Active Longevity

‘Life’s too short’ seems to justify a lot of bad habits and behaviours. If you debate a smoker about the downsides of smoking he may reply with ‘you could be run over by a bus tomorrow’ or ‘my uncle Frank lived to 93 and he smoke at least 20 a day for 80 years’. Neither valid points but people are very good at justifying things to themselves. Something that generated an interesting conversation with a friend of mine the other day was whether living a long life was worthwhile – many think of living a long life as being sat in a nursing home waiting to die for several decades. When I think of a long life I think of being healthy, active, mobile and generally feeling good for as long as possible.

Being in my mid-thirties many of my friends are married with kids and have been letting themselves go, as it is seemingly acceptable for dads of a certain age to do. Many have ‘minor’ health problems such as digestion issues and bad backs but none are hospitalised with anything life threatening. They seem to see this as inevitable and whilst I’d agree that ageing is unavoidable I’d argue that it can be delayed significantly. I follow Laird Hamilton on Instagram and he recently celebrated his 53rd birthday and he is incredibly active as a big wave surfer and has muscle definition most 25 years olds would be envious of. There are a lot of people significantly prolonging their period of active longevity through various methods of nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindfulness and various ‘bio-hacks’.

What gets most of us

“If you’re over 40 and don’t smoke, there’s about a 70 to 80% chance you’ll die from one of four diseases: heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, cancer, or neurodegenerative disease.” – Peter Attia (if you don’t know who Peter is Google him)

 

 

All the diseases mentioned in the quote above are at least influenced by lifestyle. If you’re very unfortunate your genes can significantly increase your risk of getting these diseases but for most of us we can increase our quality and duration of life by living healthier lives. Also most of them creep up on us fairly slowly so give us plenty of warning to do something about it – although most of us ignore the symptoms. For example some would argue heart attacks are very sudden but I’d suggest that symptoms of increased risk of heart disease, such as obesity, are very visible for a long time before the heart attack gets you.

What am I Doing About it?

For me nutrition is the number 1 factor to address as I think it isn’t too difficult to significantly improve things for most people and it can move the needle the furthest in terms of positive impact. (nb unless you smoke cigarettes in which case make stopping that your priority!)  After gradually improving my diet for several years I’ve now settled on something I think works well for me which is The Perfect Health Diet (Google it!) with 2 or 3 periods of Ketosis per year. I’m deliberately not going into too much detail on the subjects mentioned as I’ll pick up on them in other post or you can fine information online.

With exercise I think there are a few areas to address as you get older and markers to be aware of. Mobility has become more and more important to me so Gymnastic Strength Training has become the cornerstone of my workouts. I think maintaining (or improving) muscle mass without restricting mobility or stressing the body too much is important. For this I do occasional deadlifts (only once every 2 weeks to avoid too much stress) and some HiiT training that involves Kettlebells and weights. I’ve cut steady state cardio out completely other than for a few minutes of warming up. I’ve another post that goes into more details on my exercise programs here. For VO2 max the HiiT takes care of that and I now also do intervals on a static resistance bike once every 2 weeks – this gives me a good way of tracking progress. If exercise has never been your thing find something that works for you – even going for a walk can be significantly better than doing nothing.

Sleep has long been very important for me and is often overlooked. To improve sleep I’ve introduced the following measures:

  • Blacked out my bedroom windows so it is genuinely dark at night
  • Play white noise during the night which helps eleminate any background noises that may wake me up
  • Made sure I don’t look at any blue light emitting  screens within about 2 hours of bedtime
  • Kept to regular bedtimes as far as possible (i.e watching one more episode of a box-set is not a reasonable excuse to stay up but going out for a friend’s birthday at a weekend is)
  • Minimised things like caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime

There are other areas that I am keen to explore as I age. Another area that is overlooked is mental health – my work keeps my brain engaged on a regular basis and I also read a lot – both fiction and non-fiction which I think is sufficient for now. Another thing that is thought to maintain a healthy mind as you age is to learn something new such as a language or musical instrument so this will be something I explore in the not too distant future. Meditation and mindfulness also seems to be getting a lot of press at the moment and this is worth exploring. I find sitting and meditating quite difficult and prefer to go for a walk or do something slightly more active – I’m not sure of the impact of this compared to more typical meditative practises but I find it easier to process my thoughts this way and it gets my outside and moving. I will give mediation another go at points in the future and from listening to others who practise regularly it is often something that doesn’t take that well the first few attempts so I’m happy to revisit.

