Ordinary Invisibility

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?'”

-David Foster Wallace, “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (transcription of the Kenyon Commencement Address), republished in Farnam Street, April 2012.

I’m surprised to find that I have not referenced David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water before. I thought about it in when thinking about the kinds of things that are so ubiquitous that we tend not to see them. Some things that come to mind that are water to us:

  • The hidden labor that makes everything in our lives possible, from migrant workers harvesting industrial agriculture, people working in slaughterhouses, sewing the clothing we wear, manufacturing electronics, etc.
  • There are more slaves today than at any other point in human history.
  • Related, sexual trafficking is a variety of slavery and is pervasive.
  • It is clear the modern lifestyles are destroying the environment, such as the use of plastics.
  • The Standard American Diet is giving us all chronic health conditions.
  • Mass media distracts people from engaging directly with ideas and the people around them.

I’ve only scratched the surface here. What else so permeates our environment that we don’t notice it, even though we know on some level it is there?

A Mass Message From My Doctor

Thought I’d pass this along in case your doctor isn’t as good as mine. Unsolicited, fantastic advice that everyone should read.

“Coronavirus and Clinic Updates:  

…The crisis of Coronavirus is the exponential growth. The number of cases are increasing 30% per day. So however many cases we have today, we will have 10 times as many in 10 days and 100 times as many in 20 days. We worry about having enough hospital resources to care for folks if the outbreak spreads too fast. As you can imagine our health care system will be challenged. Many of us are taking extra shifts in the hospital. This week is calm, but I suspect the next month will be difficult.  

As long as a sick person does not cough into your face, masks won’t help much. The way most of us will get this virus is by touching it with our hands and then touching our face. It seems to be spread by mucus on hands, and its also found in stool. So basically it’s spread like the flu (respiratory droplets) and spread like norovirus (stomach flu). And it’s much more severe. And it can be spread before you feel sick. So it’s basically a perfectly designed virus. Not good for us.  

Many patients will be contagious for days before they ever feel sick, and can spread it by touching doorknobs or preparing food for others. [Note: The CDC says there isn’t any evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted through food. He’s a good doctor, but no one’s perfect.] This is why hand washing and staying away from other people are the two primary ways to avoid covid. Masks help the sick person not spread covid, but they don’t prevent healthy people from catching it. So please save the masks for health care workers.  

If you get a cough and fever, you could have COVID and you should call to discuss. Especially as flu season winds down, the likelihood of COVID as the cause of fever will go up. Most patients don’t need to be tested, you just need to self quarantine and stay away from other people. As testing becomes easier to get, we may start testing everyone – but we are not there yet. Still a huge backlog. The major reason to get tested is if you have to work; Or if you are risk factors for a poor outcome: age > 60, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, HIV, weak immunity.

If you get severely short of breath, you should call our office or go to the ER. Generally, this would not happen all of a sudden, it’s usually after being sick for 7 days. Patients with covid who get sick, go from initial symptoms to needing the intensive care unit on day 7 -10. So it takes some time. Most young healthy people will never need to see a doctor. We are sending the majority of covid + patients home…Mortality in the USA is still only 1%. Mortality is greater when older than 60. And especially over 80. So keep grandchildren away from grandparents[.] Young kids do not seem to get sick, they can still carry the disease and transmit to others who might have risk factors.

A new symptom being described is loss of taste or smell. In South Korea where they tested widely, 30% of covid patients had loss of taste or smell, even without fevers. So if you have that symptom, you may not get sick but you are contagious, so avoid people for 14 days, wash those hands like crazy. Most people get sick within 5-6 days of exposure, but some take as long as 14. Which is why we’re using 14 days as an estimate for quarantine.

Information and thoughts about moving forward are changing every day. I encourage you to get your medical information from Dr. Fauci and other medical and public health experts, not from politicians or pundits. The CDC’s website has great (and scientifically accurate) information. I hope this has helped…”

2020 Experiments: Exercise & Running Program

Open Question: What is a reasonable program for people to follow to develop a good level of fitness?

I’ve been thinking a bit about the 2018 Experiment: HIIT Burpee and Running Program. The challenge of that program was to met a minimal standard for health, which I define using the American Heart Association standards:

  • 25 minutes of aerobic activity, 3 times a week
  • moderate intensity muscle-building, 2 times a week

Aerobic Activity

I prefer running for cardiovascular fitness. I have always wanted to run a sub-20 minute 5K. So, I was thinking that a speed program at the desired speed, 9.0 on a treadmill or 6:40/mile pace on Monday and Fridays, incrementing as the current level becomes easy.

  • 0.25 miles with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 4 to 12 reps
  • 0.5 miles with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 2 to 6 reps
  • 0.75 miles with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 2 to 4 reps
  • 1 mile with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 1 to 3 reps
  • 1.5 miles with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 1 to 3 reps
  • 2 miles with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 1 to 2 reps
  • 2.5 miles with 0.25 mile recovery walks, moving up one from 1 to 2 reps
  • 3 miles at one rep.

