_ap_ufes{"success":true,"siteUrl":"freetheanimal.com","urls":{"Home":"http://freetheanimal.com","Category":"http://freetheanimal.com/blog-admin","Archive":"http://freetheanimal.com/2014/07","Post":"http://freetheanimal.com/2014/07/when-will-kings.html","Page":"http://freetheanimal.com/advertising-product-service","Nav_menu_item":"http://freetheanimal.com/2014/07/subscribe.html","Content_ad_widget":"http://freetheanimal.com/?content_ad_widget=widget-2-5x118"}}_ap_ufee

The Paleo Health & Longevity Spectrum

Got a comment from longtime reader, commenter and fellow pilot, Bill Strahan.

...Have you considered looking at or writing about why you pursue what you do in regards to diet, exercise, and health?

For me I consider it a triple point optimization: I want to feel great, I want to perform well, and I want to live a long time. If I have any bias amongst the three, it’s for performance. I enjoy competing physically.

So, would you trade performance (let’s lump sports and sex together) for longevity or vice versa? Healthy, active sex life until 78 at which point you drop dead, or sex until 70, and then just kinda hanging around till 85?

There are many points at which all three points benefit from the same choice. Take hydrogenated oil as an example. Eliminating it will result in longer life, better performance, and better health. But what happens when you’ve taken all the low hanging fruit and what’s left is to either just take what you’re getting, or specifically choose options that will favor one value over another.

Obviously you see where my head is these days. I’m your junior by many years at 44, but I do wonder how a triple point optimization like this resonates with you. And if it does, what are your biases?

It's an interesting set of interconnected questions. I don't have any sure answers and even if I did, who's to say my priorities—and hence answers to the questions—don't change over time? I turn 51 on Sunday. My dad turned 74 this last Saturday. ...He's spent the last 10 days doing the painting cost estimate for the new San Francisco 49ers Stadium in Santa Clara, and tells me he probably has another 9 or 10 days to go. He keeps active and working, and he has to meticulously go over complex, large project blueprints and specifications (he can bid painting on any project, no matter size & scope, and has been for 40 years). ...Don't get him started an architects who use boilerplate specs. Especially after a couple of drinks around a campfire...

Considering these questions requires in some sense, at least to me, taking a look back at my ancestry. I had the rare privilege of growing up not only with 4 grandparents alive until well into my 30s, but having all of them living in the same city: Reno, NV. And I even had a great grandmother who didn't die until I was 28! Yea...Depression era...she left home with a guy, and got knocked up young with my grandmother (14 yrs old, if I recall). Of course, in these days today, my great grandfather—whom I never knew—would have been a "molester" felon serving a prison sentence. ...And how might that have effected lives & legacies downstream?

But we're so "progressive."

At any rate, they were all lovers of life...good food, parties—and most were smokers and drinkers. My maternal grandfather and grandmother were avid fishermen, and deer & bird hunters. My childhood focussed substantially on hunting and fishing trips and often, just day trips...like to Pyramid Lake. And we lived right alongside the Truckee River where my grandfather taught me to tie my own flies and then use them to catch fish. I saw him many times catch dozens of trout on a summer afternoon after a long day in his on-site workshop where, as a lifelong artist—but needing to make a living—did most of the hand painted sign work for Reno's most prominent casinos. This was back when all the sign work was done by hand.

With the exception of my paternal grandfather—who used to tell me stories of how they, as German soldiers, would make fun of all the Hail Hitler saluting and genuflecting bullshit they had to do—all the other grandparents and the great grandmother were overweight. Not obese, just standard plump for old people in the 60s, 70s and then 80s.

And all five of them lived into their 80s. And for most, they lived pretty active lives until reasonably near the end. (Side note: one of my dad's grandmothers whom I never met, lived to 96, in Germany). The great grandmother had dementia of a sort not diagnosed, but this happened after she was 80, and she made it to 85.

Not a single one of them darkened the door of a gym their whole lives. Three of them smoked until they died, my paternal grandmother quit early on and my maternal grandfather quit in his mid-60s, but was the first of all of them to die, of leukemia.

