I can now hold my breath for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. You’re probably thinking, “Big deal. What good does that do? And what does holding your breath have to do with telomeres?” Allow me to explain.
I first became acquainted with breath work while learning the Wim Hof Method (WHM). Previously, I never gave holding my breath a moments thought. If someone had mentioned it to me, I would have scoffed, “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?” I had, however, seen people wearing masks designed to restrict breathing and also heard about hypoxia (oxygen deficient) tents in which some athletes sleep in an effort to mimic high altitude conditions. I thought users of those tools must either be brain damaged idiots, or well on their way as a result of depriving their brains of oxygen.
A big part of the WHM revolves around breathwork. Wim has his students breathe deeply for forty repetitions while sitting on the floor. After the last complete exhalation students hold their breath for as long as possible. Initially I struggled, but soon found myself making progress and actually enjoying it. Regular readers know that the WHM also involves doing breathwork during freezing cold showers. I lost consciousness during one of those sessions.
I no longer follow the WHM, but the foundation the course provided will stay with me for a lifetime and it provided a framework for methods I continue to practice with even more focus and diligence. I now take organized yoga classes a few times a week and do breathwork several times a week. While I continue to take ice cold showers, I no longer perform breathwork during them. Wim may disagree with me, but I am unconvinced that merging breathwork with cold therapy magnifies the effect of either. That is, I do not believe there is a synergistic effect gained from performing them simultaneously.
Mammalian Dive Reflex Those of us interested in reversing our age just love to hear about biohacking. The mammalian dive reflex is arguably one such biohack that makes it tempting to do breathwork in the water. This reflex is an evolutionary adaptation that allows us to dive underwater for extended periods of time. Facial contact with water activates the dive reflex, resulting in a decrease in heart rate, the diversion of blood from the extremities, the movement of blood into the lungs and other vital organs (blood shift), and splenic contractions which aid in the blood shift at greater depths and pressures.1 The dive reflex is so powerful that in 2012, German Freediver Tom Sietas managed to hold his breath underwater for a staggering 22 minutes and 22 seconds. He earned this record by hyperventilating on pure oxygen for 30 minutes just prior to holding his record setting breathhold.2
As intriguing as breathwork in the water is, it’s something I have not yet explored because it is simply way too dangerous to do on my own. In the summer, when I have access to a pool and if I am training with someone, it may be something I revisit. Even with a training partner, it is still seems kind of dangerous.
What I Do Differently Since I stopped doing the WHM, I have begun to do my own form of breathwork. [Warning! Be aware that some people pass out when they hold their breath.] Surprisingly, our first inclination while performing breath holds is the need to exhale (dispel carbon dioxide), not inhale (take in oxygen). So, one of the tricks I use to extend the length of my breath hold is to inhale and hold as much air/oxygen as I possibly can when I begin the set. Towards the end of the set, I exhale small amounts of “air” in little puffs. When you exhale, you not only expel carbon dioxide, you also lose a little oxygen. That’s why I try to exhale as slowly as possible. When I practiced the WHM, I did my breathwork while sitting in a half lotus position. Now, I just sit quietly, totally relaxed, in a comfortable chair.
I have also begun to use a breathwork tool to increase my lung capacity. No, not the stupid looking masks that make wearers look like Bane from Batman you may have seen people running with. The tool I utilize looks like a mouthguard with a regulator at the end of it. It restricts airflow making it harder to both inhale and exhale. I inhale as much as I possibly can, pause, and then inhale even a little more, hold it as long as is comfortable, and work hard to exhale as much as I possibly can. Exhaling until there is literally nothing left in my lungs is truly hard work. In addition to a lung capacity workout, it is a genuine abs routine. I typically do sets of 10 while driving, which occasionally elicits funny looks from other drivers. I have found this tool demonstrably helpful with respect to how long I can hold my breath. You can find breathwork tools if you search on Amazon or Google for “breathwork” or “breath training”.
Experts Condemn Breath Holding Some “experts” would say that what I'm doing is harmful. They think that restricting oxygen is always bad. Critics of breath holding believe it causes one’s internal biochemistry to get out of whack. They say holding your breath disturbs your natural biochemistry; instead of being more alkaline, the body becomes more acidic and more prone to disease.3 I concur that an acidic body is more prone to disease. Nevertheless, I find the conclusion that breathwork causes an acidic environment rather strange. I certainly hold my breath far more often than most people. I also happen to frequently measure my PH. In fact, I just interrupted writing this blog to measure it and my PH is perfectly balanced between an acidic and alkaline state at 7.5. “Experts” can say all sorts of things that often seem compelling. Do your own research and experiments. Accept nothing as a given.
Some say the quality of a person's breathing is closely linked with their emotional state. I tend to agree. A study in the "Indian Journal of Psychiatry" showed that 56 percent of children who have breath-holding spells react with temper tantrums, some to the extent of head banging and people who hold their breath tend to be angry, irritable and annoyed.4 This sounds like me before I began this mission to reverse my age! I accept the study’s conclusion that holding breath throughout the day is bad, yet the study makes a glaring error. It equates unconscious breath holding with conscious breath holding. Unconsciously, chronically, holding one’s breath is likely very harmful. I used to be guilty of it myself. Don’t laugh too hard at me because there is a good chance you too inadvertently hold your breath, especially when you are stressed or deep in thought. Ironically, I would never have realized how often I hold my breath during if I had not been introduced to breathwork in the first place.