On Tuesday & Thursdays, it’s an easy 4 miles. On Wednesday, it’s either a easy 6-10 miles, an easy 4 miler or a rest day, depending on how I’m feeling. I’m not sure how long this kind of program will take, but I think taking two years seems like an achievable time frame.

Moderate Intensity Muscle-Building

But, the burpee program I came up with was positively brutal. I wanted to avoid making the same mistake this time, and keeping this easy.

This year, I spent some time revisiting The Hacker’s Diet, and I think his idea of having a low-intensity, low-time commitment exercise regime that can be done daily and anywhere is a good one. I took his program, and modified it to include a stepped program that increases 7% from 10 up to ~200 of bends (hands over head, legs spread, touch toes and return), sit-ups (hands across chest), skydivers (one rep, 4-count, hands to head and legs), push-ups, scissors (one rep, 4-count), jump squats, planks (front, back, each side for X seconds and 20 second rest period in between each), and jumping jacks (one rep, 4-count).

Each exercise is done for one set. The first rung takes less than 15 minutes. It’s easy to start, but it has the potential to become seriously challenging as you progress.

Modified Hacker’s Diet Exercise Program

Rung Bend Sit-up Skydivers Push-up Scissors J-Squats 4-Planks Jacks
1 10 10 10 10 10 10 45 10
2 11 11 11 11 11 11 50 11
3 11 11 11 11 11 11 50 11
4 12 12 12 12 12 12 50 12
5 13 13 13 13 13 13 55 13
6 14 14 14 14 14 14 55 14
7 15 15 15 15 15 15 60 15
8 16 16 16 16 16 16 60 16
9 17 17 17 17 17 17 65 17
10 18 18 18 18 18 18 65 18
11 20 20 20 20 20 20 70 20
12 20 21 21 21 21 21 70 21
13 20 23 23 23 23 23 75 23
14 20 24 24 24 24 24 75 24
15 20 26 26 26 26 26 80 26
16 20 28 28 28 28 28 80 28
17 20 30 30 30 30 30 85 30
18 20 32 32 32 32 32 85 32
19 20 34 34 34 34 34 90 34
20 20 36 36 36 36 36 90 36
21 20 39 39 39 39 39 95 39
22 20 41 41 41 41 41 95 41
23 20 44 44 44 44 44 100 44
24 20 47 47 47 47 47 100 47
25 20 51 51 51 51 51 105 51
26 20 54 54 54 54 54 105 54
27 20 58 58 58 58 58 110 58
28 20 62 62 62 62 62 110 62
29 20 66 66 66 66 66 115 66
30 20 71 71 71 71 71 115 71
31 20 76 76 76 76 76 120 76
32 20 81 81 81 81 81 120 81
33 20 87 87 87 87 87 120 87
34 20 93 93 93 93 93 120 93
35 20 100 100 100 100 100 120 100
36 20 107 107 107 107 107 120 107
37 20 114 114 114 114 114 120 114
38 20 122 122 122 122 122 120 122
39 20 131 131 131 131 131 120 131
40 20 140 140 140 140 140 120 140
41 20 150 150 150 150 150 120 150
42 20 160 160 160 160 160 120 160
43 20 171 171 171 171 171 120 171
44 20 183 183 183 183 183 120 183
45 20 196 196 196 196 196 120 196

So, I’m going to give this a try next year, and I’ll report back on how it worked out.

Army Fit

I’ve argued before about the value of a periodic fitness test. These are the current United States Army standards, perfect and passing, for each exercise, courtesy of Outside Magazine.

Deadlift

Lift the heaviest weight you can three times.

Max (100 points): 340 pounds
Pass (70 points): 180 pounds

Power Throw

Launch a ten-pound medicine ball over your head and behind you.

Max (100 points): 13.5 yards
Pass (70 points): 8.5 yards

Hand-Release Push-Ups

Perform as many reps as possible in two minutes.

Max (100 points): 70
Pass (70 points): 30

Sprint-Drag-Carry

For 50 meters each, sprint, drag 90 pounds, side-shuffle, farmer’s-carry 80 pounds, then sprint again.

Max (100 points): 1 minute 40 seconds
Pass (70 points): 2 minutes 9 seconds

Pull-Up Leg Tucks

While hanging from a pull-up bar, hoist yourself until your arms are at 90 degrees while bringing your knees into your chest, then lower. Complete as many as you can.

Max (100 points): 20
Pass (70 points): 5

Two-Mile Run

Finish as quickly as possible.

