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.

 

 

 

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.

HiiT, Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

I went to my usual gym yesterday and it was around 5 times busier than normal. Early January is predictably a busy time of the year for gyms. Something that is equally predictable, albeit more depressing, is that the vast majority of people who attack their New Year exercise regime with vigour for a week or two, won’t be continuing beyond their training beyond the end of January. I think there are a few key reasons for this:

  1. People tend to thrash around on cardio machines until they’re pools of sweat but don’t see much in terms of results
  2. A lot of guys will hit the weights hard and at best have very bad muscle soreness and at worse give themselves an injury
  3. Thirdly I think most people either ignore their diet or at least get it wildly wrong and if weight loss is the goal what you eat should be the first thing to look at. I don’t think restricting calories dramatically for a few weeks in the New Year and then going back to the crap you were eating before is a particularly healthy or beneficial way of going about things

I’ll look at the diet side of things more in future posts as there is a lot to cover there but for now I’m going to give an overview of the exercise I do. I’m not an elite athlete or Men’s Health cover model but I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and a relatively lean 87 kgs (sorry for mixing metric and imperial measurements!) and keep active. My natural build as a teenager was always very skinny and the exercise mentioned here has seen me put on as reasonable amount of muscle and improve my mobility. I had started to put on a bit of fat a few years ago which I’ve subsequently lost – I put this mainly down to improving my diet but exercise is an important part of my healthy lifestyle and I think everyone could benefit from the exercises listed here. I also haven’t been ill for over 3 years (not even a cold) and whilst I think most of this is also down to diet, exercise plays a part.

HiiT

High Intensity Interval Training (HiiT) has been fairly popular for a while now and has been something I’ve done regularly for around 3 years. There are various forms of it and a quick Google will find countless articles, workouts and YouTube videos with some useful tips. I basically don’t do any steady state cardio at all anymore and do HiiT instead – I used to run a lot but started to get minor injuries – mainly very tight Achilles tendons that were painful everyday I woke up (foam roll and stretch your calf muscles and stop running if this is you), occasional knee pain and occasional lower back pain. My HiiT workouts typically follow one of two categories and both involve an interval timer on my smart phone (I use IntervalTimer in the App Store).

My very short interval workout is a Tabata session – this is 8 rounds of 20 seconds of very high intensity with 10 second breaks between. This means your workout is done in 4 minutes! For the exercise I think the resistance bikes are a good option as you can get your big muscle groups screaming very quickly – nb normal exercise bikes tend not to work as well as you can’t vary the resistance as quickly. Alternatives could be a rowing machine on full resistance, battle ropes, jump squats even sprints if you are outside and don’t have access to a gym (ideally sprint up a hill to add resistance). The key here is to pick an exercise that will get your heart rate up and have you out of breath in the 20 second interval so intensity is the key. I either do this when I have very little time free in a day or tack it onto the end of a workout. The science of this is beyond the scope of the blog but there are lots of resources on line about this but I find Ben Greenfield to be a reliable source on diet and fitness and he has a guide to Interval Training, including the Tabata Method.

My longer interval workout can last around 20 minutes so still fairly short and sharp compared to most people on the cardio machines. Here I will typically do 10 different exercises in a circuit, each for 20 seconds, with a 10 second interval between then. I will complete 3 circuits of the 10 exercises with a 2 minutes rest between each circuit. Exercises include stand press up, jump squats, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers etc…. I have a ‘no equipment version’ that I can do in a hotel room or anywhere I have no gym but a bit of privacy! You can experiment with different interval lengths and rest times and if this is new to you break yourself in gently. I used to do 30 second intervals but reduced it to 20 seconds as I found I was pacing myself a bit on the exercises – remember intensity is the key so don’t make the intervals or workouts too long if intensity is suffering.

Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

Gymnastic Strength Training (GST) is something that is relatively new to me and is another thing I was put onto by Tim Ferriss. He had a person called Christopher Sommer (Coach Sommer) on his Podcast and Coach Sommer is a very experienced Olympic gymnastic coach who has developed a program for normal mortals to benefit from gymnastic strength training. I started a Foundation course from their website (https://www.gymnasticbodies.com/) around 3 months ago. I’ve noticed some improvements in certain areas like mobility and posture – some of the benefits take a long time to develop as it isn’t just muscle strength but building stronger connective tissue and greater range of motion in key areas like shoulders and hips. This won’t make you a professional gymnast but if, like me, you spend a lot of your day sitting at a computer and not moving as much as you’d like I’d suggest some training like this. If GST isn’t for you I think some similar benefits could be gained from yoga and Pilates but I think GST provides some unique moves and strength / mobility in important areas not necessarily covered as well in other exercises. There is a cost to the Gymnastic Bodies courses but you can find some free initial info around the web – here are a few places:

  1. A YouTube Video with some introductory moves
  2. Tim Ferriss’s Podcast On Gymnastic Strength Training With Christopher Sommer
  3. There is an iPhone App called Power Monkey Fitness that has some similar moves and content – this isn’t anything to do with Christopher Sommer and isn’t as structured as his courses on Gymnastic Bodies but I believe there is some good free content there
  4. Instagram – search for GymnasticBodies, GST, GymnasticStrengthTraining and you’ll find lots of inspiration and short videos

A lot of people start GST but get frustrated with the slow progress – a quote from Gymnastic Bodies nicely summed this up:

IT’S A SLOW PROCESS, BUT QUITTING WON’T SPEED IT UP

Mobility

The mobility element of my training is largely now covered by the GST I do. However as I have gotten older (I’m now 36) I’ve increased the amount of mobility work I do as part of my work out and feel this is a really important factor in keeping injury free. A relatively well known mobility guru is a guy called Kelly Starrett and his book ‘Becoming A Supply Leopard’ is well worth checking out. If you’d rather find some free information on Kelly he has loads of YouTube videos so check those out.

