I want to live a long time. Forever if possible. And I think there's an outside shot, with modern medicine, that we can live close to forever.
Basically three things kill humans - disease, old age, and trauma. It seems reasonable to me that medicine will eventually cure almost all disease and find ways to route around age-related decline and death.
Trauma's a tougher nut to crack. You're in a car crash, yeah, that's hard to reverse. But at some point, I think medicine cures basically all diseases and old age.
When? Well, I don't know. Computing power is on an exponential growth curve right now, and I don't think we've really scratched the surface of all that's possible with with computing and modern engineering and inventing and synergizing stuff. But history suggests that the exponential growth probably won't last forever, it'll probably flatten out.
How long does the rapid growth go? How fast does it come? These questions answer how long until disease and old age are beaten back. But I think there's a pretty good shot that medicine increases longevity at the same rate we age reasonably soon, and that gets you to the almost-immortality area.
I think playing around with your health these days is a bigger risk than in any other era of history. How would you like to be one of the last people who die of cancer before it's cured? Yeah, that would suck.
So I've worked to systematically eliminate, improve, and refine my health. Quit tobacco, liquor, recreational drugs, soda, sugar, pork and red meat. I still have a lot of work to do, but eventually I'd like to be eating a mix of pretty much only vegetables, some fruit, a bit of complex carbs, and seafood. Minimal additives beyond spices, no deep frying, minimal processing, high fiber, low-ish salt. Lots of water, a bit of tea. Jury's still out on coffee for me, not sure about that. Yes to good vitamins. Maybe some nootropics, HGH, synthetic testosterone, as long as they can be proved out to have beneficial effects to longevity without toxicity long term. Definitely yes to natural anti-inflammatories, probably yes to synthetic anti-inflammatories.
Why do I do this? Because it increases the odds I'll live longer. And 10 years of longevity might translate into 50 years. Let's say you've got a genetic predisposition to heart failure. If you live a bad-for-heart lifestyle, maybe you have heart failure at age 55 and that's the end of you. But if you stay in good health and heart conditions only come on at 65 years old due to good diet and lifestyle, then maybe medicine and engineering has the breakthroughs to keep you alive for another 20 years.
Then, what other breakthroughs could happen to push that further out? So, fighting for 5-10 years now might translate into getting an extra 50. It's possible.
It's all probabilities. There's no guarantees. You could live as healthy as you know how, and still get into a car crash and then the lights go off. Intelligent prevention and safety can and does reduce the risk of fatal trauma, but it'll never hit zero, and it's the hardest thing for medicine or engineering to cure.
But on balance, doing things that probably makes you live longer means you probably live longer. I think the stakes are pretty high - because of the rapid pace of advancement, fighting off adverse medical conditions for a few years might be the difference in getting decades longer to live.
Let's talk pleasure, then.
I used to love drinking good vodka, good beer, good sake, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, smoking Djarim clove cigarettes, smoking good cigars, smoking sheesha. Like pretty much everyone, Coca-Cola and cakes and cookies all taste good. And I loved steak. Oh yes, I loved steak. And I've had some great steaks in my life. Really good ones.
But here's the funny thing. I quit all that stuff, and I don't think the net pleasure in my life has gone down.
Never mind that the probability I live decades longer is going up - I've had a couple near death experiences, and either one of them could've been the end of me. There's no guarantees, even if you're trying to do things right.
No, even before you even take the extra decades I might get into account - I think the net pleasure in my life is about the same.
You get 24 hours each day, every day, all of us. If you're living a normal lifestyle and not doing some kind of intense training, you're probably eating 1800 to 2800 calories per day.
I think my 24 hours of life-time and 1800-2800 calories stack up pretty well with most people's. Let's talk food first.
My current diet has lots of eggs, chicken, vegetables, fruit, rice, bread, and nuts. For breakfast, I'll usually have eggs, vegetables, beans, coffee, and bread. For lunch, a piece of fish or chicken, more vegetables, maybe some soup. For dinner, some rice or bread, some nuts, some raisins.
I still get a chicken sandwich or fries or pizza sometimes, but not too often and I'll quit that stuff eventually. It's habitual and I haven't trained/habituated it all out yet.
But really, a meal of fish, seafood soup, some rice, some mushrooms, some lettuce, some onions with a green tea? That's a tasty meal. There's plenty of ways to serve fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, vegetables, rice, fruit - mix it with some spices or a curry, and you've got a good meal. I'd stack it right up next to a big ol' piece of prime rib, which is indeed delicious. But I think I'm enjoying just the same.
