Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 159

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 159

This week only, Gray Cook is offering his Breaking Down the Toe Touch lecture (audio and transcript) as a free gift, normally $4.95. Here, go now, and feel free to share the page with your friends and colleagues. Gifted price ends Monday, 12/4.

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table with a med tag on my wrist, wraps around my elbow and little electrodes all over my chest.

A few weeks ago, I had my annual physical and the LDL levels were a disaster. 298. Now, even if you don’t buy into the cholesterol story, that’s high!

So, off to the cardiologist. After reviewing everything, my doc says: let’s retest the blood. LDL levels come back about half the first test.

A miracle! My consumption of that one piece of salmon saved the day!

Or, the machine wasn’t working right the first time. But, we went ahead with all the tests. Today, I took the stress test at 7:15 am without coffee in my system for almost two days.

Now, that is stress.

My baseline blood pressure was 116/62. My baseline heart rate was 59. Being inside a machine hooked up to wires must have raised my numbers. (This was an attempt at humor: these are pretty good numbers for a sixty-year old lifter/thrower.

The stress test is an injection of a hormone that makes you feel, at least in my case, like we need to fight.

And, I’m fine. Tubes are clear, reactions are excellent, and all is good.

Now, I have excellent insurance and coverage, so I can always go “deeper” on this kind of thing, but I did worry about the future of “most of us.” Here in the USA, the drug companies and lobbyists are changing medicine as much as good research. This edition of WW is a bit longer than usual. Ole, from Denmark, and I got into a lot of good conversations and I kept finding more fun things to discuss.

I will skip The Sword in the Stone this week, but I have a great couple of insights from TSITS coming up.

Let’s look at the web.

Literally, this is what I do: a walk every day and I lift weights. So…I’m right if you read this:


“Walking is excellent exercise,” she says. “But it looks as if it might not produce enough of an anabolic signal to really spare muscle mass during weight loss.” In other words, it may not prompt older people’s bodies to hold on to muscle as effectively as weight training seems to do, she says.

Of course, an experiment like this cannot tell us why, at the molecular level, different types of exercise alter the composition of weight loss or whether the results would be the same for younger people or those who were not unfit.

But the results do suggest, Dr. Beavers says, that for healthy weight loss, many of us might consider at least occasionally walking to the gym and, once there, picking up some weights.

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The lessons in this article go beyond coffee and couches. It’s one thing to have a goal…it’s the steps that make the difference.


Take Starbucks: CEO Howard Schultz created a very ambitious aspiration for the company, far more than just being a seller of coffee. He wanted Starbucks to be a “third place” for conviviality beyond home and the workplace. Visit a Starbucks anywhere in the world, and you will find the same consistently comfortable and welcoming ambiance. But he didn’t get there simply by telling his staff to “be warm and friendly”.

Starbucks has been able to deliver on its promise because that promise is tightly linked to the company’s distinctive capabilities. The feel of Starbucks stores isn’t created merely by the layout and the décor—it exists because the people behind the counter understand how their work fits into a common purpose, and recognize how to accomplish great things together without needing to follow a script.

Over many years, Starbucks has built a capability to foster a relationship-driven, “employees-first” approach. It was Schultz who famously said “You can walk into [any type of retail store] and you can feel whether the proprietor or the merchant or the person behind the counter has a good feeling about his product. If you walk into a department store today, you are probably talking to a guy who is untrained; he was selling vacuum cleaners yesterday, and now he is in the apparel section. It just does not work.”

Schultz made sure that Starbucks would be different: Workers are called “partners” rather than employees, and even part-time staff (in the U.S.) receive stock options and health insurance. At the height of the global financial crisis, when other companies were cutting HR costs wherever they could, Starbucks invested in staff training, including coffee tastings and courses that ultimately qualified employees for credit at higher education institutions. Beyond employees, much of what you will see and experience at Starbucks has been well thought out to accomplish the company’s mission, from the music played to the furniture selected. Even the bathrooms are strategic at Starbucks, because they play a part in allowing customers to spend time in the “third place.”

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This next article is also the issue, I think, with obesity and lack of play/exercise in the western world. Too many choices!!!


Cerf says decision-making is mentally draining. When we choose what to wear, eat for breakfast, listen to on our commute, eat for lunch, and so on, we sap ourselves of the ability to make bigger, more important decisions.

