Category Archives: Health

Squatting article

After leaving childhood, our ability to get into a deep squat gradually disappears, at least for most of us in the Western world. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’re a couple of points, and a workout, from a New Yorker article by Jamie Lauren Keiles that will help reclaim your squat.

Trainer and author Mark Rippetoe writes, “A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence.”

The (workout) app was designed by the Belgian fitness expert Mehdi Hadim, based on a classic five-by-five routine—five sets of five reps for each of the lifts, increasing the weight with each successive workout.

On Workout A days, I row, bench press, and squat. On Workout B days, I deadlift, do overhead presses, and squat again.

The OTC “pill”

Here’s this Friday’s pick. It’s an article from The Outline about how odd it is that something as safe, easy, and effective as the birth control pill can’t simply be bought without a prescription. This is my condensed version:

Many countries, including China and India, sell birth control over-the-counter. The US and many European countries require a prescription.

Doctors have been arguing since the late 1960s that it could be sold safely without a prescription, and the The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists officially endorsed doing so in 2012. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family also agree that it is safe for over-the-counter use.

It doesn’t, after all, have a lot in common with many prescription medications: It’s not habit-forming, pretty much everyone takes the same dose, it’s preventative so nothing needs to be diagnosed to begin taking it, and it rarely interferes with other medications.

The precautions for the medication are pretty run of the mill, and overall, it’s much less dangerous than many other medicines that are currently available over-the-counter. The birth control pill is linked to very few deaths. In other words: There’s pretty much no reason we need a prescription for the pill, other than the fact that that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Are you moving around enough?

Are you moving around enough? tiredThe takeaway from a new study of modern day hunter gatherers, the Hadza, is that our bodies need and respond to the kind of physical demands that these tribespeople still engage in most days.

It’s not too surprising that they move a lot, typically more than two hours a day. The men walk briskly searching for game animals off and on most days, and the women find, dig up, heft and prepare fruits, vegetables and other foods.

But, the vast majority of their activities are moderate. The tribespeople rarely run or are otherwise vigorously active.

They remain active, well into middle age and beyond, even those in their 70s moving as much as or more than the young.

The tribespeople have enviable heart health. The Hadza typically present low blood pressure and excellent cholesterol profiles across their life spans.

Some of their cardiovascular health is no doubt a result of diet, but the data intimate that the Hadzas’ active lifestyle, consisting of plenty of walking, lifting and generally being up and doing, helps to protect their hearts against disease.

Other parts of the Hadzas’ lives remain difficult and chancy. There’re real risks for untreated infections and illnesses, accidental deaths and no access to dental care.

These are risks that people in the industrial world have mitigated. But we now have the diseases of civilization which we might also be able to mitigate by following the Hadzas’ tendency of moving for a couple of hours a day. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily intense  or hard.

I’ve excerpted the information above from a recent NYT article about recent studies of the Hadza people.

The Dutch Reach

skirt-riding-upYou never know what could be passing next to your car just before you get out. And if you nail a cyclist when you open your car door you’ll feel pretty bad.

The Dutch have a solution. Enter the “Dutch Reach.” And I’m going to start using it.

A  Dutch Reach is opening your driver’s side car door with your far hand instead of using your near hand. Using  your right hand instead of your left hand it makes your body swivel, positioning your head to look out of your car so you can easily check to see approaching bikes. Maybe a better name would be the “Dutch Twist.”

If this habit can be spread, it’ll help reduce accidents, making cycling lanes less dangerous. The Dutch Reach is already part of the driver’s eduction program in the Netherlands.

It’s simple and easy to teach making it cheaper than costly infrastructure changes to make biking safer.


lawn dartsBear with my rambling for a minute.

When I was a kid you could buy “Lawn Darts,” large heavy darts for hurling across a lawn at a target. A potentially dangerous game, possibly deadly if you were a risk taker. They were one lonesome train whistle and drunk mom away from a sad country western song, “He killt his little brotha with a lawn dart…” but they seemed to be a popular toy despite their inherent dangers.

The other day I saw an article in Smithsonian magazine about the search for LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life on Earth. LUCA is a sort of single-celled Eve at the base of the tree of life that all life has evolved from.

With advanced DNA analysis, it seems that life’s earliest ancestors lived in habitat with no oxygen, feeding on hydrogen gas. So it was likely an organism living near super-heated volcanic vents where hydrogen gas was likely produced. You’ve probably seen the pictures of the habitat, those deep sea vents surrounded by weird tube clams and crabs.

Anyway, LUCA got me wondering about decisions when organisms acquired mobility. When you can move you have options. At that point the most import decision became don’t do anything that has a strong chance of killing you. 

As creatures got smarter, two more important questions arose “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask because most bad things happen quickly.

The positive things in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new skills, fixing bad behaviors, building good relationships, rearing offspring making patience and determination among life’s primary virtues. Reinforced behaviors continue and behaviors that aren’t reinforced peter out.

Decisions about new things and situations can be difficult. Our families and experts are right about 98 percent of the time on the easy stuff, but only right maybe half the time on anything that’s unusually complicated, mysterious, or new. Who knows, if your gut feeling (intuition) disagrees with your family or the experts, take that seriously. Maybe you’re experiencing some pattern recognition that you can’t yet verbalize and their pessimism could be a failure of imagination.

Sometimes, you need to be selfish. Being selfish just means you’re taking the long view of things. That’s why on a plane, you’re told to put your oxygen mask on first before helping even your kid.

After personal needs are met, decisions automatically turn to how to make the world a better place. There’s an order. Humans are wired to take care of our own needs first, then family, tribe, country, and the world.