My measure of success will be how active I am as I age. I plan to still be surfing and working out well into my old age but only time will tell how successful I’ve been.

 

 

 

The Power of When Book Review and Circadian Rhythms

I’ve worked out over the years that I get a lot more done first thing in the morning (between around 6am and 9am) than any other time of day. According to Dr Michael Breus, author of The Power of When, this aligns with my Lion Chronotype! This might be the case but it also coincides with when no-one else has really started calling or emailing me so I don’t get interrupted like I do later in the day. After listening the-power-of-whento Dr Breus on Ben Greenfield’s Podcast I was prompted to pick up his book.

There are some interesting ideas relating to our body clocks, different Chronotypes and the best time to do various things throughout the day. However I’m not sure I’d recommend the book too strongly as a lot of the information I found slightly irrelevant and the rest is available on the Power of When website (The Power of When website) and Ben Greenfield’s podcast (https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcasts/) for free. A more detailed review of the book can be found below but I would recommend checking out Greenfield’s Podcast and if you’re into ‘health-hacks’ he has some other really interesting material there.

In the Power of When book Dr Breus reframes conventional wisdom of ‘early birds’ and ‘night-owls’ into 4 categories he calls Lion, Bear, Wolf and Dolphin, which he calls Chronotypes. The book and Ben Greenfield’s podcast on the subject cover these in more detail but Lion’s tend to rise early and be more responsive and productive in the morning whilst tiring early in the evening. Wolves on the other hand struggle with early starts and stay up later into the night. In my opinion these types of classifications tend to be on a spectrum rather than distinct categories but I can out as a Lion in the Chronotype quiz (fairly near the Lion / Bear border!). The book and Ben Greenfield’s podcast on the subject cover these in more detail but Lions tend to rise early and be more responsive and productive in the morning whilst tiring early in the evening.

Book Highlights:

For me the quiz, which is linked to above, was fairly interesting to find out what Chronotype best fit with me and the characteristics of that Chronotype. I think some people who may struggle with sleeping or feel tired during the day may find that some awareness of your natural body and hormonal rhythms would be useful. It may even prompt some people to restructure their day for more productive.

The bulk of the book is looking into any activities you may do in a typical day and then suggests when it might be best to try and complete those activities and why, for each Chronotype. So they cover relationships, fitness, health, sleep, eat and drink, work, creativity, money and having fun.

I found some of the later sections on Chrono-seasonality interesting. The premise being those living in places where the length of days and nights varies dramatically between winter and summer will typically want to sleep more in the winter and less in the summer. In the UK, where I live, we get very short winter days and short summer nights. I decided to black out my windows as I found that in the summers, when it gets light around 4am, meant I slept quite poorly. I’ve also been fortune to travel to some tropical destinations and found I’ve always slept really well. For example at Christmas I was in Costa Rica and I typically woke up with sunrise around 5.30am, was outside most of the day getting tons of natural light and then crashed out around 9.30pm which is a few hours after sunset.

Limitations:

One point is I felt that some sections seemed a bit surplus to requirements and actually the bulk of the interesting stuff could have probably been covered in an article. So it felt sometimes like the author included anything and everything to pad the book out.

I think the main limitation of the book is that some of the recommendations are a little unrealistic for some people and our lives get in the way. For example, I think sleep is a really important part of being healthy and something most people don’t get enough of. I’ve got lots of friends who have stressful jobs and young kids and simply don’t get enough sleep. In Dr Breus’ book he advocates a sleep pattern and trying to stick to that even at weekends when some may like to stay in bed longer. In my humble opinion if you’ve only slept 4 hours a night Monday to Friday then I would sleep as much as possible at weekends to catch up. Obviously the optimum strategy  is consistent bedtimes and wake up times that fit with your natural body clock but that isn’t realistic for most. This is true for a lot of other recommendations in the book – most people have fairly strict schedules when it comes to work hours, when kids need to be dropped off and collected from school, etc….. so simply can’t change most of this schedule. That said if these things are meaning you aren’t sleeping enough then a dramatic life change – like moving house or changing jobs – is certainly worth considering.

