Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Healthy Living" - The Tenets (part 2)

So this post has been severely delayed. Apologies. One of the biggest reasons I'm doing this is to get myself to blog more, and it's already not working. Clearly this doesn't bode well, but I'll carry on and try to get better at following through on this.

So here we go:

Sleep habits - This is a big one, big enough to sneak in Part 1 if I hadn't rambled on for so long. Sleep is one of the biggest unknowns in science. For the life of us, we can't figure out why we do it. We can't take any particular bodily function and say that sleep factors directly into its existence. But we do know that a lack of sleep results in a host of negative side effects - increased risk of diabetes, reduced cognitive throughput, weight gain, impaired judgment, decreased attention span, and more.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, for this lifetime, your body is you. When you do something bad to your body, it tries to find ways to tell you this. If skimping on this one activity causes this many ill effects that we can already measure, and if we don't even understand why we sleep in the first place, think about all the harmful effects a lack of sleep causes that we don't yet know about.

Or, in short, there are very few things core to our existence. Sleeping is one of them.

Nutrition - Similar concept to sleep in many ways. Eating food is, again, one of the few things we absolutely must do to stay alive. Most of you know my take on this: natural, home cooked, fresh, etc. is the way to go. Packaged, fast, synthesized food should be avoided. If you've been living in a cave and haven't read any Michael Pollan, get at it. He spells it out much better than I ever could, especially the tagline for his 2nd most recent book, In Defense of Food, which reads: Eat food, not too much, mostly plans (food as opposed to food-like substances, i.e. almost anything in a package). Nice and simple summation of the philosophy I'm going to try to follow.

Joint/body impact vs fun - This is the first of a stranger set of beliefs that will guide the redesign. One of the biggest areas of rethinking I've been trying to do has been in the area of exercise. I started to question some assumptions I had held my entire life - most fundamentally, the harder your train, the healthier you are.

When I thought about this, this doesn't make much sense. Why is doing crazy cardio that keeps your heart rate at 160+ for extended periods of time good for you? The heart, like any machine designed by nature or man, is optimized for medium usage. It's not good for your car to run at 6,000 rpms on a consistent basis. Why should our bodies be any different? It's a simple materials issue - pushing a system to the high end of its performance capabilities will strain the materials involved, be they metal or living tissue.

Even if you're not with me there, I'm assuming you'll agree that joint impact is an issue. Despite the new barefoot running movement, there is no getting around the plain truth that running is probably not great for your knees. Ditto for other high impact exercises. The machine analogy applies again - if you strike a system with higher degrees of force, you're more likely to cause long term damage.

But on the flip side, some high impact activities are just plain awesome. There are few things in life more fun than a great game of football or more exhilarating than a 20 degree run through Boston Common (a newfound passion of mine, though by no means am I sad to see the winter go).

So my goal will be to optimize along these two goals - if I go for a run, I'll try to keep it short and pay attention to how my knees feel, and if I'm going to be running around for a long period of time, I better be having a blast (playing a game of football, for example).

Sports - Along those lines, I also want to play more sports. They're fun, and the competition gets the juices flowing.

Trying new things - This is also a bit of a subset of the joint impact vs. fun point. Pushing the bounds of what you know and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is always a great learning experience and a great time. So, when I'm doing active things, I want to make an effort to experiment with activities I haven't tried. Martial arts, rock climbing, and wind surfing are a few I'm kicking around right now.

I think that's it for now - did I miss anything? I'm going to synthesize these into an exact regimin, which I'll describe in my next post. And after that, it's time to get at it. Hopefully I can stay disciplined and get the next post up soon.

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