It’s better, he said, to make one high-level decision — for example, he always orders the second menu item on a list of specials — and avoid small choices that won’t matter in the long run anyway.

When it comes to money, Cerf says the smartest way to budget is to find the timeline that works for you. People eat three meals a day, pay bills once a month, go grocery shopping once a week, and pay college loans over a decade or more. Instead of juggling these timelines, Cerf recommends creating a budget that standardizes them all in one timeline — say, a week or a month.

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Just read this. Honestly, this is the “answer” to so much of health, fitness and longevity.


I’ll risk it, though, and tell you again that there really aren’t shortcuts to health. Here’s what you need to do:

·      Get enough sleep.
·      Move your body throughout the day.
·      Eat well — a healthy assortment of foods. Mostly plants, and not too much. (An idea popularized by author Michael Pollan.)
·      Interact socially. Isolation is not good for the body, soul or mind.
·      Take some time to reflect on what you are grateful for.

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So, how do you engage those five “shortcuts” from NPR? Try this simple idea:


Here’s what I recommend:

·      Start with a really easy habit. Just a small step, like drinking more water or eating a fruit a day or going for a short walk (or walk/run if that’s too easy) or doing a few pushups. You’ll learn about forming habits as you do so.

·      Stick with easy habits for awhile, and if you’re successful at them, then you can gradually progress. You’ll be amazed at how much you can progress — I couldn’t exercise for 10 minutes when I started, but in 2011 I completed the GoRuck Challenge, which was 13 hours of hard exercise.

·      Watch yourself as you eat. Why are you eating? What need are you fulfilling? Can you find a healthier replacement habit?

·      Change your tastebuds. Most people think things like, “I can’t give up meat” or “I hate vegetables” or “I could never give up ____” (cheese, sweets, chocolate, pizza, etc.). I’m not asking you to give it up, but if you really want to learn the habits of being lean, change your tastebuds to healthier things. Eat a vegetable every day — before long, you’ll like it. Try brown rice instead of white, or whole grains instead of white flour, or fruits instead of sweets, or tempeh instead of meat, or quinoa or kale or dark chocolate or chard. They’re all delicious, if you give them a chance.

·      Make activity a social thing. Do something fun with other people. Join a running club. Walk with your spouse. Get your coworkers to join a challenge. Be accountable to each other.

·      Sign up for a race or other fitness challenge.

·      Learn to socialize without eating unhealthy things.

·      Learn healthy strategies for when you go to a social gathering or restaurant or travel.

·      When you fail, forgive yourself, and learn. Get better. Keep doing it.

·      Be proud of little progress. Enjoy the journey. I mean every single step — don’t keep your eye on the end goal, but on where you are, and how amazing it is.

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If you need some rules on eating, this isn’t bad. The meat thing can be argued, but I like this:


The three diet basics you need to know

Dr. Welches advocates the following three basic diet guidelines, noting that physicians should encourage all of their patients to consider them:

Eat the rainbow: Consume eight to nine servings of vegetables each day — make a couple of those servings fruit, if you like. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are best.

Restrict dairy and grains: Eat dairy products in limited quantities. When choosing grains, stay away from simple carbohydrates with refined sugar. Opt for whole grains, including barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, spelt and wheat.

Avoid red meat: Eat red meat the way most of us eat turkey right now — twice a year, Dr. Welches says. Have it on very special occasions, very infrequently. Instead, include fish as the “meat” or eat vegetarian main dish.

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And….eat earlier. This article gives you some ideas about the relationship between food and sleep.


When You Should Eat Dinner

When it comes to dinner, eating late generally conflicts with our internal body clock because it’s starting to wind down and get ready for sleep. If we’re simply not set up to process the food we’re taking in, it’s probably not the best time for a big meal.

Nutritionist Linda Morgan from the University of Surrey wanted to see how efficient we are at processing food at night compared to in the morning. She conducted an experiment where participants were given the exact same foods at night and in the morning. Then she tested their blood glucose levels to see how much glucose their bodies were hanging onto.

Morgan says blood glucose levels indicate how efficiently your body is processing and storing glucose, and high levels of glucose in the blood after a meal can point out future risks like diabetes. Her experiment found that blood glucose levels after an evening meal were much higher than when the exact same meal was eaten earlier in the day. Morgan says this means we should try to get most of our calories earlier in the day, and have lighter, earlier evening meals when possible.
Sleeping: How Long and at What Time?