Consciously holding one’s breath, meditating, and yoga make one very aware of one’s breathing patterns. I encourage you to start taking note. You may find yourself sitting in your chair at work holding your breath totally unconsciously and become startled when you realize you haven’t taken a breath in awhile. You may become further surprised, as I was, that you do this all the time. Breathe!
Breathing expels toxins from your body. Some authorities say holding your breath keeps toxins inside, allowing ample time for them to disperse and accumulate in your body. They also argue that lack of oxygen has been shown to be a main problem among people with cancer and other serious illnesses because toxins rob your body of energy and make you look and feel ill.5 This I agree with. Again, however, this is a matter of differentiation between conscious breathwork and unconscious breath holding.
Why Bother? Breathwork takes a considerable amount of time, can be really uncomfortable, and is potentially not only dangerous, but deadly. So why the heck would I do it?
While some experts deride breath holders, others claim it is an activity that confers many benefits upon its practitioners. Some of the claimed benefits include: vasodilation, improved circulation, increase in red blood cells, improved memory and cognitive function, proliferates anti-aging stem cells, and induces cancer protection. When doing breathwork,
“Your muscles relax. When you breathe deeply and you are relaxed, fresh oxygen pours into every cell in the body. This increases the functionality of every system in the body. You will also notice improved mental concentration and physical stamina. As your muscles let go of tension, your blood vessels dilate and your blood pressure drops. Deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, which improves feelings of well-being and provides pain-relief. Good breathing habits help the lymphatic system function properly, which encourages the release of harmful toxins.”6
This is an incredible list of potential benefits. I find the fact that breathwork floods one’s cells with oxygen, making them function efficiently at optimal levels, one of the most compelling reason to perform breathwork. All the other benefits are bonuses. I also happen to have definitive experience with breathworks ability to oxygenate cells. Those of you who have been reading since the beginning may recall that I was initially quite concerned about my O2 saturation readings. Some of my early readings were 88, 90, and 93. My O2 saturation numbers are now regularly 97 or 99 and occasionally hit 99.
Many people erroneously believe any CO2 is toxic to humans. Contrary to popular belief, a limited amount of carbon dioxide confers many benefits upon the human body. It brings more blood to your brain and heart (vasodilation), allows more air to enter your lungs (bronchodilation), and calms your nervous system, reducing depression, anxiety, and even the symptoms of epilepsy.7 Sure, we couldn’t survive if all we could breathe is carbon dioxide. We need oxygen to survive, but even too much oxygen can be toxic. Allowing some CO2 to build up inside our bodies is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary.
Ancient yogis reportedly enjoyed a reputation for having incredibly strong, “unbreakable” bones because of bone mineralization caused by carbon dioxide and increased CO2 stimulates the mitochondria in your cells to multiply.8 Having more mitochondria is like getting a new engine with more horsepower.
Limited exposure to carbon dioxide reduces inflammation throughout the entire body. This is critical! This is yet another really compelling reason to perform breathwork. I firmly believe in the concept of “inflammaging” and data has begun to accumulate confirming this theory. “Inflammaging” is chronic inflammation throughout the body that accelerates aging and may be the root cause of several diseases. I consume many vitamins and supplements in massive doses simply in an effort to reduce inflammation. It is arguably why I recover so quickly from grueling workouts. Faster recovery is the holy grail for any competitive fitness athlete. While it is often not associated with aging, it should form the cornerstone for any anti aging protocols.
Conclusion Breathwork may be the most overlooked telomere lengthening therapy of all. There is zero data or information linking the two. Nevertheless, just because nobody has associated breathwork with telomerase activation yet, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. In my view, lack of oxygen in the blood and inflammation are two concepts strongly associated with aging. Breathwork counteracts both, and as such, stands a good chance to activate telomerase. I am thrilled to be focusing on it and making such progress. I will continue training to improve my personal record.
I find the arguments against breathwork uncompelling. Most of the information I found equated chronic unconscious breath holding, which I agree is bad, with the type of intentional, focused breathwork I perform as part of my training protocol. They are neither the same, nor even remotely similar.
The long list of possible benefits associated with breathwork is impressive. Some are measurable and I have witnessed my own body make dramatic improvements with respect to O2 saturation levels. Furthermore, let’s not forget Wim Hof has done some spectacular things with his disciples including controlling their immune systems and being instrumental in helping people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s find relief. Just because science can’t yet explain something, doesnt mean it doesn't work.
I leave you with the words of Wim Hof: “Breathe M@ther F*#ker!”
We all drink bottled water. We also all order takeout, which often comes in a plastic container. It's so convenient. It's also great for reheating. But, both drinking and eating out of plastic containers may be deadly. At the very least, consuming liquid and food out of plastic has some potentially dire health consequences we should all consider before taking that next sip or spoonful of food.