And so, what am I to make of all of this?

I'll tell you what, and it's the very most important thing: they all loved good real food. They all knew how to source and prepare their own food, did so daily, and some of them hunted & fished it. I don't have a single recollected image of any of them eating a fast food meal, though I'm sure it happened. Yea, and in particular, my maternal grandmother, she had typical crap in a box around...but they were of a different culture in that, you simply didn't sit down and go through a bag of chips  or crackers.

I think that the eating of real quality food is absolutely the most important thing you can do—especially if you eat crap sometimes.

No matter what else you do in terms of indulgences, addictions, or anything else, make sure to get plenty of high quality, nutrient dense food regularly. Then, feel free to up your game, as many of us do around here.

None of this answers Bill's questions, of course, but it does give you something to consider when figuring out that's going to work for you.

For example, what if you just hate everything about the gym? There's nothing you try that you like. Let's say that going to the gym and doing the prescribed intense exercises gives you five extra years of life. But if you hate it, are those estimated extra years worth 40, 50, 60 years in the gym 2-3 times per week...doing something you hate?

That's an analogy for the essence of the tradeoff. It means you have to really think about what your values are and determine a sensible way to pursue them.

In some sense, I just wonder if optimality is rather a fools chase, ending up in diminished returns because you did a lot of stuff you didn't really enjoy, ending up diminishing you're life with not much, little or less to show for it.

But eating a lot of good real food? If you don't want that, then you're dysfunctional and so who cares? But if you do, then the other things might not be so important as you might believe.

Comments

  1. Suz @ Paleo Australia says:

    It will be interesting to see how life expectancies change when the first HFCS generation hits old age!

    • Probably alive. Well, maybe. But lifestyle quality? I’d bet lots and lots of money on non-existent. I know 30 year old guys with arthritis. Is it really going to get better? Maybe if they stop eating crap.

  2. Good thing I love my CrossFit gym. Good thing I can cook, and do it pretty damn well. Good thing I developed the habit of teaching myself anything I needed to know from books, and later the web.

    I agree real food seems to be key, and in some ways it now represents the low hanging fruit. I don’t think anyone has an excuse that I’d accept for not cooking and eating real food. No, it’s not more expensive. And no it doesn’t take longer. And if you suck at cooking it’s because you didn’t take it on as a skill that needed to be developed.

    In my ancestry I have a grandfather who dropped dead in his 50′s. Ouch! Both parents have had stints. And I have a great grandfather who had dessert every night, smoked, and died in is late 90s while putting a new roof in his house! If I can pull a decent average from those genetics I’ll do okay, and hope to do much better knowing what’s ideal.

    And yes, I still want to deadlift 500. Four years of CrossFit along with some dedicated strength work and I continue to improve. I’m still so far below my potential that even as my absolute potential declines with age I’m improving.

    Occasionally beating up on the 20-somethings at CrossFit gives me some juice, and feeling things stir when I see my wife keeps me feeling young. That doesn’t happen by accident even at this age, and it sure as hell doesn’t happen with fast food crap in a box.

    • Thanks for that comment, Bill. I wasn’t feeling like putting up a post today at all, andy then I did the cheap shot C’Mon Man! deal and before I know it, I’m off & running on your comment.

      I think my overall answer is that it’s so individual. But eat real food al lot & often. …And doing so might change your perspective.

    • I like being able to keep up with the young guys at the gym too (they don’t know we’re competing, but we are). There are always a couple of guys who are absolute beasts but I get my share of “Let me show how it’s done” moments.

      Being able to function well physically is delicious, I appreciate it a lot more now than when I was young. It’s better than any drug in the world.

  3. I have a similar German ancestry–my great Grandfather, WWI veteran, lived to be 103 years old. My dad told me he ate virtually nothing but meat and vegetables 3 meals a day. Plus, he would take long walks on a daily basis. So, yes indeed you can live long and well at the same time.

  4. BabyGirl says:

    “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

    Give me a long life however it is I can get it.

  5. BabyGirl says:

    BTW, I love it when you tell stories about people and things.

