Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fitness For Geeks A Year Later

Non-fiction books often have a limited shelf-life, just like the food some write about. So it was with interest that I revisited the information in Fitness For Geeks, which is about a year old. The results are all good and everything stands up extremely well: eat a Paleo-style diet, emphasize personal strength, balance, movement, and lean mass; get some sun, begin moderate fasting, and consider exercise as having a sweet spot–not too much or too little.

Use technology and apps to measure stuff and generally seize control of your own health matters.

Nothing I've read over the past year disputes these notions, only richens and extends them.

Let's look at each topic piece by piece:

(1) Nutrition. In the book I identified myself as "Paleo + dairy," the latter including whole milk, cheese, and farm eggs. If anything, I would emphasize this non-sugar and non-grain approach even more. The problems people develop over the years with food involve refined sugar, grains (especially wheat and unfermented soy), and industrial vegetable oils, not fat. The non-fat bias continues to be overemphasized by the mainstream media, which has generally done a lousy job in reporting on health matters. You really do have to do your own research and make your own informed decisions these days.

Eating lots of sugar not only causes weight and metabolic, blood-sugar problems, but generates Advanced Glycation End-Products, or AGE (i.e., you literally gum up your body with this inflammatory goo, which effects your joints at the very least and triggers age acceleration). Glucose/protein "cross-linking," without the intervention of an enzyme, would be another way to put it.

Grains are loaded with anti-nutrients, not only gluten but phytates and lectin, and can literally lead to the boring of holes in your in gastrointenstinal tract and generally wreak havoc in your body.

Plain and simple, you have to learn to flee the conventional pizza, bagels, donuts, "healthy whole grains," etc. They are vastly oversold, and there are plenty of delicious alternatives written about in Paleo recipe books.

The newer theories as described in books such as Jarod Diamond's are that the closer your genes are to ancestral people, the more the western diet will wreak havoc with the metabolism, in terms of diabetes and obesity, for instance. For example, the highest obesity rates are in places like the South Seas, which ancestrally had great health (strong, lean, beautiful people – they ate a Paleo or "cast away" diet: fish, shellfish, taro, sweet potato, coconut, eggs, maybe pork) but since colonization have fallen by the wayside.

(2) Just move more. The last year has seen a tremendous emphasis on the problems caused by screen life and sedentary behavior. This is an area where the mainstream media has actually gotten it right. We've become very inert as a society, and sedentary living has surprisingly bad health ramifications longterm. I used to spend a long time in dark rooms with my beloved software, and whereas I still like software, I break it up a lot more frequently. Overall I would give myself high marks for exercising regularly over the years.

The good news is that you can solve these metabolic issues quickly by moving more. But eating conventional foods (the Standard American Diet (SAD)) and sitting all day is literally a recipe for disaster. You might get away with it for a few years, but eventually the chickens come home to roost.

(3) Fasting and eating in narrow windows is the best way to control weight and health, not by trying to endlessly exercise away the calories. I don't eat until ten or eleven a.m. and then I don't eat again after around eight p.m. Read my fasting chapter in FFG. I only eat two meals per day.

We're not designed for constant eating, and this approach that people use to eat three to five times a day is just flat wrong. I think it's partly an artifact of agriculture when more people were farmers and very active. Now more people are involved with "knowledge industries" and need to adjust their lifestyles accordingly.

(4) Vitamins are an interesting topic. A recent New York Times op-ed came out against them. Another reason not to get health and fitness information from an op-ed page. FFG has very good information on how your body uses and needs vitamins and minerals. It's not an either/or situation; the message from the book is eat whole foods and consider supplementing here and there, depending on your needs (such as, if you are a pregnant woman, trying to get pregnant, or just a male with a focus on good health). For example, I supplement vitamin D and K, and am considering adding a little extra magnesium.

(5) Exercise has a sweet spot, and on either side of that (too little or too much) can be bad for you. FFG empasizes walking and undifferentiated movement in lieu of endless moderate running, for example. Just being in a forest or strolling along a mountain has other health benefits beyond the exercise itself (gazing upon a stand of trees will lower your blood pressure, similar to meditation). I write about the Scandanavian notion of keeping land open and free for people to trek and ski on it, as being good and healthful for the spirit.

That said, as you get older, heavy endurance exercise can be quite bad for you. I'm someone who once ran a marathon in 2:43 and 10K in under 33 minutes, but I thought that the running was doing and eventually would do bad things to me–immune-system and cardiac wise. Personally, I'm trying to get better at restraining myself, which has always been more of a problem than getting myself to move.

Some very intelligent people are out there trying to claim and prove that humans are designed for efforts like marathoning. They are flat out wrong. Humans evolved as scavengers, hunter-gatherers, and often used "technology" such as stampeding animals off cliffs in order to generate their meat. This is endlessly debated, but we simply didn't have enough calories for fueling a hunt that involved running twenty miles until an animal dropped. Just because you can do something physically doesn't mean that we are optimally designed for it or that doing it over and over again won't have negative consequences.

(6) I'm reading Moby Dick at the moment, and the character Stubb has some one-hundred and fifty year old advice that is still good: "Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth" (think not, meaning don't excessively ruminate over things, I think he meant). Enough said, we need adequate sleep and skipping it on purpose switches off the immune system, increases inflammation, and reduces your feeling of well-being.

(7) The author. I wouldn't buy a topical health book if the author didn't look fit or convey general good fitness. The proof is in the pudding. I live the stuff I wrote about in the book. I'm in my late fifties, I weigh what I did in high school (145 lbs.), I can bench press more than then (about 200 lbs.), I can still do a decent sprint of a soccer field, and I feel strong as an ox on my mountainbike going uphill in Vermont. The issue with me, as I mentioned, is to avoid over-training and putting an excessive strain on my systems, cardiac and otherwise, as I age. I still want to be having fun outside at 80 and 90.

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