lasting positive health outcomes in individuals and communities.
Please note, the show will not advise, diagnose, or treat medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider for questions regarding your health.
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Dr. Victoria Maizes: Hi, Andy.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Hi Victoria.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Today we have the world-famous Arianna Huffington and her new medical director at Thrive Global Dr. Aaliya Yaqube.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I met Arianna a very long time ago and have kept in touch with her over the years. And have been fascinated and delighted to see the kind of work that she's doing, which really overlaps with our work.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: And she really shifted her focus because she started with Huffington Post and today she runs a health and wellness company.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yep, let’s talk to her.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global launched in 2016 with the mission of changing the way we work and live. Thrive Global is a leading behavior change tech company, committed to ending the notion that burnout is the price we must pay for success. Arianna is also founder of the Huffington Post and the author of 15 books including Thrive and The Sleep Revolution she has been named to Time Magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people and the Forbes, most powerful women list.
She is joined today by her new Chief Medical Officer at Thrive Global Dr. Aaliya Yaqub. Aliya is an internal medicine physician with years of experience in tech medicine and mental health. Welcome Arianna and Aliya.
Arianna Huffington: Thank you so much, Victoria. And Andy, so great to be with you.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Well, we're just delighted. And Ariana, I have to start with a bit, I would say a bit of personal journey question for so many years, you have had a powerful public voice and I'm wondering if you'd be willing to tell us about the developmental life stages you went through to become the person you are today, leading a health and wellbeing, international, any lessons that you've learned?
Arianna Huffington: Well, definitely all starts with my mother. You know, I was brought up in Athens, Greece, and she had an incredible kind of intuitive and instinctive sense of health and wellbeing and bringing joy into life. And cooking was an incredible way she always brought the family together and everything had to be fresh.
She was very opposed to anything fast. So she was probably one of the early adopters of the slow food movement. And and then moving to England and then the states and the adopting, unfortunately, a lot of what you described at the beginning, Victoria, you know, this delusion that I had to be always on and power through exhaustion in order to get everything done until finally in 2007, two years into building the, having been posed to the divorced mother of two daughters. I collapsed from exhaustion and burnout and hit my head on my desk, broke my cheekbone, and that was the beginning of my journey to incorporate wellness practice into my life and bring all this content and awareness into the Huffington Post, and finally 2016 leaving to build Thrive as a behavior change and technology company, helping people move from awareness to action.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: It's such an amazing journey that you've had are there things you want to point out for people who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Arianna Huffington: Well, best practices are everything when incorporating in our Thrive Global app, which is only for the enterprise. It's not a consumer product because we feel working with workplaces and makes it easier for people to adopt these healthier habits because the workplace is also a community.
But we find that what works to change behavior, which as you know, is always hard. What works is to bring together micro steps and storytelling, you know, small, daily, incremental steps. And then capture stories that inspire and empower others. And do it all around the whole human journey. So in our app there are six journeys that includes sleep and food and movement and focus and connection.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Andy, you've often pointed to the power of story. And in many of your books you share examples of people who have healed from challenging medical conditions. You sometimes suggested that someone find someone with their very same illness and spend time with them to learn how they move forward.
What else do you think in terms of this idea of small steps or micro steps?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, one of my early books was Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. And I asked people in each week to make a small, but significant changes that build on each other. One of the commonest mistakes. I see people and this is especially true of new year's resolutions is to try to make global change and that's inevitably doomed to failure. Whereas if you do small steps that are realistic, you can lock them in place and then build on them. I think that's a much more useful strategy.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: And Aaliya, what are you seeing with your tech background in addition to your internal medicine background, that's helping companies to empower their employees to make these steps.
Aaliya Yaqub: Yeah, absolutely. Victoria. So right now we're in an interesting time because people are definitely feeling overwhelmed. Having had this pandemic in our lives for the last two years with no end in sight, people are learning to cope with the stress that's occurring right now.
And what we've seen helping really is teaching people. To build resilience and teaching them how to deal with the stress. We know that acute stress is inevitable, but cumulative and chronic stress is really what leads to all of the inflammatory issues, the chronic conditions that we're seeing that we want to stop that chronic stress from happening.
And so equipping them with the tools, whether that's, you know, deep breathing, box breathing, positive affirmations reframing your thoughts. Using resets, which at Thrive is such an incredible tool that I personally have the benefit of using in my daily life, which is, you know, a 60-secondpiece of music with your favorite imagery.