  6. Lauren Bourdain says:

    Lose that fucking paunch, , and then speak to us about optimality. The attendees at the 21 Convention must have laughed their asses off.

    • Lauren, that’s been explained ad nauseum, in posts and comments. So, you’re ignorant (forgivable), or dishonest (fucked for life).

      You see, dear Lauren, I have always been up front about this, and how it happened and there are plenty of photos of me prior in a much better state which, now that I’m am no longer in 24/7 chronic pain for months on end, blogging anyway, I’m back on track.

      Hey Lauren, thanks for your concern.

      And now go fuck off.

    • What a colossal BITCH…

  7. Great post, Richard. I concur. (I also think getting routine health checks — not for medical treatment but just to see if anything is wrong so it can be nipped in the bud — is key. This did my mother in.) Below is some stuff I’ve shortened from a post I made on my own blog awhile back on this topic.

    Average lifespan of all my great-great-grandparents I know about, mostly on my mom’s side of the family, was 78.5.
    Average lifespan of all 8 of my great-grandparents was an astonishing 84 years of age.
    Average lifespan of 4 grandparents: unknown, but likely will be under 80.
    Average lifespan of parents: likely to be less than 70, even if father who is currently 56 and is in horrible health lives to be 80 (serious alcoholic, chain smoker).

    I knew many of my great-grandparents. One great-grandmother, recorded sometime in the 1990s, talks about her frustration with fat-phobia of the age, how everyone back then had a big can of bacon grease or lard on the stove and made pie crusts with lard, and how all the kids grew up healthy and strong despite this sort of cooking.

    My great-grandfather who lived until I was 16, was thin and mostly healthy until a few months before his death. He shunned neither sugar nor fat. It’s still a joke in our family about how he would never cut the fat off his steak, and would chew the fat on his steak loudly and obviously to “gross out” the grandkids and great-grandkids. He particularly liked to do this in restaurants. I also have a recording of him talking about how he and his family cooked on their trip across the country by car in 1916 from east coast to California. I’ll have to pull it out and give it a more careful listen.

    Most of the food he and my great-grandmother ate was homemade and real food. Milk was obtained from a local dairy (never the grocery store) and always full fat. Meals were almost always home cooked and the sorts of foods I would be fed while staying with them as a very young child included melted cheddar cheese on toast, wild picked raspberries with milk and sugar on top, and homemade applesauce. There was a lot of bread, sugar and fat, but everything was homemade and pretty high quality, nutritionally speaking. A typical breakfast for my great-grandfather consisted of a grapefruit, with many teaspoons of sugar piled on top the night before and left to soak in overnight. Disgusting. I can’t lie: both my great-grandparents grew up on farms, but were very enamored of sugar. Grandpa “Art” received boxes and boxes of candy at Christmastime, only some of which he would share with the kids and the rest was hidden in secret cupboards for the rest of the year. At the same time, sugar was really his only vice. He did not smoke, eat any other junk food besides candy, and he was an avid gardener of vegetables. He lived to be 88, if I remember correctly. You’re totally right: this generation did not sit down with a bag of chips in front of the TV. Just wasn’t done.

    They were farmers, so many week-ends in the fall were spent preserving harvests of vegetables (canning, freezing) and fruits (applesauce, jams, and jellies). There was some hunting.

    My remaining two grandparents — still alive and I’m 37 — have serious health problems but they are quite active and care for two toddlers 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. My grandmother basically comes from farm stock. She laughs that I get raw milk and talks about making homemade cottage cheese from raw milk as a kid, and using the “crik” as a refrigerator. It drives her nuts that the kids she takes care of are sent with disgusting processed food from their pathetic parents (vienna sausages, fruit cups, etc.) Generally, this generation was still relatively healthy.

    My parents are a different story. Won’t go into details, but pretty sad to see lifespan drop by 2 decades in just two generations.