Impossible, you say? I never gave it much thought myself. That is, until I came across the concept in the book The Telomere Effect by Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Epel. They wrote, “Avoid plastic drinking bottles and cookware. Even BPA (Bisphenol A)-free plastic bottles may not be free of other harmful chemicals. BPA substitutes may be as unsafe; they just haven’t been studied to the same extent (plus, we may soon have more plastic in the ocean than fish if we don’t reduce our reliance on plastic bottles). Try not to microwave plastics, even the ones that say they are microwaveable. It’s true that microwaveable plastics won’t warp when you heat them, but there are no promises that you won’t get a dose of plastics in your food.”1 As I read the words they wrote, I thought to myself, "Uh oh, I constantly drink out of plastic bottles. I also microwave things in plastic all the time. Maybe I better rethink that." Just before I began reversing my age, I happened to buy a bunch of “BPA-free” plastic “microwavable” food containers. I threw away a pile of very old plastic containers, some of which came with chinese food delivered literally a decade ago (I miss Chinese food). I thought I was being so smart and health conscious by switching to “BPA-free” plastic. It turns out, I was not so smart after all. Rather, I was just the victim of some clever advertising.
Health Risks of Using Plastic First off, we need to look at how plastic is typically manufactured. You may not realize it but plastic is a petroleum product. Can you believe that!? According to the US Energy Information Administration, “Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining.”2 Feedstocks are raw materials used to supply an industrial process. Chemicals commonly found in plastics include Phthalate, Polycarbonate, Polylactic Acid, Polypropylene, DEHP, and the most well known, BPA. Phthalate is an endocrine disruptor and may interfere with one’s metabolic function, damage one’s liver and testicles, and cause liver cancer. DEHP is a known carcinogen and also an endocrine disruptor.
BPA, yet another known carcinogen, is particularly dangerous because in addition to being an endocrine disruptor, it also mimics the hormone estrogen, which can lead to breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer, chromosomal abnormalities, and complications for both pregnant women and their fetuses. A study in 2011 also found that pregnant women with high levels of BPA are more likely going to have daughters who are hyperactive, prone to depression and have higher levels of anxiety.3 That’s a pretty long and serious list of potentially catastrophic health consequences resulting from exposure to plastic products containing BPA. Why take the risk when we can easily avoid it?
Water bottles containing BPA have also been linked to increased rates of disease in adults. Individuals with the highest concentrations of BPA in their urine are three times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and 2.4 times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than people with low BPA concentrations.4 Disturbingly, you may not even need to expose yourself to suffer the effects of BPA. Your mother, and possibly even your grandmother, may have been exposed resulting in raising your chances of developing prostate or breast cancer as an adult. Canada and Japan both banned the use of BPA in the production of plastic bottles. Nevertheless, BPA containing bottles are still widely used in the USA. One can’t help but wonder, “Why?” No one knows for sure what the long term health outcomes will be. Do we really want our bodies used as an elaborate chemistry experiment?
Heat and Plastic Have you ever drunk water out of a plastic bottle that had been left in a very hot environment. I have. In fact, I have repeatedly drunk water out of plastic bottles stored in shipping containers on construction job sites. Sometimes during the summer months, the temperature in these shipping containers gets over 100 degrees. You can literally taste the plastic in the water on these very hot days. This unquestionably has health consequences. I cringe when I think about it. It doesn’t even take much exposure to these toxic, carcinogenic chemicals to have an effect upon one’s health. You may not realize your health has been compromised for 40 years, and by then it will be impossible to trace it back to a particular cause. Oh, you don’t work in construction and would never drink bottled water stored in a shipping container? Well, how do you think your bottled water gets shipped around the country? In a shipping container, of course.
After a flurry of damaging news stories about the dangers of plastic, some clever marketing guys came up with “BPA-free” plastic products that are “microwave safe”. Yea, ok, so the plastic won’t melt or warp. The problem is when you heat these things in a microwave or elsewhere they may not be so safe. There's simply not enough data because the chemicals haven’t been studied long enough. Bottled water companies increasingly use “BPA-free” plastic, the same trick I fell for, but laced into plastic bottles are other chemicals that can seep out if bottles are exposed to heat or sit around for a long time.5 Scott Belcher, PhD, and his team found when the same new and used polycarbonate drinking bottles were exposed to boiling hot water, BPA was released 55 times more rapidly than before exposure to hot water.6 Consider that little fact that next time you sip or stir your boiling hot coffee with a little plastic straw. It seems overwhelmingly clear that it is simply safer to avoid using any plastic products.
Bottled Water is a Rip-Off Think about it. What are we paying for when we buy bottled water? Bottled water actually costs more than gasoline, believe it or not. According to Business Insider, "The [bottled water] industry grossed a total of $11.8 billion on those 9.7 billion gallons in 2012, making bottled water about $1.22/gallon nationwide and 300 x the cost of a gallon of tap water. If we take into account the fact that almost 2/3 of all bottled water sales are single 16.9oz (500 mL) bottles, though, this cost is much, much higher: about $7.50 per gallon, according to the American Water Works Association. That’s almost 2,000 x the cost of a gallon of tap water and twice the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline."7 When you think about the cost of bottle water in those terms, the thought of paying so much for something that may be extremely unhealthy and is readily available for free becomes really quite silly.
You're paying for water when you pay your taxes or rent. It is a service your local government is obligated to provide. Make them earn it. Call and complain if your water doesn't taste right. Have it tested. You might as well actually utilize what you are paying for. Bottled water names and labels always bring to mind the epitome of purity. It turns out though that approximately 25% of bottled water is sourced from the tap. Ok, so some companies filter or radiate the tap water with ultraviolet light before selling it to you at several thousand times the cost of their municipal tap source. (Examples include Aquafina, Dasani, and many other brands).8 Don’t be a sucker. Drink your own filtered tap water.
