I enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of the shows on my roster only get a listen when the topic seems especially intriguing — and one such feed is The Megyn Kelly Show. Episode 286 featured physician Dr. Peter Attia, an expert on longevity research. Kelly’s questions were good and his responses were better; even when the two of them could have “gone there” on politicizing the topic of health research, they didn’t. Attia evinced a lot of humility about what he did and didn’t know and about the state of solid science versus interesting research that has yet to be fully vetted. It’s a 97-minute show, and worth the listen, because it really got me thinking.
Attia made several claims that I already understood to be true and some that were new to me. Throughout the episode, he wove each strand of his argument into an intriguing tapestry and did a much better job than most health experts in emphasizing the “why should you care about this” angle.
I think my biggest take-away was this: An outsized contributor to whether you’ll experience significant cognitive and physical decline in your “terminal decade” (the last 10 years of your life, whenever they happen to be) is your VO2 Max score. This metric quantifies your cardiopulmonary efficiency, i.e., how well you burn oxygen and fuel to produce the energy to do physically demanding things. The higher it is, the lower in general your all-cause mortality risk becomes. Most biometrics fall within a range (e.g., blood pressure should be neither too high nor too low) but VO2 Max is one of the few that’s unbounded — the higher the better with no upper limit.
We all think we know what constitute the building blocks of good health, but we rarely parse them into a deliberate “what kind of health do I want to be in when I’m in my terminal decade” action plan and then reverse-engineer those goals to determine where we need to be today. Everyone’s objectives are different; each can take a different pathway toward achieving his or her specific target. After reflecting on the podcast conversation and thinking about my own desires for my terminal decade, I’ve come to six conclusions.
- Fitness: Attia says we should be solid in four areas — aerobic fitness, anerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility. All four, to some degree! Aerobic and anerobic exercise contribute to improving VO2 Max. Strength gives you bigger muscular “wells” for storing glucose as well as improves bone density. Flexibility decreases your risk of injury when you fall and your risk of falling in general. (You do not want to be an 85-year-old with a hip fracture. Hip fractures in the elderly are very often the beginning of the end.)
- Diet: There’s no perfect diet, but the science is clear that calorie restriction is probably beneficial as long as it doesn’t lead to malnutrition, and intermittent fasting appears to be an effective mechanism for achieving this restriction. If you want a defined approach, the Mediterranean Diet is supported by the strongest clinical evidence. But the overriding rules are to limit calorie consumption, enjoy a good spread of macronutrients, and avoid excess sugar, salt, alcohol, and the “bad” fats.
- Sleep: The rule that everyone needs a good eight hours isn’t quite true. It’s better to say that we each need to consistently get quality sleep in an amount that matches what our individual bodies are calibrated to require. I, personally, do best in the 7.5 hour to 8.0 hour range. Good sleep gets you through your REM cycles and is correlated to better health outcomes; it’s best done in a place that’s cool, quiet, and dark. Avoid brain stimuli before sleep, like screens.
- Hydration: Water is good; soda and especially alcohol are not. The verdict’s out on whether one standard drink per day is better than zero, but the science is abundantly clear that two or more standard drinks per day bring significant adverse health consequences. And in the short term, it screws up your sleep schedule, too. Limiting yourself to one standard serving, three or four times per week, is probably safest if you can’t give up the hootch altogether.
- Stress Management: The stress hormone cortisol is not our friend when we’re continuously awash in it. Stress management is essential to improving the quality of sleep, reducing the temptation to over-indulge, and potentially reducing systemic inflammation. Plus, cortisol damages our brains in large doses. Yikes!
- Relationships: It wasn’t mentioned on the podcast, but having a network of people you love surround you in your twilight years is critical to your mental and emotional health. Loneliness is a real killer.
It’s tempting to create independent goals for each of these categories, but the truth is, all of this stuff is so intertwined that looking at a longevity component in isolation is rather counterproductive. Rather, I’ve concluded that I need to think differently about how I’ve approached health and wellness at a high level.
I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t really want to “retire” but instead keep doing lots of interesting things for as long as I can. If we assume that for most people, the tipping point is around age 85, then the 80s can usefully be construed as most people’s terminal decade. It’s entirely possible to be that 80-year-old who looks and acts like a 65-year-old, though. I aspire to be that guy.
In fact, my vision statement, which I developed in 2009, reads as follows: “I will be a contented and healthy man who, on his 70th birthday, can look himself in the mirror without feeling the sting of regret.” At that point, I may have roughly 15 more years to go, Deo volente. Because I don’t want to retire, I figure I’ll transition over time — from maximizing revenue to writing, teaching, volunteering, and mentoring.
So my thinking has evolved today. I think a lifestyle tweak is in order that blends a lot of different behaviors. For example, I need to really focus on aerobic and anerobic fitness first, then when my weight is lower, begin strength training. Karate has been excellent for my coordination and balance, so I’ll keep doing that. In fact, I want to teach karate eventually, and that’s something I can do to keep active and socially engaged well into my senior years — along with being a dive master and a certified flight instructor. But I also realize that exercise alone doesn’t lose weight — I need to be more disciplined about eating and about choosing distilled water over martinis in the evening. It just so happens I really enjoy the Mediterranean Diet, and limiting intake to the noon-to-6p window might be a good calorie-restriction strategery. Similarly, I’ve been a bit less careful about sleeping well, so enforced bed times plus less before-bed computer and cocktail time will help, as might a deliberate end-of-day ritual that could include next-day planning or the thoughtful recitation of Compline in my printed copy of the Liturgy of the Hours. I’m naturally a low-stress kind of guy, but it never hurts to re-focus some discipline on journaling so I can better track my mental and emotional well-being. Plus, I should commit to more “Sabbath Sundays” than I currently do. Those weekly occurrences feature me doing nothing except (a) going to Mass and (b) reading [paper] books. No computers, no TV, no phone, no tablet. Just books. And I can (and should!) do a better job of maintaining old connections and nurturing new ones.
