I have mentioned exercise in this blog before but I have always tried to emphasize that diet is WAY more important. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: “You can’t run from a poor diet”. However, once you’ve lost all your weight, or even before if you feel like it, adding exercise into your life will bring further benefits by way of increased insulin sensitivity & hence also reduced inflammation, among many other things. It really is the final piece in the longevity jigsaw-puzzle.
My Exercise Philosophy
It’s very simple. It is & remains as per this post. Since writing that, I also made a comprehensive review of the last four years’ exercise and its relation to my Inflammation Pyramid. My overall view on exercise is neatly summarized by this great dedication (shown below) at the start of the book “Body by Science” by Doug McGuff & John Little (see end of this post for book details..):
In short, my goal is to get maximum benefit from exercise in the shortest possible time. I want it to be a firm part of my life but in no way to dominate it. Like Mr Little, my family is way too important to me for anything, exercise or otherwise, to take me away from it!
Body-Weight Strength Training
After some background reading, this summer I decided to start out with some body-weight strength training (calisthenics). I decided to go down this route for several reasons:
- Running: Always carries the risk of injury and the bigger/ heavier you are, the greater that risk. Further, runners also have a greater risk of longer-term ailments such as chronic back pain, knee-problems and even arthritis. At 94kg weight, running is possible but not optimal and so I decided that my running days, by and large, are over. In fact not just running but any regular, repeated mechanical movement involving “harsh impact” risks injury e.g. “tennis elbow”.
- Calisthenics: When done properly, the risk of injury is very low. You can carry out High Intensity Training (HIT) in a very short period of time (minutes rather than hours!) and achieve great results in both strength AND cardio! In short, calisthenics gives you more “bang for your buck” when compared to endurance training, and with a significantly reduced risk of injury.
My Exercise Goals
- Maintain/ increase muscle mass: As you get older, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Preserving muscle or even increasing it is most effectively achieved by hard (large volume) and intense (short duration) exercise through a metabolic process known as mitochondrial biogenesis. This DOES NOT mean that you have to do 100 reps in one minute! On the contrary, if your max effort is one press-up and you achieve, say 3 of these in one minute then congratulations, you’re well on the way to preserving and even increasing your muscle mass and it’s only taken you a minute of your time! Now you can afford to take the rest of the day off.. That’s why this form of exercise is so good for EVERYONE, young or old, male or female, EVERYONE can work to their own personal HIT limits and make great improvements along the way!
- Increase Insulin Sensitivity, Reduce Inflammation & Increase Longevity: HIT strength training does all these for you. How? The body’s “fight or flight” mode is activated meaning that skeletal muscle glycogen is IMMEDIATELY called into play as apposed to liver glycogen. This means that post-exercise, muscle surface tissue increases its insulin sensitivity in order to “re-fill” those muscles ASAP. This effect can last for several days after exercise and the more you train, the better this becomes: The better your insulin sensitivity, the lower your inflammation and.. well, you can guess the rest!!
- Regular Exercise: To carry out a regular, structured exercise program including rest days. To that end, I follow this program (top to bottom of body) that I developed myself. Note that none of these exercises are more than 20 mins duration but they are intense, they’re meant to be! All sets are taken to failure. The cycle repeats after the rest day. I also throw in a 24 hr fast on the first rest day of each month. I will be blogging in more detail about each day’s exercises in future posts..
- Day 1: Shoulders
- Day 2: Lats/ Chin ups
- Day 3: Pecs/ dips/ press-ups
- Day 4: Biceps
- Day 5: Abs
- Day 6: Legs
- Day 7: Rest
My Home Gym
I spent the summer building up my own gym. It consists of a chin-up bar with various grips, a set of gym rings, resistance band and a dip station. Total cost: <200 Euros ($180)! Out of shot are a few dumbbells and kettle-bells as well as a skipping rope. This is enough to meet ALL my training needs and more. No driving to/ from the gym, no membership fees, just step outside and start training!
The Results so far..
It’s early days but I’m very pleased with the initial results:
- Chins: Couldn’t even do half a chin when I started! Now comfortably doing 6-8 wide grip.