One point regarding mobility – this is not the same as flexibility. Being flexible without strength in the extremes of your range of motion can be dangerous and make you prone to injury. Mobility ensures a broad range of motion and strength in the associated muscles and connective tissue to minimise injury risk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goals For the Year / Tools of Titans

I’m not one for New Years resolutions but have in the past set goals and tried to introduce new positive habits. Therefore I’ve set various goals and habits for the year and will look into others in future posts. The goal covered later in the post is to do with my business and the habit I’m looking to introduce is maintaining this blog!

I read a lot of non-fiction / popular science type books and many have referred to regular writing as being beneficial in many ways. One way is simply to improve one’s writing. Beyond that if you have any sort of online presence such as a blog, a company website or have to correspond with people by email then being able to communicate in writing in an effective way is hugely beneficial. My business goal for the year is covered below but will involve creating significantly more website content and blog posted than I currently do so I want to be in the habit of writing on a daily basis. The aim with regards to the blog is to update it once or twice per week and beyond that daily journaling will help me to create content and ideas. The journaling idea and the change I’m looking to make are both inspired by Tim Ferriss and therefore I’ve included in this post is a brief review of his latest book that I recently read.

I was away in Costa Rica over Christmas and spent most of my time surfing, relaxing in the sun and reading – one of the books I read was Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans. I’ve been reading Timtoolsoftitans‘s books for several years, ever since the 4 hour work week, and have also listened to his podcasts for a few years.

Prior to reading Tim’s books I’d dipped in and out of certain ‘self-help’ type books and I hadn’t found them that interesting or practical. With the 4 hour work week I found genuinely useful ideas and practises that have slowly crept into my day to day activities. Through Tim and other writers (they’ll get mentions in future posts) I have looked to improve areas of my life that are important to me such as my health and my work life. Willpower is rarely sustainable so making something a daily habit, like brushing my teeth, gives me a much better chance of maintaining it long term. So with blogging and journaling the aim is to commit 10 – 30 minutes first thing every morning (or at least 5 days a week). My working day doesn’t properly kick off until 9am and I’m fortunate to work from home so I have plenty of time to fit this in before my phone starts ringing and emails start rolling in.

Tim Ferriss does keep very good company and Tools of Titans is a collection of ideas from his podcasts with various high functioning guests. I read the Kindle version and like to bookmark various pages for future reference. It is the kind of book you will dip in and out of regularly but not necessarily read cover to cover. That said, I did read it cover to cover to make sure I didn’t miss anything – I found some of Tim’s most interesting contributors those I’d never heard of before so just going to chapters with the familiar names may not have been as rewarding for me. If you were to listen to all of Tim’s podcasts and condense them into the most useful highlights you’d have something similar to this book but if you don’t have the time or inclination to do that I would recommend checking this book out and making notes and / or bookmarking things that peak your interest. If you’re not familiar with Tim’s work I would recommend starting with either the 4 Hour Work Week or the 4 Hour Body depending on whether your interests lie in Lifestyle Design and Productivity or Heath and Fitness. His other book – the 4 Hour Chef – I found less interesting but it might be worth checking out if you can’t cook but want to learn some basics. I also find his podcast interesting and a habit I introduced last year was going for walks whilst listening to Podcasts – Tim’s along with various others – have been hugely interesting and useful.

So on to one of my goals for the year – the aim is to make my main income fully remote. This blog is not part of that directly so if you find my writing clumsy, boring or irrelevant that is fine – this is more a tool to get my thoughts down and make myself accountable on my goals. I am going to recommend certain books and products through this blog but my main income comes from a completely unrelated business. That business is a property finance consultancy where I work with property developers to help them fund construction projects and property acquisitions. I can do a lot of work remotely, and most of my work is done from home, but currently need to attend meetings fairly frequently and this is something I’m looking to change. I have been doing this for over 10 years and have worked for myself for around 8 years. I enjoy my work, find it interesting and like working for myself but I would like to spend more time overseas and pursuing other interest so if I can remove myself from areas of my work or change the way I monetise my business that would allow my to leave my current base (London, England) for longer periods of time. As part of that I need to also address the accommodation situation – I currently rent an apartment in Central London with my girlfriend. This is fairly expensive and that is fine while we’re here but if we were to be overseas for an extended period then renting here and somewhere else doesn’t make sense.

I’ll pick up on this and some other goals in future posts. They include health, fitness, creating better habits for myself and business related goals. I’ll be including very brief reviews of books, podcasts, supplements and other resources I’ve found useful along the way.