Monday, September 09, 2013

Body & Mind –> Younger Next Year

In their book “Younger Next Year,” Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge make the case that much of what we think of as aging is simply the fact that we have allow our human bodies to gain a layer of rust.  In their minds, the human body pretty well takes care of itself up to around age 40, then suddenly, you need to go into maintenance mode.

I will use the analogy that if you buy car fresh from the lot, everything goes pretty well.  The tires are new.  The oil is fresh.  The water pump works.  Everything is great.  Now if you don’t do anything to the car, it will start to fall apart.  I have lived off of this principle for quite a while.  A lot of people start to think about selling their car when it gets to around 50,000 miles because they think the car will start to break down.  However, in reality, cars that are properly taken care of can last 200,000 to 300,000 miles or beyond.  Sure some things will need to be replaced, but this is just part of making sure that the car runs well as it ages.

All of us only have one body, thus the need to maintain that body is something that we need to take care of.  Similar to a car, it is much better to get on top of the problem before something really goes wrong.  The problem with our bodies is that if they are neglected, they get themselves into situations that are much harder to repair.

The book does a nice job of pointing out how you maintain your body.  The principle is one of stress-repair-stress.  If you have any background in exercise physiology, you will understand what I am talking about.  However, to recap this principle, you need to understand that continual resting is the enemy of getting stronger.  We all know this because we all know that somebody that is confined to bed rest gets very, very weak.

To build a stronger anything, you need to first start by tearing down that anything.  In the case of weightlifting, to make a stronger muscle, you must put enough stress on that muscle to exhaust the muscle and create tiny little microtears in your muscle fibers.  This damage signals to your body that you need to kick-off a repair process, and this repair process makes the muscle stronger than the original state.

The medical part of the authorship team, Henry Lodge, points this out.  In essence,   the body has a series of messengers called cytokines.  Now there is some debate if some cytokines should simply be called a signaling molecule or if they really should be called a hormone.  For us it really doesn’t matter.  These cytokines, which are types of protein molecules such as interleukin and interferon,  are the things that kick off our ability to get stronger and repair our body.

Our body is normally in one of two states:  anabolic or catabolic.  This is an output of our metabolism pathways, which is the way that our bodies function.  Both of these process are required for good health.  However, we generally allow the catabolic pathway to get out of whack in our modern world.  The catabolic pathway is the process of breaking down more complex structure to release energy.  The problem happens when the body breaks down things and never repairs things.  As mentioned before in this blog, Robert Sapolsky covers the stress hormone glucocorticoid, the action of which tends to burn the body out.  They are great things to have at the right time, but horrible thing to have all the time.  Unfortunately, our modern environment keys us toward an overabundance of these negative chemicals.

The authors go on to vastly oversimplify a chemical cascade in what they simply refer to as the C6 and C10 cycle.  (While there are many other chemical pathways involved, including C-Reactive Proteins, I will repeat the simplified version here.)   In essence, they point out that we need a big boost of C6, which gets generated during aerobic exercise, to cause a big boost of C10, the chemical signal to rebuild, to take place.  If you cannot create a big surge of C6, you never get the right stuff to make sure that your body is maintained. 

This is only the first part of the book, and we’ll come back to this later to understand what the author points will be in a later blog post.  However, I hope that even this short version will cause you to start thinking about preparing for the future.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Mind, Body, Spirit –> Lewis Terman And Long Life














In 1921, Lewis Terman out of Stanford University decided that he should start to track 1,500 bright children to see how their life would unfold.  He was a bit of data fiend, and his notes and research on these children and their adult lives are documented and explained in “The Longevity Project” by Howard Friendman and Leslie Martin.

While the book is somewhat interesting, I find that it can be summarized fairly quickly with a set of inferences and deductions from the meticulous historical records that Terman kept.

Here is my summary of the top principles:

1. Be thoughtful and conscientious in your approach to life

2. Have the right amount of stress and worry

3. Have some type of a social structure that you can lean on

It turns out that multiple behaviors are associated with longer and healthier life spans.  The authors, trying to take these very simple principles, work hard to expand this data into 200 pages, with some self quizzes so the reader can try and compare the desired behaviors to behaviors in their own lives.