    • Monica,

      In doing family history research over a decade ago, I obtained death records on all of my recent ancestors. Off the top of my head, I recall that my great-great and great-grandparents lived into their 80′s, my grandparents, all of whom I knew well, lived into their 80′s, although they needed modern medical intervention (bypasses, blood pressure meds) to get there. My parents died at 43 and 58. I’m 48 now, so I should have been dead about 10 years ago based on the trend line. Before coming across ancestral health ideas, it occurred to me that there were several likely culprits, including the modern industrial diet and smoking. I never bought that argument that exercise was the reason for my ancestors’ longevity. My parents worked as hard as any of their ancestors, and it did not translate into longevity. And, my grandparents and great-grandparents, at least some of them, were quite obese in their older years. I suspect that was the sugar, which they consumed in large quantity in pies, cakes, cookies, etc. I know my sample size is small, but I suspect that worst changes in diet were food additives and and modern “wheat,” along with reduction in food quality/nutrient content.

      • “My parents died at 43 and 58. ” Isn’t that just crazy… sorry. My situation is similar.

        It is interesting how much sugar some of these people ate. And as Richard says, quite a few chain smokers and drinkers. I’m not sure sugar is as dangerous as some suggest, especially if it comes from fruit. You look at things the Peatatarians are eating and it’s a LOT of sugar.

        I think looking back the major difference in my ancestors’ diets was real food and a lack of vegetable oils. There was still a lot of white flour from the 30s onward.

      • Right. I should have mentioned vegetable seed oils. And all those estrogen-like compounds that come in packaging, etc. Real foods, I think, are more important than strict adherence to low-sugar/low-carb or even paleo, but there is a lot of overlap between real foods and paleo. For potential converts or neophytes who wonder what an ancestral diet is like, I say I shop the meat and produce areas of the grocery store, and sometimes dairy. That is an easy introduction to healthy eating. There is a lot of nuance that can come later, like grass-fed, farmer’s markets, bone broths, etc. Regarding wheat, Wm. Davis’ book has persuaded me that the wheat of the 80′s onward is very different than early varieties our ancestors ate.

  8. I will note, though, that shitty health problems do seem to plague people far earlier now. I ate a ton of crap growing up (never got fat on it) and despite eating paleo-ish the last 3 years have suffered from some pretty brutal intestinal problems for the past year. Who knows, could be a lot worse if I wasn’t paleo. But the older generations didn’t really experience these things. I only have one grandparent that I know of with serious digestive problems. I was born naturally but wasn’t breastfed. I suppose that could have something to do with it.

    These days, kids just seem so chronically ill for so many reasons. I think there could be a shift in the population toward general ill health because unfit young people survive now due to medical interventions. It’s easy to overlook that 25% of people under the age of 4 used to die in paleolithic times. Now, practically all those people who would have been taken out by some zoonotic disease, live. We’ve eliminated lots of modern infectious disease, but the elimination of diseases is almost meaningless in terms of overall public health without identifying the fate of those people who would have suffered death or extreme complications. Are the people who would otherwise have been dead, or gotten encephalitis from measles or polio, now healthy? Or were those people vulnerable to those complications now vulnerable to something else? These are not questions that can be answered so easily.

    Well, sorry to end on a minor note… feeling a little misanthropic tonight.

    • I know a bunch of people in their late 20′s and early 30′s dealing with diabetes, memory issues, fat gain, and arthiritis.

      I’m wondering how much of this could be prevented [most of it, IMO]. It’s interesting that these people also say they have no time to cook, must have bread, and refuse to even consider eating low-carb or a paleo style approach. They think that eggs and bacon is evil, or something. *sigh*.

      I’ve been able to fix 80% of my issues [high blood pressure is gone, better vision, no arthritis/carpal tunnel], now just working on my thyroid and weight loss. I admit, my journey has been tough, and I’m not at the end. But it’s a far cry from the stupidity of diabetes or something.

      I find that people are relying more and more on doctors and current medical device to “fix them”. It’s sad, but preventable. How many people are purposefully destroying their bodies because they refuse to admit they’re wrong?