Plastic Alternatives Don’t worry! You need not let plastic kill you because there are some easy alternatives. First and foremost, stop buying bottled water. Replace it with a good tap filtration system and some glass or stainless steel water bottles. I use plain, black stainless steel, 25 ounce bottles and a high quality filter in my refrigerator. My steel bottles are all dented up, but entirely functional. You can get them in whatever size, shape, color, and/or design you like.
The options for water filtration are practically limitless. Many of the options are extremely affordable. If you don’t have the option of a fridge filter or under sink filter, buy a water pitcher with a built in filter. You can even get a filter that screws into the spout of your faucet. Under sink filtration systems are probably the best, but also the most expensive. If you want to go really crazy, you can even install an under sink alkaline water system that will set you back a few thousand dollars. Much to my dismay, I had to throw away call my brand new “BPA-free,” “microwavable” plastic containers. For food consumption, I bought a bunch of glass microwavable containers that I couldn't be happier with. I paid less than $25 for five of them, they are air tight, high quality, and while they do have a “BPA-free” plastic top, the plastic need never touch the food nor go in the microwave, and they are airtight. It's really an easy change that I feel great about. The cost/benefit analysis of switching to glass is extraordinarily favorable.
Sustainability There's also nothing sustainable about using plastic products. The amount of plastic we use is staggering. It is a reflection of our “throw away” society. Plastic bottles are not biodegradable in any meaningful way, so what we drink in a few minutes can stick around literally forever, or at least a thousand years. According to Dr. Christiana Peppard, “Even with recycling efforts, 6 out of 7 plastic bottles consumed in the U.S. are “downcycled”—sent somewhere out of sight and out of mind where, for the next millennia, toxins from degrading plastic containers can leach into watersheds and soil.”9 You need not be a bearded, birkenstock wearing, tree hugging environmentalist to recognize the amount of plastic we generate is a serious, growing problem. Let’s stop kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with and start solving this problem. The sooner we begin meaningfully addressing the issue, the easier it will be to resolve.
Conclusion You may be wondering, “But John, what does all this stuff about plastic have to do with reversing our age and lengthening our telomeres?” I’m glad you asked. You see I look at telomeres as I would look at a stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Its current price, in theory, should reflect what its true value is because everything possibly knowable about the company should be a matter of public record. All present information about a stock should be built into its price. The stock's price can't see clearly into the future. I view telomeres pretty similarly. The length of your telomeres is a reflection of all your life's known experiences to date. This includes your exposure to BPA, which, I believe, would affect your telomeres length. Your telomeres expect you to continue living as you have since birth, gradually shortening a tiny bit with each cell division. I intend to prove you can substantially change the trajectory of your telomeres’ lengths, much like a stock’s value can change dramatically with improved management of the company.
I love stuffing my face with carbohydrates. In fact, I love it almost as much as I used to enjoy guzzling beer. I genuinely mean all kinds of carbs too. Donuts, pasta, rice, bread, italian heroes, cheesesteaks, and pizza! Oh, and sugar, the king of carbs, has an oh so special place in my heart; or my gut. The more highly processed and refined, the better. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Reeses Pieces, Cadbury Cream Eggs, ice cream sundaes, fudge, marshmallows, and Milky Ways. I pretty much love them all. The sweeter, the better! Yet, like the alcohol I have chosen to abandon, sugar consumption presents many of the same, equally serious, health consequences.
I already knew going into this endeavor that sugar wasn’t good for you. Most of us know it, even if we choose to ignore it. Make no mistake; refined sugar will be the next smoking. Decades may pass, but eventually, there will be class action lawsuits initiated by hordes of fat, sick people, warning labels on sugary products, and the media will finally have no choice but to report the facts, despite the displeasure of their corporate food customers. I believed, however, that most naturally occuring carbs in general are “healthy.” I thought there was no way I could eat too much brown rice, quinoa, fruit, or chickpeas. So, it surprises me that I’ve come to the realization that the “best” diet for me in my efforts to lengthen my telomeres and improve my overall physical and mental capacities is the keto diet jacked up with intermittent fasting. Let me tell you how I stumbled upon this discovery.
A Strange Discovery You may remember when I cycled a century. During that most memorable ride and while training for it, I strangely observed that I didn't need food. I would sometimes cycle for several hours without stopping to refuel. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “ I don't have to stop to eat. I can just keep on going.” I found it so bizarre, yet simultaneously encouraging. I figured I was doing something that must be fundamentally changing the way my metabolism functions. Was it the intermittent fasting? The Wim Hof method? Cold showers? Breath work? I didn't know. But I did know that I was somehow different than before.
Fat Adaptation Some of you may recall that I had my DNA partially sequenced before I began this kooky mission. The results suggested I would be best suited for a mediterranean diet. The staples of my version of a mediterranean diet included eating olive oil (a healthy fat), brown rice, quinoa, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, salmon, shrimp, tuna, chicken, and turkey. My diet was entirely clean; free from preservatives, artificial colors, and laboratory created chemicals. If something had any ingredients I didn’t recognize, I wasn’t eating it, no matter how tasty. I exclusively drank water.