If you want to check the book out you can buy it on Amazon here – the Power of When – but I’d recommend instead listening to the relevant podcast and taking the quiz as linked to above before doing so.

 

 

 

History will judge you: Why conservatives and those opposing progress on human rights don’t fair well in the history books

Yesterday the Church of England took a step towards approving same sex marriage. Currently same sex marriage in the UK is legal but the Church of England is not permitted to perform ceremonies without expressed saying they wish to do so. It has taken them about 3 years of naval gazing to say anything meaningful on the subject but yesterday a large chunk of the church decided they should give their blessing to support same-sex marriage in the church. This doesn’t yet make same-sex marriage in a church possible but it is a step in that direction and surely it’s only a matter of time.

Firstly I’ll give you my views on things. On the subject of marriage I don’t see that much point to it – I have a long term girlfriend who I live with and love very much but marriage won’t change anything in that regard. However if you want to get married – gay or straight – then I don’t have a problem with it. With regards to religion, I’m an atheist but if people want to go to church and follow various religions then again, I don’t care. With regards to same-sex marriage I don’t see why so many people care and oppose it so strongly. My view on all these things is that if two consenting adults want to do something that doesn’t harm anyone else then who am I to stop them? The key points for me are consenting adults and no harm to others – whilst there may be some debate about the definition of ‘harm to others’ I think if you ask these two questions about any subject then you’ll arrive at a fairly logical conclusion. Two people of the same sex, both wanting to get married are certainly consenting adults. With regards to harm to others some members of the family might not like it but that can be said of any marriage, so they certainly aren’t hurting anyone else.

To expand on my broader topic of history judging conservatives poorly in matters of human rights, I think we need to take a very quick look at the history books. Whenever major social conventions have been changed there has always been opposition. Whether that’s the abolition of slavery, allowing women to vote, delegalizing homosexuality there was always opposition to progress on human rights. The slavery abolition act made slavery illegal in the UK in 1833 – If today you read an account of the time where people were opposing the ban and trying to maintain the legality of slavery then most likely even the most staunch conservative would be appalled. I think the same will go for current issues such as legalising same-sex marriage – in 20 years time younger generations will wonder what all the fuss is about and in 100 years time we’ll be appalled at our ancestors who opposed it.

Habits and Will Power

‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going’ – Jim Rohn

It is the beginning of February and I’ve just returned from my local gym. The place was much less busy than it was around 2 / 3 weeks ago. This happens every year. We’re about a month away from when people were declaring their New Year’s resolutions, many of which were a full life overhaul with regular workouts, healthy diets and self improvement across the board. I also find the predictability of this a little depressing – people really do think ‘it’ll be different this year’ but rarely do their proposed radical life changes stick. It’s been well researched and the reality is that willpower and motivation are finite, so to make lasting changes you need to make things habit and you can’t change all your habits overnight.

In my personal experience I’ve had the most success with new diets, exercise and ways of living by making small changes and gradually introducing new behaviours. Firstly on the point of a ‘diet’ I don’t mean some temporary fad that will make you weight yo-yo but a permanent change to what you eat. I thought it might be useful to highlight some small changes people tend to find they can benefit from. These will obviously depend on what you currently eat, drink and how you exercise (if you exercise!).