  9. Hey Richard,
    This is my first time commenting on your blog, though I read often. The title caught my attention because I’ve actually been trying to figure out the same thing. Diminishing returns absolutely applies. Trying to determine which things you’d like to stick with or cut corners ultimately determines your quality of life. I eat real food, cook all my meals, lift heavy a few times a week, and try to exercise my mind often. I’m 20 years old. I shouldn’t have to think about these things, but I do. My family likes to tell me that we have a history of heart disease and that I should get panel work, etc., but I just figure being an outlier in the family who won’t eat shit food will put me ahead. I’m not sure if longevity is a meaningful pursuit, at least in evolutionary thinking terms. Survive, have some kids, survive, done (“have some more kids” omitted because of cultural norms)… After all, “put life in your years,” right?

  10. Great post, Richard. I agree with you that eating real food is #1 in importance, but, from my experience, improving sleep quality is #1A. Making good sleep a priority has had a great positive impact on my health and performance.

    It was the personal side of your post that really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing that history. I never met my great grandparents but all of my grandparents lived well into their 80s. None were obese or even overweight. My last surviving grandparent (paternal grandfather) turns 99 next month. But, when it comes to longevity, be careful what you wish for…

    My grandmothers (one of whom survived colon cancer in her 40s) both died of Alzheimer’s, and my still-living grandfather is deep in the throes of dementia. Watching them slide one after another from the vibrant, loving people I knew as a child and a young man into shadows of their former selves was and is heartbreaking. My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was at a party with the rest of our family the night before he died from a massive stroke at 88. He told jokes and stories about his days fronting a big band in the 40s, knocked back a few drinks, and generally enjoyed life as he always had. He was gone the next day and never knew what hit him or had any inkling it was coming.

    Optimality could be a fool’s chase, but I couldn’t agree more that “you have to really think about what your values are and determine a sensible way to pursue them.” For me, from my experience (which is all I’ve really got), Bill’s choice is a rather easy one. Others from their experience will see things differently and make different choices, but I know I’d rather not end up in the situation where my body is outlives my mind.

    • “…where my body is outlives my mind”???? Damn, so much for the importance of a good night’s sleep. Am I slipping already?

      ha ha – apologies for my typo.

  11. Long time reader, first time commenting.

    The “why” behind the “how” and “what” is so vitally important and makes the difference between going on a diet and making lifestyle change.

    Do we want to play harder, be more creative, play with our grandchildren? Obviously each person has their own answer to those questions and each answer will then give you an idea of what choices you want to make and a daily basis. If you want to play and compete harder, you’ll be more inclined toward performance enhancement but being able to play with your grandkids will tend toward longevity based decisions.

    Being more explicit with those questions and how our choices affect our chances of achieving those aims can only be a good thing. Again, that makes the difference between lifestyle change and short-term dieting.

    When we’re looking and what our grandparents lifestyle was like compared to ours and how it affected them (i.e. smoking but eating well) then it might be useful to have a look at the concept of allostasis and allostatic load. I’m not sure if you’ve come across it in any literature but it’s basically how much stress we place on our system, and consequently how much we force our bodies to adapt to.

  12. For example, what if you just hate everything about the gym? There’s nothing you try that you like. Let’s say that going to the gym and doing the prescribed intense exercises gives you five extra years of life. But if you hate it, are those estimated extra years worth 40, 50, 60 years in the gym 2-3 times per week…doing something you hate?

    I think there’s something to this, and also the fact that people gravitate to things that fit their body types and genetic predisposition. My wife, for example, is a big time jogger. When I first switched to sprinting, I was telling her how much better it is, fully deplete muscle glycogen, stimulate HGH, blah, blah, blah–I’m sure I was insufferable. But she– and her whole family–are very much naturals at endurance, and I’m very much a natural sprinter, my endurance has always sucked. So she does her thing and I do mine. Exercising is so much better than not exercising, regardless of what you do, that doing what one likes is the most important thing, IMHO.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I detest “cardio.” Only sport I excelled in in high school was swimming (set records). But I was always picked second to last for other teams because I was such a shitty runner with lack of coordination.

