Health Hack Your Next Conference

I recently travelled to Manchester, England for a special conference put on by the International Gothic Association in honor of the Frankenstein bicentennial. IGA conferences are always my favorite: fascinating papers, friendly and enthusiastic conversations, Gothic-themed activities (this year featured a Gothic scores philharmonic production and a Gothic drag club night), and head-turning getups.

But conferences are exhausting. Papers begin at 9am and go through 12:30pm with a coffee break somewhere in there. After lunch is the keynote from 2-3pm, followed by more papers until 5pm. Then an evening activity! Because I travelled all the way from Los Angeles, California, I didn’t want to miss out on a single event that week. Here are the strategies I used to stay focused, mitigate jet lag, and avoid getting sick.

  • Take vitamin C, olive leaf extract, and oil of oregano on the airplane.
    • A number of studies¹² demonstrate that vitamin C and olive leaf extract increase immune function, while both olive leaf and oil of oregano have antimicrobial properties.³
  • Walk to and from the conference (about 4 miles total each day)
    • I’ve written elsewhere on the benefits of low-level aerobic activity for memory and creativity. Walking to the conference every morning helped me wake up naturally (exposure to sunlight is key, and fortunately it was a rare sunny summer in Manchester), and get some healthy movement in before a long stint of sitting. Walking home allowed me to think about what I learned that day. I stopped several times to jot down ideas I’d like to revisit in the future.
  • Don’t overconsume caffeine at the breaks.
    • When there’s free coffee at a break, my natural inclination is to have as many cups as possible before the session resumes. Unfortunately, as any caffeine addict knows, the more you inundate yourself with this stimulant, the harder you’ll crash later on. And, at some point, the caffeine stops having a positive effect and actually works to depress your functioning.
    • Solution: don’t drink more caffeine than you’re used to. For me, that’s two large cups between 6am and 10am. Know your own limits, and be mindful about the effect caffeine actually has on you (not the effect you want or hope it will have).
  • Avoid carbs and refined sugar, especially at breaks and lunch.
    • I have to hand it to the English for preparing the most diverse and delectable array of pastries at every meal I attended! Unfortunately, these treats are a recipe for disaster if you’re trying to sustain focus for long periods of time, as David Perlmutter, MD, so cogently explains in Grain Brain (2013).
    • Solution: go for a handful of nuts if they’re available. The fats are a more stable fuel source than sugar, which the body burns quickly. I always bring a few KIND bars (the 5g of sugar kind), Primal Kitchen protein bars, and EPIC jerky bars with me to conferences.
  • Go outside for a 15-minute walk at lunchtime.
    • Our lunch breaks were a generous hour and half, so that left plenty of time to eat, socialize, and walk. The first day I didn’t walk, because I was engrossed in some really interesting conversations with the people at my table. I regretted it once the keynote started, and I started to succumb to the post-lunch lull. Fortunately, the talk was exciting enough to hold my attention, but I charged for the coffee table afterwards (bad idea, see third tip). The next few days I went for 15- to 30-minute walks around the university after finishing my meal. It was very helpful to clear my mind, move my body, and not have to be “on” talking with others. I was recharged for the rest of the afternoon.
  • Bring activated charcoal to consume with alcohol or an indulgent dinner.
    • Boozy receptions and indulgent dinners are another common feature at conferences, or travel in general. Taking a capsule or two of activated charcoal before drinking or eating a heavy meal can prevent gas/bloating and a hangover the next day.¹
  • Foam roll every night, if you can.
    • Sitting all day is actually quite stressful on your body. Doing some mobility exercises and rolling out your muscles with a travel-size foam roller or a massage ball does wonders to increase circulation and relieve stress after a long day. This video is a bit cheesy, but it shows you a full body foam rolling routine.
  • Evening supplements to combat jetlag.

I hope you make the most out of your next conference by using these strategies. Remember, a healthy body enables an active mind.

Posted by

PhD Candidate in English at UCLA, Ironman athlete, outdoor enthusiast, and hammock extraordinaire with a guilty penchant for over-priced health foods.

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