So, for example, if you have a terrible diet a plan to improve things could be:

Month 1: Stop drinking calories: No sodas, no juice. Stick to water, tea and coffee (ideally without milk) should be the aim. Sodas don’t satiate you at all but do provide a dose of sugar and calories. Even Diet Sodas with zero calories can trigger an insulin response and also the sweeteners themselves are typically bad news. If you’re used to sweet drinks then drinking something like Green Tea can be an acquired taste. However, once acquired most people enjoy it and the long term heath benefits are significant. This small change may seem easy to some but require a lot of willpower for others – make this one change for 30 days before looking at other areas…………

Month 2: Improve your breakfast: Most people don’t eat enough vegetables and the 5 a day UK government guidelines I think is way too low. I typically have eggs and veg for breakfast – the veg being mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, red onions, chilli and spinach (try to include something green) all cooked in coconut oil. Delicious and satiating. You can vary this up with other veg once you’re in the swing of things and have the taste for it. If you still crave carbs in the morning try the eggs and veg with a piece of toast – preferable a gluten free options like rye bread – or add some sweet potatoes into the veg mix. Of all the meals breakfast is fairly easy to control for most people as they can have it in the home. If prepping all that veg everyday seems like a lot of work you can cut the raw veg up at a weekend so it is ready to cook and pre-roast sweet potatoes. Or you can make a large vegetable frittata which can last a few days in the fridge. The frittata option also works well if you are eating breakfast away from home as you can cut a slice or two before you head out. Try it for 30 days to get it to stick – I’ve been eating breakfast like this now for around 4 years.

Month 3: Improve your lunch: Sandwiches seem to be the go to lunch in the UK. I’m not an advocate of the food pyramid and think that most grains aren’t great news. If you disagree with that breads can still contain a lot of salt and sugar so do be careful about your intake. I also find that I get hungry again fairly quickly after eating sandwiches so want looks like a low-calorie option gets me snacking later on. Lunch on the go can be a minefield and if I’m forced to eat something quick when I’m out and about I try to go for something like sushi at Itsu but I realise this may not be possible for most people . An cheaper alternative would be to make something at home to take with you to work, college etc….. I like to have some carbs at lunchtime so will make a salad at home with some sweet potato cut into cubes and roasted, plenty of leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, home made coleslaw (just cabbage, carrot,  olive oil, salt and pepper – no mayo) and some protein – this can be some quality organic ham, tinned fish like tuna, mackerel – whatever you feel like. The only cooking is the sweet potato cubes but these can be roasted in a big batch at a weekend and kept in the fridge.

Month 4: You guessed it – improving your dinner. Dinner is a meal that some people are fairly good with and others are just used to grabbing something convenient or having a take-away. If time is a problem batch cooking so you can reheat can work well. As with other meals include plenty of vegetables. I typically stick to rice and sweet potatoes for my carbs but occasionally have regular potatoes or rice noodles. For my protein – over the course of a week I’ll have a couple of dinners with beef (sometimes mince – stick to grass fed) a couple with fish (a white fish and a salmon) a chicken dish and then some variety like goat, duck, ostrich steaks….. Think quality and variety when choosing protein options. If you typically buy the cheapest possible options in every field meat and dairy is one area I’d encourage you to buy organic and naturally reared options. Organic grass-fed beef is very different in nutritional value and taste than standard commercially farmed stuff. With vegetables it is arguably less important as an organic courgette, for example, may not be distinguishable in taste or nutritional value from a non-organic one.

Month 5: Read ingredients and fine tune your choices. There are a few areas that will probably still be far from optimal if you are only 5 months into a new way of eating. Such as the fat you cook with – some people are scared of fats like butter and choose vegetable oils like sunflower oil to cook with instead. Firstly from a calorie point-of-view they’re all the same – 1 gram of fat is 9 calories regardless of whether it is lard, butter, sunflower oil, extra virgin olive oil or  coconut oil. However, a lot of research has been done that suggests that vegetable oils can be carcinogenic (Google or read books like the Perfect Health Diet). Also the saturated fats in coconut oil and butter are now becoming less of a concern. Coconut oil tends to be my ‘go to’ cooking oil as it is stable at high temperatures and full of Medium Chain Fatty Acids. I’ll look at different fats in another post another time as I don’t want to go off topic here! When it comes to food labels I try to avoid anything with vegetable oils, soya, added sugar and other sweeteners like high fructose syrups. Unfortunately these three things are probably in 90% of items in your local supermarket!