And it really is just a, a tool that helps you intervene in that acute stress and move from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. So these are some of the tools that we're using that are helping people cope with this difficult time and not just cope, but actually come through it with greater resolve and greater resilience.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: So that's one of the strategies that an individual can use. And I agree. Resilience training is incredibly important. At the same time, Ariana, you recently wrote that health is a first mile problem, and you, you point to some of the social determinants of health and how really hard in many ways they are to change that often requires policy change, societal changes.
For example, we just interviewed Dan Buettner, who is doing his Blue Zones work with different cities and are he's trying to implement policies that help people so that the healthiest thing to do is also the easiest thing to do. And I'm just interested in hearing what are you exploring as your company partners with other organizations to make them healthier?
Arianna Huffington: Well, obviously, first of all, you have to make individuals healthier and organization guidelines help. Like if you are working in a place where you are expected to answer emails and texts in the middle of the night it’s going to interfere with your sleep cycle. But we really believe that while we are waiting for legislative changes, like family medical leave, or addressing the social determinants of health, which are catastrophic in many areas like food deserts there are things that people can do right away to be giving, to begin improving their health. And we are seeing that in our work with Walmart. We are working with hundreds of thousands of store associates, and we are seeing that when they begin to implement these small micro steps, as Andy mentioned every day they see real, tangible results.
They see real weight loss, which often can lead to a reversal of diabetes or hypertension, even though we are not in the medical field we are only in the behavioral health field, but behavioral health can lead to real transformative results in health and mental health. And, and that's why we are urging everyone to focus on the first mile of health. As you know, we spend over $4 trillion in healthcare costs and the vast, vast majority is spent in the last mile, you know, interventions, once people are really say, which obviously are important, but all the data is going in the wrong direction.
Skyrocketing increasing diabetes and hypertension and obesity. So we need to go upstream and address the first mile of healthcare.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I'd like to hear Ariana, your words of wisdom on sleep, because in my experience, that is such a problem for people today. I think that's gotten worse with the pandemic, but so many people seem to be not getting enough sleep or not good quality.
Arianna Huffington: Yes, I sleep. Of course has been an obsession of mine that as you know, Andy. Yeah. You're very kind to give me a blurb for my book on the Sleep Revolution and I traced, you know, this this delusion, that sleep is for losers to the first one that the revolution when we started revering machines and after machine software, and the goal with machines and software is to minimize downtime, but for the human operating system downtime sleep is a feature, not a bug, it's essential.
Sleep is the only time when not just our physical bodies, but our brains have the time to detoxify and recover from the activities of the day. And I have 50 pages of science in the book because I want it to convince even the greatest skeptics about the important.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: When I give talks about integrative medicine, I sometimes put up a slide that has two quotes. One is by Shakespeare, which says, “enjoy the honey heaven dew have slumber, something like that. And the other is by Thomas Edison that says “sleep is a colossal waste of time and an artifact of the cave days.” And then I say to people.
Which category do you fit into? And what's really interesting to me is if you do a regular audience, it's maybe half and half, but if you do an integrative medicine audience, you know, everybody thinks they're like Shakespeare. They really honor the importance of sleep. But I think that shifts that you're talking to about which is that the value of sleep is so strongly based in evidence across so many different arenas. It almost is like it reaches a deaf ear because people think they could be more productive if they sleep less.
Arianna Huffington: Yes, I'm so glad you mentioned that addition because I have a lot in my book because we can understand why so many people started to believe and practice something that is scientifically false around sleep because you had great figures like Thomas Edison trash sleep, and then people who started bragging about how little sleep they need. And then you had Jon Bon Jovi thinking “I sleep when I'm dead”. We are swimming in this culture that maybe wrong. And we're now just beginning to change that.
And I know having been in Aaliya’s home and seeing her children, I know how you are teaching them Aaliya from an early age to recognize the importance of sleep.
Aaliya Yaqub: Absolutely. And this is something that we, we teach a lot about through thrive. We actually have a Thriving Kids curriculum, but. In my own home, so I have four young kids and from day one, sleep has been so important to our entire family and to it running smoothly. Otherwise, you know, frankly, it's, it's kind of like a circus, but my kids going to bed at 7:30 every night and I have my second one is seven years old. My son and he has a hard time sleeping.