- Dips: Struggled to do one at start. In fact I couldn’t! As of writing, I can comfortably do 20-25 and pyramid into 6 @ 121% body-weight (+20kg)
- Overall: Weight & waist have stayed pretty even but strength and body shape have improved markedly (biceps & abs pushing through nicely!)
Apart from ensuring that I’m always very low carb (<30g/day), I don’t count any macros at all. Since the first edit of this post, I have changed my diet to almost “meat & water” i.e. the far right of the inflammation – longevity curve. I have seen both a drop in weight (1.5 kg) with a corresponding increase in lean body mass. Performance seems to have gone up as well – I hit a new PB of 11 on the pull-ups. Most important of all, I feel better than ever!
All of my exercise is based on the book “Body by Science” by Doug McGuff & John Little which I have reviewed here.
The concept of the book is based on “The Big 5” muscle exercises, a training regime that incorporates very slow movements on a specialized multi-gym set-up in order to achieve maximum Time Under Load (TUL). The largest store of glycogen in the body is skeletal muscle and, by using this “Super Slow” protocol for max TUL, you start to rapidly use this up. In this way, you can sequentially take all muscle fibres up to failure i.e. the inability move any further against resistance. Once you have achieved this, all muscle glycogen is depleted & a hormonal cascade is initiated to rapidly “refill” these muscles – cell mitochondria start to multiply, insulin sensitivity goes up & inflammation comes down. When this is combined with the correct Low Inflammation diet, inflammation starts to reach very low levels. This is when longevity starts to go up! I don’t have the luxury of this kind of multi-gym but you don’t need one in my view. All the above exercises closely mimic “The Big 5” and are good enough to get the results you see in the above image. All can be done at home, without the need to go to a gym and in a very short amount of time.
If we take this to its ultimate conclusion, we come up with the above theory. It makes sense intuitively that going up to the point of failure – the “Red Line” – will induce minimum inflammation & hence max longevity. However, going beyond that point, exceeding your body’s limits (extreme hypertrophy or “body building”) will start to produce negative returns i.e. an increase in inflammation & a decrease in longevity. When done correctly, taking muscles to failure should not involve pain, rather an innate & overwhelming desire to give up, to the point at which you almost want to cry! This is a skill that has to be learned and carefully applied, so that failure is recognized and respected, since going beyond failure will indeed involve real pain and an increasing risk of injury! This makes no sense at all.
Crossing the Red Line – Hysteresis Model of Inflammation vs. Strength
So what happens if you do decide to cross the Red Line, to impress your friends & family with some “extreme hypertrophy”? To answer this, we need to think of our bodies as thermodynamic engines, which is basically what we are – energy in (fuel), energy out (performance). If we consider a motor engine & consistently over-rev it, beyond the manufacturer’s guidelines, we are going to end up doing some permanent damage and performance will start to decline. This is exacerbated if we also start to mess around with the fuel and start, say, injecting nitro-methane into the carburetors for a further performance boost. If we do a similar thing to the human body (crossing the Red Line) we start to see an increase in inflammation and ultimately some permanent damage. Throw in some steroids (nitro-methane) and the situation is made even worse.
Unfortunately for the body-builder, especially the one on steroids, when their career is over and they decide to retire & take things easy, things are already too late. They may think that they can return back down the Black Inflammation – Strength Curve (see above LH graph), but due to the permanent inflammatory damage already incurred by crossing the Red Line, their natural performance limit, they will actually be operation along a new curve, the Blue one. In other words, they have incurred a permanent inflammation & hence longevity penalty for their efforts. This is known as hysteresis. Hence, all other things being equal, the person who has diligently & consistently operated up to, but not beyond their personal “Red Line”, will ALWAYS outlive the one who has gone beyond it.
Factors Affecting Degree of Hysteresis
All other things being equal, for a given incursion beyond the Red Line, the primary factor affecting the degree of Inflammatory Hysteresis is your age. In other words, the older you are, the greater the hysteresis & vice versa, see above RH graph. This may be offset by the use of the drug metformin (possibly other hormone treatments as well) but even so, full 100% hysteresis mitigation is questionable in all but the very young, say up to around age 20.
My goal in life is minimum inflammation & hence max longevity. By respecting the “Holy Trinity”, the “Longevity Blueprint” at all times, I firmly believe this can be achieved.