Health is Wealth: Prevention, Fitness and Strength   (August 1, 2012)

Today we start a multi-day series on improving health via prevention, fitness and strength.

Longtime readers know that I consider health (physical and mental) the key attribute of wealth and prosperity. Without health, then what good is your other "wealth"?

Readers also know that I consider "a healthy home-cooked meal a revolutionary act" because the Status Quo encourages chronic disease and ill-health. Why? 1) managing these conditions is immensely and enduringly profitable to the sickcare cartels and 2) weak, sickly, drugged-out citizens are easily manipulated politically and are too overwhelmed by their multiple chronic health issues to actively challenge the Status Quo.

I know that this sounds inflammatory to many of you, but for whatever reason has attracted a very large readership of physicians, nurses and other caregivers, and the people who work in the trenches of the sickcare system are inevitably supportive of these "inflammatory" summations.

Sickcare is not sustainable financially, and so it will devolve and collapse, along with other unsustainable systems. I expect healthcare to slowly revert to cash-only if you want immediate care, with all other care becoming increasingly unavailable. Therefore prevention will be the key to well-being going forward, not hyper-expensive care that costs $100,000 for a few days of treatment.

In all my diverse reading about the science of human health, a few "obvious" things pop out.

1) Humans have a remarkable ability to prosper on a variety of real foods.
2) Processed foods are associated with "modern" diseases.
3) Chronic inactivity, stress and a diet of processed foods are associated with chronic inflammation.
4) Chronic inflammation is associated with a number of chronic diseases.
5) The only "miracle drug" is regular exercise combined with sleep, which is associated with exercise, good nutrition and stress reduction.
6) The mind and body are one. Mental health and physical health are related.

We cannot stave off all disease, of course, and many of us will need surgery or other major intervention regardless of our diet and fitness levels, but the point is that fitness and a common-sense diet of real, unprocessed foods make up about 2/3 of our "health metric" with genetics and the environment contributing perhaps a third.

The 80/20 rule may apply here (Pareto Distribution): achieving 20% of what's possible may reap 80% of the gain. For example, being able to jog 2 miles may reap 80% of the gain, while running 10 miles yields a diminishing health return and may even damage older runners.

This is of course inexact, but that's the rough proportions.

Increasing strength may provide an example of this: relatively infrequent short-duration intense exercise seems to increase strength and maintain it without daily workouts. In other words, it doesn't take much time to significantly improve one's strength.

Longtime correspondent Steve R. recently shared his own experiences with increasing muscular strength. Here is Steve's report:


"Over about six weeks, I increased my overall muscular strength by 35%, by doing nothing more than a total of four 12-minute, very-intense workouts.


Over the past couple of years, I have been reading that much of the effort that most people put into exercise is wasted or even counter-productive, because they are missing the key ingredients of intensity and rest. The evidence coming into focus for me was that high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) was the quickest, most effective path toward cardiovascular fitness.

Long ago, I had learned that adequate rest is essential for weight training: i.e., never exercising any given muscle group more often than once per week. Recently, I ran across the book Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week (McGuff and Little), which presents a strong case for a 12-minute-only strength training workout, with about 7-10 days of rest between trips to the gym. I know it sounds crazy, but the authors back it up with their knowledge of physiology, their understanding of evolution, tons of studies, and their own clinical experiences (they are both trainers). The results I got are typical of their customers.

The Workout

The workout consists of one 60-90-second set of each of five core exercises (leg press, underhand pulldown, overhead press, seated row, and chest press), moving from machine to machine as quickly as possible (no more than 30 seconds between machines). Each set is performed super-slow (6-10 seconds up; 6-10 seconds down) to prevent momentum cheating, and the weight should be chosen so that you "go to failure" (i.e., at the end of each set, you can't possibly do another rep). Doing the math shows that each set consists of about 5 reps. Only five sets of only five reps, for the entire workout, sounds easy, but trust me, the intensity near the end will kick your butt.

Measuring My Results

I was careful to "compare apples to apples" when determining my gains. In other words, I didn't do fluff workouts early on in order to pad the results. The data show consistent 9% gains between successive 100%-effort workouts. I am very confident that the numbers are correct and that the gains are legitimate.

Simplified Theory

The body adapts to an increased demand put upon it so that it can better meet that demand in the future. The idea is to give it a strong stimulus, followed by plenty of time to let it recover back to baseline, plus a small amount of growth. Experiments show that it takes 7-10 days for optimal growth to occur, much like the time the body needs to heal a cut. Resting less than 7 days thwarts the body's efforts to repair itself, like ripping a scab off before the cut is fully healed, leading to poor results, more injuries, and perhaps chronic stress. My average rest was 11 days."

This was very interesting to me on a number of fronts, and I replied thusly:

"Thank you for sharing your experience--it confirms my own intuitive sense of what works, as I tend to do pushups and sit-ups several times a week with biking and running interspersed throughout the week. I keep track and was surprised that a week between pushups did not really degrade the number I can do in one set (36).

In terms of natural selection, this also makes sense. Hunters would more than likely only need bursts of strength or speed occasionally, and the body would thus maximize to occasional strength-building, as expending calories daily just to maintain muscle mass would be very ‘costly’ in evolutionary terms—why burn valuable calories unless there was a big yield?"

Steve added these comments on the natural-selection context:

"I think you're dead-on with your thoughts on natural selection. That seems to be the consensus among the top exercise people I listen to. Our ancestors probably didn't look like body builders, because like you said, excess muscle is too costly in terms of precious calories. This also dovetails with the emerging theory that traditional "cardio", especially too much, may actually be harmful. There are lots of people on the Amazon review/comment section for Body By Science that say something like, "Aerobics ruined my knees" or similar. It seems that short bursts of high-intensity exercise are the most effective. And I think for most people, distance running is very harmful - especially marathoners."

Thank you, Steve for sharing your experiences. I agree with Steve about "overdoing it." In typical American fashion (or is it human nature as well?), some people get obsessed with diet, fitness, etc. and go to extraordinary lengths, many of which end up being harmful simply because they are excessive.

The "middle path" may be the way to go in terms of fitness and prevention.

To give you a taste of what is possible in fitness as we age, here is a video clip of an 86-year woman performing a parallel-bars routine.

This entry was drawn from Musings Report #16. Subscribers and contributors of $50 or more receive the Musings Report each weekend. Subscription links can be found below.

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