      Now thriving on the SuperSlow workouts, and would probably also enjoy just regular lifting of barbells. The thing with SuperSlow is, I know what to expect every time I go in, there’s no loud, annoying music, I have zero risk of injury, and I have one on one attention with a trainer… those are important to keep me focused. Not knowing what the hell I was going to be faced with every time I went in for CrossFit was too stressful.

      Bottom line is, I’m muscular but not an athlete. I’m never going to be the person doing CrossFit WODs 5 days a week. Mostly, I have better things to do with my time, but a serious question is: Why is that necessary? I don’t need to look like Amazon woman (and hunter gatherer women don’t look that way, anyway, so…?), I just need to look decently healthy and fit. Can I get 70-80% of the appearance results people get from spending 5 hours weekly in the gym, and all the health benefits, with just 1 hour weekly? Seems so.

      • Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Xfit, at 46 I’m very wary of injury and there is something rather cultish about the whole thing. Some people seem to thrive on it, which is great, more power to them. Good old free weights is my preference, although I mostly do bodyweight stuff by necessity. But the most important thing, especially to stave off aging, is to maintain muscle mass IMHO. And a Body-by-Science/SuperSlow approach seems to maximize that vs time (this can actually be done with a bodyweight approach also). Throw in a daily walk and one can do pretty well, I think.

  13. I don’t see living a long life, having high performance, and feeling great being mutually exclusive. There seem to be several spectra all over the paleo universe, i.e. carnivore to herbivore, resistance to cardio, paleolithic to neolithic, etc. You’d have a multitude of axes that couldn’t realistically be plotted.

    Tangentially, seeking optimization does suffer from diminishing marginal returns. I like Dr. Harris’ Archevore steps in that regard. The first step being eliminating serious addictions and getting enough sleep. I still haven’t conquered that first step (booze) and have seen no real improvement in my health regardless of diet and exercise. But I’ll keep working at it.

    Thanks for your blog by the way, first time commenting. I have been devouring your past stuff recently and taking notes on recipes. Love your attitude. Will definitely check out the book.

    • They’re not mutually exclusive. But optimize for one and the other will suffer.

      Performance: Do you think the top performing Sumo wrestlers are healthy and long lived? Top performing marathoners? Football players?

      Longevity: Do you think the calorie restriction fanatics perform well and experience optimal health? What about the statin-taking crowd and muscle problems that develop? Perhaps it extends their lifespan (debatable) but it definitely hurts performance.

      Health: Google endurance running and chronic infection. Ditto for injury.

      Imagine a triangle with health, longevity, and performance at the points. Eat a good, real food diet, occasionally lift some heavy stuff, run a few sprints, go for a few walks. You’re now in the center of the triangle.

      Try to eat less calories than you need and turn on some genes to extend lifespan. You just moved towards longevity, and away from health and performance.

      Eat more, lift more, and become a powerlifter. You just moved towards performance.

      My question to Richard was whether he had a bias, or was seeking the center of the triangle. I’m pretty close to that center, with a slight bias on performance. I’ll give up a few years (probably years that aren’t all that great) to do and have more in the shorter time.

      • I’m probably fairly close to Bill on that spectrum.

        It’s pretty simple. If you can’t show your woman a raging hardon any time you want, then something might be wrong.

      • Functional fitness = If it does not function, you are not fit

      • A stat that is quite telling here is that professional athletes have roughly the same life expectancy as the general population. To me that suggests that performance enhancement (in it’s current for in athletes in general) does not equal longevity on that spectrum.

        It would be interesting to know how that would work out if athletes were to embrace an ancestral approach to eating and moving…

  14. Happy Birthday! I’m 27 on the 30th. Paleo for one full year!

  15. Good points, Richard. Our cells need many thousands of nutrients and micro- nutrients every day. Good nutrition is extremely important. Urgelt opened my eyes to this.

  16. “my paternal grandfather—who used to tell me stories of how they, as German soldiers, would make fun of all the Hail Hitler saluting and genuflecting bullshit they had to do”

    Aww please please can you share some funnies ?

  17. I’m not sure how much of a sci-fi fan you are, but are you sure you’re not a member of the Howard Families. :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_families

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Paleo Health & Longevity Spectrum [...]