And so what we tell him is just, you know, read in your room until you fall asleep, turn off your light and go to sleep. And most nights he kind of falls asleep with a book on his head, which is hilarious, but my kids understand, you know, when they wake up in the morning, if they feel refreshed, if they feel exhausted.
So I think there needs to be this cultural revolution of understanding and being in tune with your body. How are you feeling after you sleep? What happens are you crisp and able to make good decisions in the morning. If you didn't sleep, how do you feel? And just having us be in tune with that aspect of our lives is I think tremendous.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: I think because I went through medical training where my sleep was interrupted for so many years because of being on call every third night I love to sleep. I really value sleep. And I had my first child when I was a resident, so I was still on call every third night. And I remember saying to friends, you know, I thought that doctors had it so hard, but moms have to get up every night, you know, forever and, you know, they just do it.
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Dr. Andrew Weil: Ariana, I'd love to know what excites you the most. You have your fingers in so many pies and you're doing so many different things. What are you most passionate about?
Arianna Huffington: Well, I'm personally very excited about the work we are doing with frontline workers, because a lot of wellness and health information has been focused on people like us, frankly, who are lucky during a pandemic to be able to work from home.
But we see that people will have to work in stores, restaurants, factories are having a particularly difficult time, especially because many of them are also dealing with the social determinants of health around living in food deserts or problems with childcare. And so we, we are very excited about the results we are seeing through behavioral steps and addressing major health outcomes. So both physical and mental, and I know you've done amazing work on nutrition, and we're very excited about that, including the connection now between nutrition and cognition. You know, it's focused a lot on a weight and that's obviously very important.
But the connection between nutrition and the brain is key. So we've just launched a new program of cognitive nutrition that Accenture is bringing to all its employees around the world. And this is kind of a new trend. Of companies and individuals recognizing that nutrition is key to our mental health as well, too.
What we are now calling the pandemic brain, you know, the foggy brain and of course all the way to dementia and Alzheimer's.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Yeah, I think the evolving science about nutrition and in particular, the microbiome and the way in which what we eat impacts our microbiome, which then affects our brain health is just fascinating. And it's, it just keeps growing. And I think becoming clearer and clearer something that was really downplayed in medical training and often is downplayed in the medical office is so critically important.
Aaliya Yaqub: Absolutely. And hearing about how the GI system actually is such a significant part of your nervous system and mediates so many of the responses. I mean, when you see nowadays people with significant stress symptoms and chronic stress, having GI issues and not receiving that information from their practitioners and providers, that that's really an area.
I think that we can improve over time, both in the medical profession, but also. And the social sphere is just understanding that everything is interconnected. And what you put in your body is this has a significant impact on that.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Ariana, you just mentioned frontline workers some of the frontline workers who are having the hardest time and facing the greatest burnout are doctors and nurses and respiratory technicians.
Do you have any ideas about how we can really address burnout in healthcare professional?
Arianna Huffington: Yes. Well we've actually through our foundation than a lot of work in partnership with the Harvard school of public health and Dean Michelle Williams and, and CAA here in Los Angeles to have around mental health and frontline healthcare workers from the beginning of the pandemic because. We've seen the devastating impact that the pandemic has had and continues to have. And we are very passionate about the introduction of micro steps, even in the course of these incredibly busy and exert fasting, emotionally exhausting as well, days as well as of course, more systemic changes that has to happen urgently, but we always begin in starting somewhere while we're working for systemic change. And, just like a few of the micro steps, for example, you know, normally a lot of people now are addicted to their phones and the minute they have a break, they go to their phone. And so if you take instead 60 seconds to focus on deep breathing or remembering what you are grateful for so that you can course correct from the stress cycle, it sounds very small, almost trivial but it's amazing as you know how quickly you can move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. And we find in our work with doctors and nurses that these small steps and this small kind of stress interventions that Aaliya mentioned resets in the course of the day can have an impact, while of course, we continue to work with greater urgency at the big change.
Dr. Victoria Maizes: That's great advice. I know that our time is drawing to a close and I don't know whether either of you have a question you might like to
Dr. Victoria Maizes: Thank you both. So very much for the work you're doing Ariana for a lifetime of work for your newest endeavor, Thrive Global, and the huge impact it's having internationally. And thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We're so appreciative.
Arianna Huffington: Thank you so much. And thank you for the amazing work you've been doing all the years.
Aaliya Yaqub: Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Our pleasure.