If you’re at a yard sale, don’t buy those seductive lawn darts.

Guns in America

ground droneIf this ground drone was available, some people would buy them. It might be someone with good intentions and training, or maybe not.

History is an early warning system for our public health that America keeps ignoring. Now we’re paying increasingly higher public health costs due to letting just about anyone buy any type of gun they like.

So the question is when will we update the second amendment to reflect current conditions?

A couple of hundred years ago guns were  cumbersome, time-consuming to reload, and fired only a single shot. The authors of the second amendment wrote on parchment using a feather for a pen. And, you could own another person too if you wanted to.

I’ve shot, owned, and still like guns. But just like driving a car, having and using a gun should be a privilege not a right. People should be able to have guns but they should be required to get training and certification to buy and keep one.

The difference between insanity and genius is measured only by success. The public health impact of guns on Americans is insane. America can fix this situation.

That creepy feeling

spotlight skeletonUnsure of what a person who you don’t know might do next? You might get a creepy feeling.

Being “creeped out” signals that someone or something could be dangerous.

Things we know are dangerous just scare us right away. With a shark, a rattlesnake, or a member of a motorcycle club there’s no creepiness – they’re dangerous. But if we’re unsure about  someone’s motives, that’s when things get creepy.

When it comes to people, there’re some things that trigger the creepy-ness radar. Most people think creeps are more likely to be men. Especially if they work as clowns, taxidermists, sex shop owners, or funeral directors.

Also, uncommon physical characteristics contribute to perceptions of creepiness. Things like peculiar smiles, greasy hair, long fingers and pale skin are likely to be rated as creepy by people in surveys.

So, make sure to wash your hair and get a little sun. While you’re at it, avoid working in occupations involving “threatening stimuli” like death or sex. And don’t forget to make your motives clear, but don’t stand too close to the person you’re talking too.


pressureYou’re not slacking off if you put your well being first.

During preflight safety demonstrations, flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else. You’re not much use to someone else if you’re compromised too.

Most of do it or have done it, skipping meals until a project is done, staying up late then getting up early, saying you’ll do some exercise later.

It’s too bad that lots of people treat their well being as a sort of reward for something else they’re working on. People often don’t realize they’re short changing themselves, taking care of yourself shouldn’t be seen as a reward. It’s part of the process of being well which might help you better do those other things.


The eating window

t-boneIt’s possible to measure fasting in hours rather than days. Maybe we should start calling it time spent without eating. Or even turn it around by just focusing on the time when you’re eating, instead of the time you’re not eating.

I’m not sure what’s the best way to reframe fasting. But the way we frame something is important. Most people think of fasting as not eating anything for a long time, probably imagining Jesus in the desert for 40 days, or protesting prisoners not eating until their demands are met.

Who cares? Right now not too many people care. But there’s growing evidence that we should care. Eating less frequently during the day (or possibly fasting every now and then during the month) could have real health benefits. If it turns out that a little  fasting is good for you, but calling it fasting will make it a harder sell.

Think about this, Mark Mattson who’s a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging eats during a six hour window in the evening (not eating for 16 to 18 hours a day is called intermittent fasting). He’s considered a leader in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms, one of the most highly cited neuroscientist in the world.

“His Laboratory showed that intermittent fasting has profound beneficial effects on the body and brain including: 1) Improved glucose regulation; 2) Loss of abdominal fat with maintenance of muscle mass; 3) Reduced blood pressure and heart rate, and increased heart rate variability (similar to what occurs in trained endurance athletes; 4) Improved learning and memory and motor function; 5) Protection of neurons in the brain against dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and Huntington’s disease. He further discovered that intermittent fasting is beneficial for health because it imposes a challenge to cells, and those cells respond adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and resist disease.” according to the NYT.

Intermittent fasting isn’t mainstream (yet). But as the evidence that it’s good for us accumulates and is reframed, it might get some traction.


stormtroopersWhen companies are optimizing everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

Teams are now the fundamental unit of organizations. Studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. 

Google has scrutinized everything.Working to figure out what made a team successful, Google kept coming across research focusing on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules for how we function when we gather. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.

There were two behaviors all the good teams generally shared.

First, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. 

Second, the good teams were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. The more successful teams seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams seemed, as a group, had less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

On the better teams people may speak over one another, go on tangents, and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team might seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They’re sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. While the team may not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts.

Other behaviors seemed important as well — like having clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

Establishing psychological safety is messy and difficult to implement. The kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place.

No one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office, leaving part of their personality and inner life at home. But to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things without fear of recriminations. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning we want to know that our team mates really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

At the core of Silicon Valley are certain self-mythologies and dictums: Everything is different now, data reigns supreme, today’s winners deserve to triumph because they are cleareyed enough to discard yesterday’s conventional wisdoms while searching out the disruptive and the new.

The paradox is that Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

When companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

That’s my condensed version of a NYT article about successful team at Google.

It turns out that the best teams engender a feeling of psychological safety through building “connections” between team members.

This finding struck me because the importance of connections with other people has showed up in two other spots I know of.

One is in the Harvard Medical School study that began monitoring a group of young men starting in 1939 (the ones left are now old).

For 75 years, at least every two years, the participants were evaluated on their mental and physical health, career and retirement  satisfaction, and marital happiness.

The study’s goal identifying the  predictors of healthy aging. What’s the big takeaway from the study? Connections (good relationships) make us healthier and happier, and live longer. It wasn’t money or fame.

And the other spot I know of is from sociologist Dr. Brene Brown who says that the surest thing she took away from 12 years of research is “that connection is why we’re here.”

Keep building those connections for a better life at work and at home.