The first character trait that pays off for a longer life span has to do with people that are conscientious in the way that they approach life.  This trait simply means that they are thoughtful and careful in how they go after things.  If you want to think about this, this would be the careful planner, the individual who is thinking about today and tomorrow.  This is the person that is well organized and well prepared.

Once you have this mindset, the rest of your life falls into place.  The rest of life is much more difficult to give any general rules about.  For instance, marriage in and of itself is not helpful in determining if the tracked subjects lived longer.  Instead, it turns out that “happily married” turns out to be important, especially if you are  man.  Or in other cases, you don’t need “the perfect job” to have a long life span.  You do need a job.  You do need to be extraordinarily happy in this job.  If it is an awful, an over stress producing job, you need to move out of it.  However, a dream job was not what drove long life.

As a matter of fact, the authors demonstrate that generally the idea that somebody would have the perfect job, be super cheery, and not have a worrier did not result in anything that correlated to a long life.  Those that did no worrying, were overly optimistic and carefree, basically did things like skip doctor appointments because they assumed that they didn’t have cancer.  Instead, you need to approach life in a thoughtful manner and realize that not all that happens will be good. 

If having carefree existence does not help, the opposite was not true: having a fully stress life (such as warfare and divorce) does not help.  Constantly worrying and thinking that to live is to be doomed to some type of a punishing existence is the opposite rails, and also had some very bad results.

Speaking of worrying, they have a rather special case that they call out.  They stole a term from Martin Seligman, who is the father of positive psychology, called call catastrophizers.  These were the people that believed that once something started to go wrong, everything was going to go wrong.  They could not have a simple problem, and instead they would perceive that they had a disaster.  So, the net is to not have a carefree life, but you should also not see disaster behind every curve.

You need stress, but not too much stress.  You need to aim at the right target and push yourself, but not push your self too hard.  This is especially interesting for how we are to push our children, and the data that Terman found.

Pushing a child too hard seemed to plague a child through their life.  The data basically shows that when a child was pushed hard to read early and to enter school early, the child started down a path of inappropriate stress.  In the data, there were parents that determined that they were going to “push” their children to do better or shoot higher.  This unfortunately means that these children were always working slightly beyond their ability, and this unfortunate “head start” turned in a path that generally was not helpful over the entire life of the child.

Living the carefree life, or as they call out in their myth questions “play more golf,” does not make one live longer.  We were made for stress, and the very simple example of this is apparent to anyone that has ever tried to get into shape:  too much rest does not result in a healthy body.In all things balance, and balance in all things.  Pushy parents only hurt their children.  Having periods of good stress and good rest results in very good health.

As a general principle, the key to a strong body is made up of cycling.  You run, bike or lift weights.  This does not make you stronger.  It tires you out.  Once you are tired out, the body comes back and rebuilds the body stronger.  You need the stress and you need the rest.  It is only when these two things are present, does the athlete get better.

Finally, the key for good life also means that you have some type of social support structure.  The subjects that were studied were tied to their own time, and I can see this come out in the book.  For most of these subjects, the man was expected to go off to work and bring home the bread.  It turns out that in this environment, husbands looked to their wives to give them the support that they needed to thrive.  So, it turns out that a happy marriage really helped husbands live longer. 

The opposite was not true for the wives.  In general, women of this age had more ability to gain enough social support outside of the marriage to be healthful.  This has been documented many places outside of the book, and should be no surprise to anybody that has read this type of literature before.  You do not need a thousand friends.  You do not need to have “soul mates.”  What you need is a set of good relationships and friends that will support you, and where you feel a sense of belonging.  Many men that lived long lives found this environment with their wives.  Unfortunately, these men also tended to die quickly once their wives died.

The logical next step in this train of thought and research is to ask “what was the exact behaviors that the conscientious had.  I think it is obvious:

a. They would eat the right stuff and not smoke or do other damaging activities

b. They would stay physically active because the knew it was good for their outlook

c. The would schedule Doctor appointments

d. They would know that having a set of friends was simply part of having a good life

The point is, however, the conscientious person will do this naturally and gravitate toward this behavior.  They will build up a schedule and a life style that results in a long life.  Those that aren’t this way, simply ignore the warning signs.

The ultimate question is “how do I become more thoughtful in the way that I live life.”

I personally, for one, hope that you read my blog and apply its principles.