The alcohol is a bit harder to get the benefits of. The biggest boost from alcohol is that it relaxes your inhibitions and you can let loose a little more. That's actually really valuable, true. Most people are inhibited and stifled all the time. You're expected to behave politically correctly, there's things you think that you're not allowed to say, there's behavior you'd like to do that you're not allowed to, and there's things you'd like to try but you're too scared. Alcohol solves all of that.
But with training (and not all that much training), I think it's possible to get all of that without drinking. I do all kinds of idiot absurd shit, and then, as an added bonus, I'm sober in case I've got to fix the idiot shit I did. While dead sober, I say the things that most people need to get 5-6 drinks in them to say. And you know what? It's alright, nothing irreparably bad happens.
I'd stack up my food pleasure and my relaxed-inhibitions pleasure with anyone. Beyond that, drinking costs a lot. With the cash someone drops in a weekend of drinking, I can go get a two hour massage and then hang out in a super-upscale cafe listening to the piano. And I'll say absurd shit in the upscale cafe too, so that's fun.
Tobacco is harder. The pleasure of smoking Montecristo cigars or sheesha is hard to replace, there's nothing really quite like tobacco. I suppose you can get training on how to relax and things like that, but smoking a cigarette or a cigar... it really is enjoyable. Especially when mixed with liquor.
No, that's the one that's hard to directly replace, that's true. The flipside is, though, that I'm banking on being able to sprint and breathe clearly and not cough and choke later. While the short term pleasure of tobacco is very fine, there's definitely a pattern of long term decline from it. I only smoked for like 4-6 years, but even then I noticed some nasty effects. A little less breath. After a day of heavy smoking, a really sore throat. I can only imagine what 40-60 years of smoking does to your breath and lungs and throat.
So it's true, I probably don't replace the exact soothing pleasure of cigarettes, but it comes at a high price. No, I don't mean the cash, though there's that. I mean being able to run down the beach without running out of breath at age 45. I'm banking on being able to do that.
Why am I writing this post? I'm not a preacher. I go out to the bar if I'm invited by someone I like, I order my club soda, and I keep to myself unless someone asks why I don't drink. I'll hang with people drinking, and people can eat whatever they like without hearing a peep from me at the restaurant.
But I wanted to write this post up for people who are wondering about quitting stuff. I think the benefits are potentially enormous, and I really think net-pleasure-in-life doesn't go down when you quit. Especially food, there's plenty of good food available that tastes just as good. Really, a good piece of grilled chicken stacks up pretty well with a steak, and I liked steak as much as anyone. But liquor and tobacco too, I think life is better overall without. Takes a little more effort, but overall I think it's worth it - even before considering the longevity.
No, I didn't write this post up to preach. Everyone makes their own judgments and tradeoffs, and it's cool however you choose. But if you do go to choose, you're going to ostracized and teased and knocked for it by people who feel... threatened or belittled or something.
Don't preach. There's nothing more insufferable than hearing someone who just quit smoking try to crusade against everyone near them. But don't give in, either. Honestly, I really think the following are true:
*A life of quitting the stuff that kills you can just easily contain as much pleasure as the stuff-that-kills-you lifestyle.
*With medicine progressing so fast, there's a chance that your lifestyle refinements translate into a decades longer life.
Decades of more sunrises and sunsets, seeing all the amazing technology that's getting invented, traveling and exploring new cultures, hearing new music, spending more time with your grandkids and great-grandkids, and maybe even great-great-grandkids and watching them all grow up and do stuff. Reading more books, writing more books, inventing and exploring and... all of that stuff.
So I think the stakes are high and the costs are low. The costs of quitting/refining are mostly just about installing the new habits/patterns and eliminating the old ones. Once you get into a healthier life, it's not all that hard to keep it going. But starting it is quite a lot of work.
I'm not going to try to preach and convert you. Where you draw your lines is totally your call, and it's a call everyone makes individually. But I think the stakes are quite high and the downsides to refining are very low. This post is for anyone who gets called crazy or ostracized for trying to refine your life. You're not crazy. You lose very little by refining, and you stand to gain an incredibly large amount. Refine on.
A lot of the Starting Strength guys in the military indicate that 15%-20% bodyfat makes you more durable, that the single digit bodyfat guys have higher peak glycolytic performance but break easy in the field - possibly *because* they're capable of more intense performance.
"But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who were not current drinkers, regardless of whether they used to be alcoholics, second highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers."
This is Bad News for me, I do not like it... but I can't dismiss it. 1824 subjects for 20 years, wow.
A reversal on carbs
"Fat is not the problem," says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases."