Month 6: Track and tweak your calories. I don’t think minimising calories and fat is a smart long term strategy. Most people who limit calories in the short term as part of a rapid weight loss diet end up failing as they aren’t eating a sustainable diet. For many that can happen all in one day – a low calorie / no breakfast followed by a light lunch tends to result in late night feasting. I don’t advocate measuring and writing down everything you eat forever but doing it for 2 or 3 days can give you an appreciation of the calories and nutrients you’re eating.

You might think 6 months is a long time to implement changes but not starting won’t make it any quicker! You’ll also start seeing gradual improvements as you go and more importantly you’ll improve your habits and the changes will be lasting.

This gradual change approach can be applied to other areas of life improvement. So if you’re already getting your nutrition right then there might be other areas that need focus and applying this thinking may help you make lasting positive changes.

But I don’t have time! This is a common excuse we all have used, I know I have. I’ve changed my view on this in recent years – we all have the same number of hours in a day so it isn’t about time it’s about priorities. Make eating well a higher enough priority and you’ll have time for it.

Deep Work – Avoiding Distraction and Procrastination

This post includes a review and some of my highlights from Cal Newport’s book – ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’. I came to read the book as I was starting to think about my latest big work project of trying to launch a subscription website. I’m not a programmer and the work involved in putting this website together seemed daunting and my current main source of income can keep me very busy and doesn’t leave much time to focus on other longer term projects. In addition to my work I am also prone to distraction and procrastinating – I work for myself from home so it would be incredibly easy to do nothing but browse the web and watch box-sets all day. I’m not that bad and have gotten a lot better over the years but still felt I could use so help in the area of focused productivity. So after a lot of research Cal Newport’s book kept coming up and I gave it a go. I finished reading it at the end of last year and some of the ideas I have implemented and some I am still working on. For me meaningful change is relatively gradual rather than a light bulb moment so if I can implement one positive habit at a time then that is great.

I did find some of the ideas in Cal’s book to be really interesting and some were, at first sight, very controversial. One of the main premises of the book is to basically lock yourself away with no human interaction, no distractions, no Internet etc…. So to get your best work done you need extended periods of concentration without distraction. Most people’s response to this is along the lines of ‘it would be impossible to do my job without the internet’ or something to that effect. In addition the typical trend in businesses is to open plan, collaborative working with people sharing ideas and constantly interrupting each other. Cal is also realistic about the implementation of Deep Work so he doesn’t expect us all to disappear off the grid for 6 months. However, for most of us it would be possible to ignore emails for 2 hours a day, for example. A Tim Ferris trick is to add an auto-responder such as ‘I read and respond to emails between 4pm and 5pm each day …..’ to help manage the sender’s expectations. This is an idea I like but I’m yet to use the auto responder – instead I just ignore emails for a few hours and so far there haven’t been any catastrophes!

Here are a few of my highlights from Cal’s book Deep Work:

  1. Focus on a small number of wildly important / ambitious goals rather than simply trying to do more.
  2. Focus on improving lead measure rather than the end result. Cal Newport’s example, as writer of academic papers, was tracking deep work hours per day rather than focusing on the number of papers he wrote per year. Focusing initially on the number of papers lacks influence, whereas tracking hours per day is immediately implementable and ultimately has a direct impact on the number of papers written in a year.
  3. Weekly reviews – Cal looked back at his records of hours worked, progress made, etc…. each week and therefore built up an understanding of what made a good week and what made a bad week.
  4. Make sure you have time scheduled to relax, ideally the same time each day, otherwise you’re robbing your attention centres of the uninterrupted rest they need. So since reading the book I no longer work after dinner in the evening. If I feel busy or have things to do I simply attack them first thing the next morning – I typically get up around 7am which gives me around 2 hours before most people are online so I don’t need to interrupt my evenings with responding to after hours emails and other fairly trivial things.
  5. Its ok to be bored. These days most of us carry around smart phones which have infinite possibilities when it comes to distracting us. So typically when we’re on our own in a restaurant waiting for someone to arrive, or in a long queue somewhere we typically reach for our phones. This accustoms our brains to ‘on-demand distractions’ and makes it hard to resist checking Instagram / checking emails / reading the sports news etc….. even at times when we want to concentrate on other things. So practise NOT looking at your smart phone when waiting 5 minutes somewhere and just be bored for a moment to avoid constantly distracting yourself
  6. Schedule internet use. This point follows on from the point above but does take some discipline. Many of us need the internet for work when researching, emailing etc…. But it also provides a significant distraction and many of us also need to concentrate and get into projects that don’t need the internet for extended periods. For example in my work I have to put together client presentations and complicated property development cash flows that need concentration to pull together and don’t require me to be online. So when working on these I’ll schedule 2 hours offline – emails can wait.
  7. Give some thought to your leisure time. So when it comes to relaxing don’t just do whatever grabs your attention at the time but plan something you’ll enjoy / find interesting.