Longevity planning is a lot like investing for retirement: If you want to have “plenty” at the right time, it’s easier to start young and build gradually than to scramble like a hyena starting at age 55.
To the folks I love, I say this: If I do my part, will you do yours?
Eight all-purpose updates to round out this post:
- Gillikin & Associates: Work has been progressing well. I’m still in a space where I can provide myself a salary and benefits — including, as of last month, a 401k plan. I’ve had the opportunity to do some really interesting stuff related to statistical modeling and IT strategy lately, and this coming week I’ll be hoofin’ it to central Alabama for some on-site support.
- Lakeshore Literary: What a whirlwind! We’re in the last few days of the reading window for the inaugural issue of The Lakeshore Review, with plenty of submissions through both our internal submission tool as well as Submittable. Garrett and I have already issued a bunch of acceptances and rejections, with many more to review, and both Lisa and Allison have been thoughtfully engaged in their reading work. Yay! And yesterday, I oriented a new intern for academic credit — Faith, from Ferris State University. She’ll be in the office every Tuesday for the next few months, in addition to remote work within the slush piles. Our invite-only anthology, Surface Reflections, has a bunch of interest from the Grand River Writing Tribe. Beyond the editorial work, I’ve re-joined the Community of Literary Magazines and Small Presses, got a new lit journal to distribute through us, and finalized the retail and coffee/snack area for The L&G Center. Lots of progress!
- Karate: Things are still on track for me to test for first-degree black belt this summer. In the last few months I’ve learned Seichin (blue belt) and Seisan (purple belt) katas and Dan kumite, and I’m working on Seisan bunkai and Okikukai kumite. Apart from remembering WTF I’m doing for Okikukai 7 and 9, and that [insert expletive here] ankle-sweep takedown for Dan 6, I think I’m making progress. That’s what six to eight classes per week get you. That, and a better sense of one’s cardiopulmonary function.
- Writing: I wrapped up the second chapter of The Bear of Rosebriar Creek today. My planning document for this novel ran nearly 4500 words, with some character sketching, plot/conflict arcing, and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis that enjoyed a thorough treatment by both the OG Tribe and Group V teams within the GRWT. I’m excited for this project. At a high level, it explores the interplay of trauma and identity by means of trauma-driven archetype changes for four primary POV characters. Each undergoes a Kübler-Ross progression from a shadow Jungian archetype to a positive archetype (one each of the king, magician, warrior, and lover), all stemming from an opening death scene.
Although the king/warrior/magician/lover construct is generally oriented toward masculine archetypes, nothing requires this framework to be male-only, and two of my POV characters are female (the warrior and the lover).
- Auto Woes: Over the last month, I burned out the motor on my driver-side front window, developed a leaky coolant line, and needed an oil change. I took my car into a local repair facility last week and was quoted nearly $6,000 (yes, with an additional zero) for everything they said needed to be done. Which included $3,200 for a new turbocharging system and oil cooler, $1,200 for rear rotors, $600 for the window, $700 for a new oil pan, and $100 for an overall inspection. I paid for the inspection and window. They couldn’t do the oil change because “the bolt was cross-threaded” and they didn’t want to damage it, so they recommended a whole new pan. And instead of fixing the hose where I know the leak is, they said “98 percent of the time, those turbos need to be replaced.” And I just had the rotors done a year ago. Long story short, I got the window fixed and the rest, I’ll take elsewhere for a second opinion.
- Cats: And all of a sudden, Kali d’Cat has decided that she really loves to be picked up and snuggled, and even tries to climb on my lap when I lean down to pet her. She’s come a long way from a skittish stray on my back porch more than two years ago — a stray that, at first, wouldn’t get within a dozen feet of me.
- Star Trek: I’m a huge Trek fan and I’m loving the new crop of shows. One thing I’m noticing, though, is more ham-fistedness in the identity politics realm courtesy of the writers’ room. Not on race — e.g., the Capt. Burnham character is a black woman who earned The Chair the hard way, and her sex and race never were thrust in the viewers’ faces — but more on sexuality. The “I’m a they/them” and “you will truly be seen, trans person” stuff in S3/S4 of Discovery felt too on-the-nose, and now we’ve gone Full Woke in this second season of Picard. Complete with screeds against corporate greed overlaid with homeless people and evil government agents torturing, even murdering, innocent people. Star Trek is at its best when it advances its causes with subtlety. In the 1960s, for example, no one made a big deal about a black woman, Lt. Uhura, on the bridge, nor did they shy away from having both a Japanese and a Russian character on the bridge when the Cold War was underway and there was still lingering anti-Japanese sentiment from the end of WW2. Those were big deals back in the day, but they were done without calling attention to it. Modern Trek nailed it with Michael Burnham (and, I suppose, Carol Freeman) as well as the Paul Stamets/Hugh Culber marriage, but the writers missed an opportunity with the Adira and Grey characters and the unconcealed pointedness of Picard’s season-two plot.
- Computing: In a bit of news sure to delight Roux, I may replace my “normal” computer with a Mac — specifically, one of those spiffy new Mac Studios. They’re a bit pricey, but when I examine what I run on Windows, it occurs to me that nothing I use isn’t, by this point, fully cross-platform. Given how seamless the iPhone/iPad/Mac/AirPod ecosystem is, I’m left scratching my head for reasons to not go whole hog, especially given that my still very-high-powered Windows desktop is one arbitrary processor generation behind the ability to upgrade to Windows 11.
All for now.