My carbs primarily came from the brown rice and/or quinoa I ate with most meals. I occasionally at a relatively “high” amount of carbs when I gorged on fruit or drank a smoothie heavy on the fruit. My fat consumption was probably higher than ever, considering most meals were cooked with olive oil. I suppose the amount of brown rice and quinoa I consumed didn't matter because I exercised so much and relatively speaking, my carb intake was still quite low. Nevertheless, I believe intermittent fasting inadvertently, and unknown to me at the time, thrust me into a mild state of ketosis. I am convinced that because I didn’t eat for 36 hours straight every Tuesday and Thursday, I taught my body to become at least partially fat adapted. That explains why I didn't have to eat during those long training sessions. It further demonstrates why I dropped so much weight and body fat so quickly. I had become a fat burning machine. I did not need carbohydrates for fuel. I carried around all the fuel I needed in the form of body fat that I had unintentionally trained my body to burn for energy.
Getting Fat Again Fast forward to when I cycled 200 miles. You may recall that I bonked (ran out of fuel resulting in a central nervous system shutdown) at around 80 or 90 miles. What a terrible experience! It likely happened because I was only partially fat adapted. It may also have had something to do with what I ate that morning (a fruit smoothie) and what I ate the night before.
Fast forward again to Christmas. I discovered two addictive treats that I wish I had never been introduced to. First I discovered wasabi chickpeas. I found them to be the most delicious healthy snack ever, which also fit in very well with my mediterranean diet. Chickpeas are actually beans, not peas. They are high in fiber and have a considerable amount of protein. I wasn't, at the time, concerned about carbs and consequently would devour them by the pound. I soon found myself buying them in quantities of 5 lb bags. Some farmer somewhere had addicted me to these crunchy little balls of fire.
The other treat I discovered was goji berries, also known as Wolfberries and Tibetan Berries. These bright red, chewy things quickly became my very favorite snack. According to Dr. Axe, eating goji berries provides high levels of antioxidants and nutrients, improves immune function and fights cancer, promotes healthy skin, protects eye health, helps stabilize blood sugar, detoxifies the liver, keeps your energy and mood up, and boosts fertility.1 My taste buds have clearly changed and so while my sister laughed hysterically at my new found addiction, which taste better than Milk Duds to me, she thinks they taste like “bird food.” I was dismayed that two pound bags were the largest quantity I could find. Apparently, I’m not the only person in love with goji berries. Madonna, Liz Hurley, and Mischa Barton are a few of the superstars who are also apparently fans and reportedly consume them to stay slim and slow down the aging process.2
Goji berries and wasabi chickpeas teamed up to kick my re-inflating butt way out of ketosis, resulting in a quick 7-8 pounds of weight gain. I subconsciously knew what the culprits were but I wasn't 100% sure and was reluctant to admit it because I was addicted to these new found healthy treats.
Changing My Mind on Keto After I started putting weight back on, I began frantically posting questions on message boards, specifically Reddit and Calorie Restriction, Optimal Nutrition (CRON). The CRON forums are fascinating because they are primarily about life extension. So I posted the question of “How do you avoid bonking in extended training sessions lasting more than 3 hours.” The answers I got were interesting. In fact, I inspired furious debate. I love that because it's the only way to gain deeper knowledge and get better at whatever we're doing. While I may strongly disagree with you, I always try hard to keep an open mind. I am stunned by some of the changes of opinion I’ve experienced during this endeavor, including my views on a keto diet.
One forum respondent in particular made some compelling arguments, though I was skeptical. He argued that I should be eating a full ketogenic diet. I resisted the idea because what I knew of keto diets made me think they were unhealthy and when I successfully used Atkins in the past, I felt very weak. I did not think I would be able to train hard on a very low carb diet. Most importantly, nobody else I knew of that was a high performing individual practiced a keto lifestyle; or so I thought. This forum poster also argued that I was never fully fat adapted because if I had been I would not have bonked. He recommended a book called The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney. I ordered it and read it very quickly. It is a great book and truly an eye opener. I then listened to a podcast called The Ketogenic Athlete, during which I learned that Zach Bitters, the man who holds the world record for fastest 100 mile marathon, practices a strict keto diet while training and competing.3
Next I listened to the audiobook Keto Clarity: The Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low Carb, High Fat Diet by Jimmy Moore. This best selling comprehensive book entirely covers every imaginable consideration relating to the keto diet. Contrary to popular belief, a keto diet is not just low carb, more importantly, it is a diet very high in fat. Over 60-75% of keto calories come from fat healthy fats, 15-30% comes from protein, and 5-10% comes from carbohydrates. Doesn’t that sound insane? When I’ve attempted to tighten up and lose some fast fat in recent years, I often go low carb because that worked so well for me in my 20’s, allowing me to get my bodyfat as low as the mid single digits. In recent years, however, I’ve not had nearly the same success. I chalked it up to “getting older.” What I didn’t realize was I was simply doing it wrong. To easily get into ketosis, one must primarily eat fat, not protein. So, now I eat protein in moderation and add a half stick of melted butter or a few ounces of coconut or olive oil to most meals. I know, it sounds totally counterintuitive.