For practical productivity ideas I’d certainly recommend giving Deep Work and read. In addition I think that and David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ is a very good partner to Deep Work. Both give you practical measures you can implement into your daily routine for real practical benefits. I think all the new tech tools,  apps and websites actually provide more distraction than useful tools so these help filter out what is useful and what is mere distraction.

Here are some links to Amazon for Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ and ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen if you want to check them out. If you sometimes struggle with distraction or procrastination or are drowning in emails I’d recommend doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My highlight

Current Affairs: Prisoners of Geography

The post is my view on current affairs, news relevancy and a related book review of ‘Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics’ by Tim Marshall.

Firstly I’ve never been that interested in the news. As a kid is was something my parents viewed as important and would often interrupt whatever my brother and I were watching to put it in. The news is typically very repetitive, deeply depressing and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is going on in the world. The latter point I only slowly realised as an adult. Also as a young adult bosses at work and peers would champion the importance of reading newspapers and ‘keeping up’ with current affairs. I enjoyed reading books but never really got into regularly reading newspapers. One of my main problems is that news often come with a heavy dose of political bias depending on who you are hearing it from. For example my parents have always purchased the Daily Mail (a UK national daily newspaper) which a polite liberal may describe as ‘having a reputation for right wing leanings’ and a less polite liberal would say is ‘fascist propaganda’. I don’t know the US equivalent of the Daily Mail but Fox News would probably be an appropriate news equivalent. As a brief aside, I do enjoy getting news via comedy outlets – in the UK there is a great long running show on the BBC called ‘Have I Got News For You’ and in the US I really enjoyed Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show until he left and Stephen Colbert’s the Colbert Report. I’d consider myself a relatively liberal person on the political scale and I’m aware a lot of these political comedy shows come with a dose of liberal bias.

Despite not really watching the news or reading newspapers I still feel I have a better understanding of the world than most. The news may report a bombing in the Middle East but at no point during the report or article will they give much detail into the deep rooted motives behind the attack. Many of the countries in the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, are a result of arbitrary borders drawn on maps from afar by privileged Europeans decades ago. Whilst these countries and borders look definitive and real when view on a map they have divided communities, thrown small ethnic groups under the command of arch enemies and created land disputes amongst ancient tribes. In addition the actions of many countries are motivated by this historic feuds as well as a push for resources and trade routes. So my advice is that if you want to really understand what is going on in a region, then find some books that explore the history of the area and this will be more enlightening than a 5 minute news report everyday.

A great place to start is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. Given the complexitprisoners-of-geographyies of geo-politics this book is remarkably easy reading and concise. It covers 10 keys areas of the world and other than Oceania this is pretty much everywhere. If you’ve ever been confused by the actions of certain countries, such as why big superpowers like China get obsessed with small regions like Tibet, or why Russia have sailed warships through the English Channel, then this book gives you the context you need.

There are other books that provide more detailed accounts of specific regions – for instance if you are interested in the Middle East there is a great book call A Line in the Sand by James Barr – however as a general overview of modern global politics and some context to the major issues and conflicts in the world, Prisoners of Geography is a great place to start.

Here’s a link to Prisoners of Geography on Amazon if you’re interested in checking it out. The maps are better in the hard copy but I’m a Kindle user and found the Kindle version work ok as well.