Health and Longevity: The Most Impactful Changes Are The Simplest
During this year’s PaleoFX conference, I had the opportunity to eat and shoot the shit with one Ben Greenfield. More importantly, I had the opportunity to do the same with his wife, Jessa. Great people, super passionate about helping people improve their lives and health, and a lot of fun to be around when fish skins are part of the menu.
Ben knows a LOT about the human body. He’s also part of a small cohort of people I know who have willingly had needle biopsies done just to see how many mitochondria their muscle tissue has added as a result of being in chronic ketosis (Ben has, if I recall correctly, triple the mitochondria in his muscle tissue as your average bear). He considers himself an “ancestral athlete” but doesn’t attempt to live in a cave or only train body weight because of it. He sums this up in his article: “The 10 Rules of the Ancestral Athlete.” Note, there are likely some borderline Not Safe For Work photos on that website. However, the article is great and is a long form version of something Doug McGuff likes to say:
Fred Flintstone diet with a George Jetson workout.
Ben has done a LOT of experimentation to push the limits of health and performance, much in the same way any Olympic athlete does building up to the Olympics every four years. However, Ben is curious about the outcome, as his paycheck isn’t nearly as large for all the noodling he’s wont to do. Truth be told, we’re all nerds about this stuff, but the reality is that very little of the nerding amounts to any significant improvements in health and longevity over getting the simple stuff done, consistently. Take a look below, where I plot the time/effect interval for a variety of health marker improvements that result from exercise:
The curves are fairly steep: doing enough, regularly, leads to the largest changes in health outcomes. After that, it’s a lot of mental masturbation for a paltry change in outcomes. In numbers above, you have to train 350% more per week to achieve 28% more result over what 1 hour each week gets you. If you’re an Olympic athlete looking for performance, that’s worth it. But if you’re not, that’ s a waste of time, especially when you factor in all of the wear and tear that comes with that effort.
Ben even admits as much in the article. He talks about how his wife is very laissez-faire about her training and how much better it is for health:
I’m not arguing that there’s no value to rigidity, self-control, knowledge, and self-discipline, but I suspect that if we both stay on the same path, my wife will probably outlive me and have a higher quality of life in the process.
If you didn’t read the article, the context is that Jessa trains when she feels like it, eats real food when she’s hungry, and doesn’t stress about it. But she does these small things regularly with big result. She’s in great shape.
It’s the simple changes that result in the biggest health outcomes long term. This is why restrictive diets are an abject failure in the research world, why so many people hate “training,” and why this country is in really poor condition. It’s also why those who did the simple habits regularly in the Alameda 7 Study or the Blue Zones are those living the longest.
Simple is not easy, but it’s a whole mess easier than making things really complicated not much more gain.
Skyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science. He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.