By the time I finished Keto Clarity I was totally sold on a adopting a keto diet complimented by intermittent fasting. The reason I believe keto is the best diet for age reversal is because blood sugar stays relatively low and stable. Intermittent fasting accomplishes the same thing to an even greater degree. I believe the hormones insulin and cortisol have a lot to do with aging. The best way to slow it down my view, is to reduce one’s exposure to both hormones as much as possible. Consider metformin, the diabetes drug, that is now wildly popular for its anti-aging effects. What does Metformin do? It control blood sugar levels. So do fasting and keto, though both do it better and naturally. I recently started using a blood sugar control supplement that mixes cinnamon with chromium picolinate. I expect the supplement to make it easier for me to get into and stay in ketosis.
Carb Addiction Remember how I mentioned my addiction to goji berries and wasabi chickpeas? I used the word “addiction.” I was not exaggerating. Carbohydrate addiction is real and happens to be scientifically proven fact. A study completed in 2017 concluded:
“In animal studies, sugar has been found to produce more symptoms than is required to be considered an addictive substance. Animal data has shown significant overlap between the consumption of added sugars and drug-like effects, including bingeing, craving, tolerance, withdrawal, cross-sensitisation, cross-tolerance, cross-dependence, reward and opioid effects. Sugar addiction seems to be dependence to the natural endogenous opioids that get released upon sugar intake. In both animals and humans, the evidence in the literature shows substantial parallels and overlap between drugs of abuse and sugar, from the standpoint of brain neurochemistry as well as behaviour.”4
I’m not even eating highly processed foods laden with laboratory engineered sugars. Those of you who are, hardly stand a chance of getting your fat ass slim. This is just the way the food manufacturers want it to be: you semi-comatose on your couch shoveling their products down your gullet while watching Netflix. They’ll even trick you into thinking the manufactured food you are eating is healthy by removing the fat with one hand and labeling it “fat free” while dumping cups of sugar in with the other hand. It wasn't long ago that I was that fat guy on the couch. I learned not to be a sucker. I sincerely hope you do too.
Intermittent Fasting, Autophagy, and Aging Want to know the quickest way to detox and lose weight? No, it’s not the latest cleanse. No, not juicing. It’s really quite simple. Just eat yourself.
That’s essentially what happens when you practice intermittent fasting (IF). IF causes autophagy, which literally translated means “self eating.” It is the body’s way of cleaning up cellular debris consisting of dead, diseased, or old, worn out cells. Colin Champ, M.D, a radiation oncologist, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and author of Misguided Medicine explains, “Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.”5
A study titled Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes found, “Overconsumption of food with such eating patterns often leads to metabolic morbidities (insulin resistance, excessive accumulation of visceral fat, etc.), particularly when associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Because animals, including humans, evolved in environments where food was relatively scarce, they developed numerous adaptations that enabled them to function at a high level, both physically and cognitively, when in a food-deprived/fasted state. Intermittent fasting (IF) encompasses eating patterns in which individuals go extended time periods (e.g., 16-48h) with little or no energy intake, with intervening periods of normal food intake, on a recurring basis. In laboratory rats and mice IF and PF (periodic fasting) have profound beneficial effects on many different indices of health and, importantly, can counteract disease processes and improve functional outcome in experimental models of a wide range of age-related disorders including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease Parkinson's disease and stroke.”6
A recurring theme of ReversingMyAge.com is that is important to frequently make yourself uncomfortable to live a long and happy life. Intermittent fasting is surely one such way to make yourself really uncomfortable while reaping extraordinary rewards. Autophagy induced by intermittent fasting is one of the keys to slowing the aging process and combating many of our most common chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. If autophagy were a drug, it would be worth billions. Yet, practicing IF and keto is better. They’re free.
Problems with Keto A guy in a Reddit forum made a strong argument against my age reversal diet. He wrote, “There are zero long-lived populations that eat a keto diet. The longest-lived groups eat low protein, low fat, super high carb.” He's right. But as we, the readers of ReversingMyAge.com have learned, association does not equal causation. No populations anywhere have consistently practiced IF and keto long enough (generations) to study it. Nevertheless, I concede there are certainly some drawbacks to keto.
First and foremost, it’s a really tough diet to follow. Really tough. Not only does it require sustained militant discipline, it also may require some tinkering to get all the components (fat, protein, carb amounts) just right, as every individual is different. Intermittent fasting, though, couldn’t be more simple. Just don’t eat during a predetermined time frame.
Critics of keto always claim, “It’s all or mostly water weight.” Well, duhhhh, we are all made up of mostly of water. Thus, if I lose ten pounds, about six of them must be water to maintain equilibrium. Though it’s true keto diets may make one lose slightly more water weight than other diets, which may be the reason people often feel fatigued on this diet, I have a solution. I drink about a gallon of water a day and take a magnesium, sodium, and potassium supplement to ensure proper hydration, especially the night before and during multi hour training sessions. I’ve even read one expert, a certified nutritionist and public health consultant, proclaim, “a keto diet should only be considered in extreme cases. It can do more harm than good. It can damage the heart, which is also a muscle.”7 What??? Seriously? Who in their right mind would practice keto knowing that? The problem with her unsourced statement is that it is simply untrue. This presents a great example of a trick many “experts” play on therapies they don’t like. We saw the same thing with vitamins when “experts” messed around with dose. This expert is applying the potential effects of diabetic ketoacidosis to a keto diet. Ketoacidosis is a..