"I order my club soda, and I keep to myself "
change to a more social
"I order my club soda, and I keep it to myself"
btw, i laughed out loud at work when I read this:
"And I’ll say absurd shit in the upscale cafe too, so that’s fun."
Congrats on the positive health changes. I've also taken to doing this over the past few months. Eliminating sugar, artificial oils, grains / wheat and slow-carbs from my diet and practising intermittent fasting has helped me lose a bunch of weight and generally feel better about being alive. If you're interested in trying some different eating habits I can't speak highly enough of diets revolving around paleo nutrition (ie: Mark's Daily Apple, Four Hour Body).
Another interesting finding; looking at the data, the overweight group (BMI 25-29) was the longest-lived group. "Normal" (BMI 18-25) came in second, then obese (30-40), then underweight (<18), then morbidly obese (40+).
http://reason.com/blog/2007/11/07/overweight-the-new-healthy is a good place to start looking at it.
From what I've seen of the research drinkers - even heavy drinkers - outlive teetotalers. I myself am a lifelong teetotaler, but it's not for health reasons.
There is an advantage of being drunk that you can't replace: the appearance of an excuse. Digital cameras combined with "The Hangover" have made blacking out and recording the memories a popular pastime. Is this just an American thing?
Great point about replacing the benefits of alcohol with intentional depravity. I haven't cut out alcohol yet, but you make a strong case to do it.
Interesting post. I have had similar thoughts about living long enough to see the day when significant extensions to lifespan are possible. I'm 42 and in reasonably good health (although somewhat out of shape), so I may have a chance to live that long.
On my new Experimental Living blog, a prime focus is developing new habits. I know that I need to eat better and exercise more. The funny thing is that I have studied nutrition and exercise for many years, but the things that I have been learning recently seem to challenge what I thought I knew. I used to believe in cardio, but now HIT (high intensity training) sounds pretty compelling (read Body by Science if you're interested in learning more). I used to believe in high carbohydrates, lots of vegetables, few meats, and whole grains, but now the Paleo diet has challenged quite a few of my beliefs (The Paleo Solution is a good book). I used to worry about too much toxins, but then there is the concept of hormesis. I guess both HIT and toxins can shock the body and cause an adaptation response that makes us healthier. These are concepts that I intend to explore in more detail on my blog.
Right now I'm trying Tim Ferriss' "slow carb" diet as one of my 28-day experiments. We will see how it goes.
I also agree with your advice not to preach. I'm trying not to be too "preachy." I merely write about how I currently think about things and what I'm currently doing, and people can decide whether or not they want to give it a try as well.
I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.
This is my dog, Zeb. He’s 105 in dog years. He still gets up every morning looking forward to the day, cheerily tackling whatever life throws at him. I like to credit his healthy diet and a reasonable amount of exercise with his longevity and his great quality of life. I often find myself admiring him, hoping I’ll be in half as good a shape as he is when I’m 105. I think we can all learn a thing or two from him, actually. Here are the big lessons from Zeb, as I see them.
1. Do What You Can Until You Can’t Anymore – A lot of people slow down as they age. They move less, sit more. “I’m takin’ it easy,” they might say. But all that lack of movement actually results in a life that is harder. Inactivity leads to weight gain, muscle loss and, most markedly, a loss of function. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there is no known association between hormonal changes and weight gain in older adults. So if you’ve been blaming a drop in your estrogen or testosterone levels for your expanding waistline, I hate to tell you, but it’s just not the truth. We gain weight as we age because we become less active. Not only do we exercise less, or less vigorously, but we’re just not as busy running after the kids or otherwise expending the energy it takes to maintain a full household. We think, “Hey, these are my golden years. I’m going to take it easy.” Zeb says that’s a bunch of bunk – you’ll have plenty of time to take it easy when you’re dead.
2. Quit Worrying About Stuff – I asked Zeb what time it was the other day and he said, “What are you talking about? It’s now.” Then I asked him if that was his potty on the floor and he stared at me blankly and picked up a toy. He really had no idea if that was his potty on the floor because his memory only goes like 15 minutes into the past. When I asked him if he wanted to go to grandma’s house tomorrow, he walked over to the treat basket and stood there expectantly.
Ignorance is bliss, it’s true. As humans, we can’t live our lives pretending that time doesn’t exist (can we?), but we certainly can stop living in the past and worrying about the future. How much stuff do you worry about that you don’t even have any control over? Stress is one of the biggest contributors to a host of adverse conditions and diseases, including weight gain. Spend some time learning how to let go and unwind. Get up and move, breathe some fresh air, sing or dance. Zeb knows better than most of us that life is short, so you should enjoy it while you can.