While some of us identify as night owls or morning larks, most of us actually have a fairly regular time when sleep benefits us most. Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University says that we’re naturally designed to have two sleeps a day: a long one at night and another one in the early afternoon. Early afternoon is when our energy naturally dips lower than usual and we have a harder time focusing. In fact, according to an article in The New York Times, lots of cultures around the world break up their sleeping patterns:

The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.**

We tend to be susceptible to micro sleeps around this time—that is, tiny moments where we nod off before shaking ourselves awake. This is our internal body clock saying it’s a good time to go to sleep, so if you’re planning a nap—slot it into this part of your day!

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This article really opened my eyes…about curbs. I had NO idea what they represent. Fascinating stuff.


Figure it out, cities, because the future beckons. The curb is only going to get more important, as even newer tech like self-driving vehicles start driving themselves over the horizon. Prognosticators say shared, autonomous vehicles will never have to park at all, pausing their ferry of people and goods only when they need to re-fuel. That means saying adieu to all auto-based revenue.

“We’re really preparing the ground for repurposing the parking lane in preparation for autonomous vehicles,” says Patterson, the DC transportation official. “We know that it’s coming.” In the meantime, though, his city is focused on collecting data and information on how residents are getting around, right now—and using the curb to make that easier. “We don’t have a war on cars, but we want residents to know that that’s not the only option,” he says. The battle for that contested slice of territory edges toward a peace treaty.

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Like smoking, sugar had its own “smoking gun.” (See what I did there?) You can’t help but hate after reading some of this stuff.


“From what this paper says, the sugar industry was not interested in answering open-ended questions about whether sugar might be harmful to rats or, given preliminary suggestions of possible harm, doing further studies to find out one way or the other,” she said. “Instead, it stopped the research when the results looked unfavorable.”

In general, research on rats and other lab animals is not considered as persuasive as data from human studies.But in the 1960s, Dr. Kearns said, animal data held much more weight. A federal law at the time banned food additives that had been shown to induce cancer in animals and in 1969, for example, the Food and Drug Administration banned cyclamate, a very popular artificial sweetener, after research showed that it caused bladder cancer in rats.

At the time the Sugar Association considered cyclamate a threat to its market share, and it had not only lobbied the F.D.A. to remove it but also funded some of the research linking it to health problems.

Mr. Hickson left the sugar industry in the early 1970s to work for the Cigar Research Council, a tobacco industry organization. In 1972, an internal tobacco industry memo on Mr. Hickson noted that he had a reputation for manipulating science to achieve his goals. The confidential tobacco memo described Mr. Hickson as “a supreme scientific politician who had been successful in condemning cyclamates, on behalf of the Sugar Research Council, on somewhat shaky evidence.”

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Finally, a “truth” I can accept.


A simple way to combat insulin resistance (chronically high levels of serum insulin) and inflammation

Compared with physically inactive individuals, those who walk briskly at or above 150 min/week can increase life expectancy by 3.4–4.5 years independent of body weight.9 Regular brisk walking may also be more effective than running in preventing coronary disease. And just 30 min of moderate activity a day more than three times/week significantly improves insulin sensitivity and helps reverse insulin resistance (ie, lowers the chronically elevated levels of insulin that are associated with obesity) within months in sedentary middle-aged adults. This occurs independent of weight loss and suggests even a little activity goes a long way.

Another risk factor for CHD is environmental stress. Childhood trauma can lead to an average decrease in life expectancy of 20 years. Chronic stress increases glucocorticoid receptor resistance, which results in failure to down regulate the inflammatory response. Combining a complete lifestyle approach of a healthful diet, regular movement and stress reduction will improve quality of life, reduce cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.10 It is time to shift the public health message in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease away from measuring serum lipids and reducing dietary saturated fat. Coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 min a day and eating real food. There is no business model or market to help spread this simple yet powerful intervention.

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Let’s repeat that and emphasize it a bit:

Coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 minutes a day and eating real food. There is no business model or market to help spread this simple yet powerful intervention.

As a guy who is going to lose a lot of hair pulling off these electrode stickers, I can “attest” that it can be that simple.

Until next week, let’s keep lifting and learning.


This week only, Gray Cook is offering his Breaking Down the Toe Touch lecture (audio and transcript) as a free gift, normally $4.95. Here, go now, and feel free to share the page with your friends and colleagues. Gifted price ends Monday, 12/4.

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