I recently completed the 12 week Wim Hof Method (WHM) training course. The WHM consists of three main components: cold training, breathwork, and yoga. The course was fantastic and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in anti-aging strategies, performance, and/or overall health and fitness. That being said, I have learned all I can from Wim without training with him in person. Consequently, I am taking the strong fundamentals Wim taught me and moving on to practice each specific component individually.
Yoga is one such component. Studies have shown that yoga improves balance, increases power and endurance, makes one resistant to injury, eases pain, aids weight loss, eliminates stress, and enhances recovery. What a long list of amazing benefits? How could I not be enticed to begin taking yoga more seriously? Students perform a considerable amount of stretching in the Wim Hof Method and as a result, my flexibility has improved remarkably. But taking Yoga classes several times a week brings it to a whole new level. I will continue to practice cold therapy and do breathwork, but I will stretch the WHM way only on days in which I do not take a yoga class. I will stretch daily for at least 15 to 20 minutes. I will also be tweaking the breathwork in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for a blog post concerning the changes I make to that component.
My Yoga Experience So, I splurged and joined Base, the fanciest fitness center and spa in downtown Jersey City. It is nice; really nice. I never would have spent the money on a place like this, but when I began looking for places to take yoga lessons, I discovered joining this luxurious gym with a boatload of amenities, is significantly cheaper than signing up for a membership at a yoga studio or paying for each individual class. I intend to take a lot of classes; no less than three a week, but ideally four or more. So, in a sense, this gym membership is a bargain.
I work in heavy construction. It is an industry that does not attract the nicest, friendliest, most patient people. In fact, a big jobsite is a lot like a prison yard. One’s trade determines his gang affiliation. That’s who you eat and associate with. That’s also who protects you. Show any hesitation and you will get steamrolled. So, it surprised me that I was actually nervous as I waited outside the tinted glass studio walls before my very first yoga class. I guess facing a new experience with no friends to back me up intimidated me on some level.
The people waiting with me all seemed rather fit, thin, and lean. I found myself trying to gauge how flexible someone might be based upon their physique. I also found myself wondering who were the accomplished yogis and who were the amateurs like myself. My guesses soon proved accurate with respect to who established themselves as the most skilled yoga practitioners. There’s just something about the way yogis move and carry themselves that seems very fluid and graceful.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the dimly lit yoga studio was the overwhelming stench of rotten feet. To my sensitive senses, it was horrific. I mean, it was so bad, I almost gagged. Now, I have an aversion to all things related to feet, so my reaction is not exactly shocking. Perhaps my aversion to feet is rooted in the fact that my own feet are so ugly; flat, swollen looking, and beat up from years of construction abuse. Nevertheless, my offended olfactory senses quickly adjusted and the smell stopped revolting me after a few minutes.
I made the mistake of not rushing to take off my shoes. That cost me dearly because by the time I got a yoga mat and blocks, there was nowhere left for me to set up but in the very front row. That was definitely not happening, especially considering the instructor specifically said, “As always, I want the experienced people up front and the less experienced people in the back.” So, I basically create a tiny spot way in the back corner that was halfway behind a partition wall. I encroached upon the space of the person to my right and in front of me. They did not seem happy about it. Lesson learned: arrive early and claim my spot quickly. This may be a key factor in having a positive yoga experience.
Yoga Proven to Reduce Rate of Cellular Aging Ok, I know some of you are thinking, “John!? Yoga? Noooo! Come on? Yoga is so girly and isn’t it pretty much exclusively for bored housewives?” Yes, I admit it. I too shared some of these very same stereotypical views at one time. I guess I continue to harbor traces of these views as is evidenced by the fact that I ran out of my condo to my pickup truck praying nobody would see me carrying a yoga mat. I now permanently leave it in my truck; under a blanket, so nobody at work will see it.
Yoga first came on my radar when I mentioned to a guy with whom I was working that I suffered from chronic lower back pain. This mountain of a man who happened to be covered in tattoos said, “Oh man, you've gotta start doing yoga. It saved my life. I used to have back pain so bad, I was half crippled and couldn’t work.” For a few weeks, I strongly considered taking up yoga until I forgot all about it. Then yoga resurfaced in my life as I began studying the Wim Hoff Method.
By the time I got around to looking for scientific proof that yoga had the potential to lengthen my telomeres, I was already a devout disciple of the practice. It didn’t surprise me or take long to find a trove of science proving my suspicions on yoga. A study completed in January of 2017 concluded,
“YMLI (Yoga Meditation Lifestyle Intervention) significantly reduced the rate of cellular aging in apparently healthy population after 12 weeks. Though we cannot change our biology or chronological age we can definitely reverse/slow down the pace at which we age by adopting YMLI. This is the first study to demonstrate improvement in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity in apparently healthy population after Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention. So our health and the rate at which we age entirely depends on our choices. Making Yoga and Meditation an integral part of our lifestyle may hold the key to delay aging or aging gracefully, prevent onset of multifactorial complex lifestyle diseases, promote mental, physical, and reproductive health, and prolong youthful healthy life.”1
The conclusions of this study are nothing short of stunning. This is essentially what ReversingMyAge.com and my mission are all about. It seems yoga can have as profound an effect, if not even more, upon one’s health as diet and exercise. Yoga has another characteristic that is a recurring theme in my blog posts. If something has been practiced for hundreds of years, there’s a good chance it works, at least to some extent, even if I can’t understand why. Yoga may well be the easiest way to get healthy because it affects not only one’s physique, but also one’s mind. What and how one thinks is absolutely critical, which is yet another recurring theme of ReversingMyAge.com. In an eight week 2015 study, 90 minutes of weekly yoga and meditation were also shown to maintain telomere length in breast cancer survivors, while the control group’s telomeres shrank.2 My adoption of yoga as one of several strategies to lengthen my telomeres is no fool’s errand. It is settled science.