Max (100 points): 12 minutes 45 seconds
Pass (70 points): 18 minutes

From Outside Magazine, November 2019

Suggestions for Good Health

Blue Zones is a good place to start. However, if I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d focus on:

  • Sleep: Get a full night’s sleep and take a midday nap for a total of eight hours.
  • Food: Limit eating to four consecutive hours a day. Eat mostly plants. Drink powdered psyllium and water to stave off hunger feelings in the off hours.
  • Exercise: Walk/run for 16,000 steps a day or 8 miles, incorporating a full range of movement. Include some weight-bearing activity or physical training twice a week.
  • Social: Cultivate a social environment for flourishing among family, friends and your larger social circle. Be a positive, creative person and look for the same in others. Relentlessly prune relationships that are predominantly negative.
  • Being & Doing: Find something to do that leaves the world slightly better than you found it and promotes good sleeping, eating, exercise and social habits. The Buddhist idea of the Noble Eightfold Path is a useful model of how to be and what to do.

Good Ol’ Goiter Days

When we think of the good ol’ days, lets also remember they also included smallpox, polio, yellow fever, typhoid, rubella, rabies, hib, tetanus, mumps, hepatitis A/B, varicella, tuberculosis, malaria, syphilis, anemia from hookworm, and a high instance of dental caries.

Prior to 1795, it was a given that half of all sailors on a voyage during the Age of Sail would die of scurvy. With international trade and industrialized agriculture, famine has moved out of living memory of the people in most economically developed countries.

And as these problems move out of living memory, we forget what life was like before they were solved. Iodine in salt is just one example among many.

Do X. Evaluate. Do X Differently.

“Why don’t you just try X for 30 days and see if your life gets better?

Today, roughly two-thirds of the population will make New Year’s resolutions. The most common resolutions:

  • Eat healthier
  • Get more exercise
  • Save money
  • Take better care of ourselves
  • Read more
  • Make new friends
  • Learn a new skill / hobby

Looking at this in the context of having recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, he makes a really interesting point that these kinds of improvements require tackling three aspects of the problem: identity, systems and goals.

For example, instead of resolving to eat better, we might resolve to become vegetarian. This is adopting a new identity that shapes the kind of food choices we make into healthier alternatives. You could also make it smaller, and maybe adopt an identity as a “water-drinker”.

You can extend these to the other resolutions. Instead of resolving to exercise more, decide to become a runner. Instead of saving money, you could become a person that pays cash or pays your entire credit card bill every month.

Identity feeds into systems. If you are going to become vegetarian, will you eat dairy and eggs? If you will occasionally eat meat, say during Thanksgiving, how often will you need to eat a vegetarian diet to think of yourself as vegetarian? What does a healthy vegetarian diet look like?

Same goes for running. How many miles and how many days per week do you need to run to think of yourself as a runner?

These, in turn, lead to goals. If you run sporadically, then setting a consistent schedule will result in more exercise, just as consistently eating vegetarian will result in eating better.

Goals have the problem that life gets in the way, and we give up on them. If your goal is to run a marathon, you cannot continue if you get injured or develop a cold that prevents you from following a training program. If you think of yourself as a runner, being sick is only a momentary set-back. But, the minute you know you can run again, you need to start. Otherwise, you aren’t proving to yourself your identity that you are a runner.

The start of a new year is an excellent time to think through the kind of person you want to be and the identities you want to adopt. But, the beginning of the month, of the week or each new day are good times to start trying to be a different, better person too.

Don’t let the inevitable failures that life throws in the way of each of us stop you from pursuing being the kind of person you want to be. The question isn’t whether you always eat healthier, but whether, in the main, you are eating better than you were before. You need to have systems and goals in place to get feedback on your progress, and you need to build in flexibility to change course. Do, evaluate, and do it differently. The goal is to be the person you want and not the number of miles you ran in a given week, that’s just the feedback.

Bad Gyms

When some one enters a gym for the first time, what are they looking for? If they are young, the driving force is often performance. Athletes want to be better at their chosen sport, and the gym provides a training ground in which to improve.

For the non-athlete entering the gym later in life, the focus may be on a particular goal – such as losing weight, cardiovascular fitness, or strength, but these too are performance goals. A desire for improvement is the motivation.

But, there is an interesting disconnect between the user of the gym and the gym owner. The concern of the gym owner, particularly if the gym owner is a corporation, is to reduce their risk of liability and reduce costs.

Enter any “fitness center” offered as an amenity by a corporation and you will find a wide variety machines that are designed, primarily, to prevent people from injuring themselves. These machines encourage repetitive, defined movements that limit the range of motion and the potential for injury. Free weights, if they are available at all, are confined to low weight dumbbells.

The simple fact is exercise machines are less effective forms of exercise than exercising with free weights. Yet, machines are the only options on offer because they are safer, and machines are cheaper than paying for staff to help people learn to exercise with free weights safely.

As a result of this typical safe gym environment, we almost never hear the simple truth. The overall best exercise for improving fitness is lifting heavy weights over a complete range of motion. If you wish to improve your health and fitness, deadlifts and squats are the single best way to do it. People using the gym need to learn how to do these exercises safely. A good gym trains people to do effective exercises safely. A bad gym provides machines to do less effective exercises that are safe and cost effective. Almost all the gyms we have are bad.