Meditation Shown to Lengthen Telomeres Yoga and meditation are inextricably linked. I have heard all about the positive effects of meditation for a long time. I even tried an app a few years ago. That lasted about three minutes until I said to myself, “This is such a bunch of new age, hippie, BS!” I was angry at myself for even trying to meditate.
I felt similarly a few months ago as I began practicing the WHM. I was committed to lengthening my telomeres, so I refused to give up trying meditation, no matter how ridiculous it seemed to me. Initially, it really felt like an absurd waste of time. I thought to myself, “How do I know if I am doing it right? I don’t see any bright lights inside my brain. Is there something wrong with me?” You will likely have similar thoughts. Don’t worry about it. Just keep doing it. Eventually, like riding a bike, you’ll figure it out.
Meditation is an extremely important part of the entire yoga process because it teaches one to detach from one’s incessantly chattering monkey brain. Most of what your monkey brain is whispering in your mind is not true. It’s all in your head. Remember, psychological stress, and the debilitating hormones that accompany it, is entirely a matter of perception. Change your perception and you will not suffer accelerated aging caused by elevated cortisol levels. In a study completed in 2004, Dr. Epel observed, “Women with the highest levels of perceived stress in the study had telomeres shorter on average by the equivalent of one decade of additional aging compared to low-stress women. These results strongly suggest that both chronic environmental stress as well as perceived stress may induce premature aging.”3 If you or a loved one aren’t dying, there’s really not much you should stress over. It will all work out just fine. I promise.
There’s yet another reason why meditation is such an important component of my efforts to reverse my age at the cellular level. That reason is Flow. Fantastic books have been written on the subject including The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. A flow state is a state in which one loses sense of time and performs at optimal capacity. Whether it be in a physical or mental endeavor makes no difference. A surgeon or concert pianist can enter a flow state as easily and often as a professional hockey player or olympic powerlifter. In this flow state, amazing things can happen. It also enables one to essentially leave the body and let that special force inside each of us take over. I believe flow states have enabled me to get through extremely long (5 hours plus), painful training sessions. The meditation component of yoga, which puts me in a flow state, has trained me to control my emotions while I'm suffering on a bike or running ultra long distances. Loving-Kindness Meditation is a form of Buddhist meditation focusing on health, happiness, and well being towards all. A study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that practitioners of loving kindness meditation had longer telomeres than non meditators and that female practitioners of meditation had significantly longer telomeres.4
Yoga and Flexibility, a Biomarker of Aging Flexibility is one of my biomarkers of aging. My guiding principle of “improve as many of one’s biomarkers of aging by as much as possible and one’s telomeres will follow” applies. You may have noticed elderly people often get very stiff and cannot move around as well as they did when they were younger. That’s the beginning of the end because they move and exercise progressively less until they aren’t moving much at all. This is entirely preventable with yoga. Flexible joints also translates into reduced joint pain. Keep those joints, loose, lubricated, and limber!
Yoga and Performance Aside from its potential to help lengthen my telomeres, yoga will also make me perform better. My increased flexibility will make me far less likely to suffer a minor sprain or even a devastating injury like a torn ligament. I also firmly believe my joints recover from long and intense workouts much, much faster than if I did not practice yoga or stretching.
Conclusion Now that I’ve taken a few yoga classes at Base, I’m beginning to feel more confident. The Wim Hof Method provided me with a very strong foundation and I am, surprisingly, not among the least flexible people in any class. My balance, especially on my feet, however, is quite weak, but I am making progress. I am also happy to report I have not caught a whiff of stinky feet since that first class. I am extremely excited by the prospect of becoming a proficient yogi and enjoying all the benefits it will bestow, most especially upon my telomeres and my athletic performance.
Citations: 1 Tolahunase, M., Sagar, R., & Dada, R. (2017). Impact of yoga and meditation on cellular aging in apparently healthy individuals: a prospective, open-label single-arm exploratory study. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017. 2 Carlson, L. E., Beattie, T. L., Giese‐Davis, J., Faris, P., Tamagawa, R., Fick, L. J., ... & Speca, M. (2015). Mindfulness‐based cancer recovery and supportive‐expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors. Cancer, 121(3), 476-484. 3 Epel, E. S., Blackburn, E. H., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Adler, N. E., Morrow, J. D., & Cawthon, R. M. (2004). Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(49), 17312-17315. 4 Hoge, E. A., Chen, M. M., Orr, E., Metcalf, C. A., Fischer, L. E., Pollack, M. H., ... & Simon, N. M. (2013). Loving-Kindness Meditation practice associated with longer telomeres in women. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 32, 159-163.
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