Holding the breath for intense, system-wide body response

May 22, 2020

I recall reading that the surfer Laird Hamilton would deliberately choose to surf huge, dangerous waves. He said that it is in those moments he is most alive.

Imagine being suddenly confronted by a lion. Your body instantly reacts, flooding the entire bodily system with tremendous energy and alertness. You are completely present in the moment and totally alive.

For several years I have been taking a 10-minute walk after every meal. For the last six months I have been doing breathing exercises while walking: breathe in for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, repeat. And for the last month I have been doing hold-the-breath exercises while walking: take in a deep breath, hold as long as possible, exhale powerfully. I have found this breath-holding impacts my entire bodily system in a very positive way. I feel my digestion improved. I feel my brain sharpened and alert.

I think there is something to the idea of doing something every day that triggers an intense response by the body. Perhaps not to the extreme indicated in the following quote, but the idea is right, I think: “choosing constantly to face death and choosing to live life in a meaningful way.”

My nominees for the 4 greatest athletic sports

April 27, 2020
  1. Free-diving: uses powerful movements to descend as deeply as possible as quickly as possible, all the while using as little exertion as possible so as to minimize the need for oxygen.
  2. Mountain climbing: incredible grip strength, fearless, agile.
  3. Figure skating: combines power, speed, agility. All done in apparent effortlessness.
  4. Boxing: strength, quickness, overall conditioning

How to train so that when you are 100 you look, perform, and feel like a fit 50 or 60 year old

April 19, 2020

This is an incredible interview of Dr. Peter Attia on aging:


Here are my notes:

What does it mean to be 100 years old, but look, perform, and feel like a fit 50 or 60 year old?

As we age, there is a lot of joint failure that becomes problematic. When we are younger our exercise routines tend to disproportionately load joints over muscles. We need to figure out exercises where we can maximally load the muscles while minimally loading the joints.

What should a 100 year old be able to do if he is to live a physically fulfilling life? Here are some ideas: He should be able to carry two 25-pound bags from a grocery store. He should be able to lift a 30 or 40 pound suitcase over his head and put it into the airplane overhead compartment. He should be able to dip down into a squat, grab his great-grandchild, and pick her up. He should be able to jump down on the floor and play with cars or dolls and then stand up without assistance.

If you want to live to 100, you must delay the onset by about two decades of every major chronic disease – cancer, heart disease, and others. It’s not that you won’t get them, but you better figure out how to get them 20 years after the average person gets them.

Bruce Lee looked at every discipline of martial arts, including boxing and wrestling, and said, “Let me extract from each of these disciplines that which I believe is useful and discard that which I think is useless.”

How will you train so that you can be the best 100 year old imaginable? How will you do it if you’re only able to spend 10-12 hours per week preparing for it? My guess is that you should take a lot of things from various disciplines and discard a lot of things and build a routine that involves the maintenance of muscle mass, joint integrity, flexibility, functional movement, and balance.

The advantage of deadlifting and squatting is that they reveal all of your errors in the movement. You can’t take bad form into those movements and not get revealed. The question is, are they unnecessary risks? Am I one bad deadlift away from a catastrophic injury? Do I need to do them to become the best version of myself as a 100 year old? Lately I’ve been doing a lot of single-leg movements such as curtsy squats, lateral lunges, incredibly strict lunges where the front leg glute is specifically loaded, and bodyweight squats with meticulous form so that I am fully loading the glute and not overloading the quads (overloading the quad is a common mistake). By doing these things, I don’t feel that I’ve lost a step.

The term “cardio” is confusing. Most people think VO2 max is a heart/lung issue. It’s actually mostly a muscle issue. The bottleneck is not how much you can get into your lungs. The bottleneck is how much your muscles can utilize. When you look at the winner of the Tour de France or the gold medalist in cross-country skiing, or the person who wins the Boston marathon, or when you look at the most extreme endurance athletes, what is unique about these people is their muscles, which is counter-intuitive because they are typically very slender individuals, but their muscles are so efficient at aerobic metabolism, they are able to extract so much oxygen out of blood. When you or I are at our VO2 max we are breathing out 80% of the oxygen we breath in, so it’s not a gas-exchange problem, it’s a muscle problem.

So much of what we do is joint overload. Take the military press. Is there a time and place for a military press? Absolutely. Does it have any role in my life? Absolutely not. Why not? First, I don’t need to load my spine in that way. If I can get 80% of the benefits of the military press by doing activities below my neck and using more static-loaded movements above my neck, and that gives me 80% of the benefits at 20% of the risk, that is exactly the kind of compromise that I am willing to make. I think we need to apply risk/reward more often to how we exercise.

I don’t want anything to get in the way of the knowledge that can drive living longer. That, to me, is such a priority. I would rather be poor, but know how to live longer than to have all the money in the world and then loose my health.

Regarding the many changes in my life (i.e., the many career changes), I have been able to internalize the “Fallacy of a Sunk Cost.” The sunk cost fallacy is talked about in every Economics 101 class. To take an example, suppose you are building a bridge and it costs $10 million dollars. You are $9 million dollars into it and then the contractor says “It’s going to be another $11 million.” For many people they evaluate the contractor’s statement based on how much they have already put into the project. That becomes a very dangerous game because you can’t get those dollars back. Instead, you have to evaluate it exactly from where you are standing right now (i.e., ignoring the money you’ve already invested). For whatever reason, I’ve been able to stand at any point in my life and say “I want to do X. I am going to evaluate it only through the lens of how many years I have left on Earth and not at all through the lens of what I’ve already put into this.” It just seemed very logical to me to always pursue my bliss. Also, we’re in a different world now. The days are long gone of doing one thing your whole life. It’s no longer ridiculous to have a career change every five years. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 10 years, but I would be shocked if it looked exactly like what I do today. If you’re not growing, if you’re not constantly being reminded of how much higher you have to climb, I suspect life becomes a lot less fun.

David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech in 2005 called “This is Water” is unquestionably my absolute favorite 22 minutes of what to listen to. The first time I heard it, it didn’t resonate with me. I needed to hear it a few times before it really resonated. He said, “If you worship power, you will forever feel powerless. If you worship the intellect, you will forever feel like a fraud.” The former didn’t resonate with me because I am not a power-seeker, but the latter did resonate with me. “If you worship the intellect, you will forever feel like a fraud.” It is so true. I find myself, on at least a daily basis, thinking “I hope people don’t find out how much I don’t know.”

Writing and writing programs

December 12, 2019

The following is from the book, Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum, page 108. I think it’s great.

“Often when we think we understand something and attempt to write about it, our very act of composition reveals our lack of understanding even to ourselves. Our pen writes the word ‘because’ and suddenly stops. We thought we understood the ‘why’ of something but discover we don’t. We begin a sentence with ‘obviously,’ and then see what we meant to write is not obvious at all. Sometimes we connect two clauses with the word ‘therefore,’ only to then see that our chain of reasoning is defective. Programming is like that. It is, after all, writing too. But in ordinary writing we sometimes obscure our lack of understanding, our failure in logic, by unwittingly appealing to the immense flexibility of natural language and to its inherent ambiguity. The very eloquence that natural language permits sometimes illuminates our words and seems (falsely, to be sure) to illuminate our undeserving logic just as brightly. An interpreter of programming-language texts, a computer, is immune to the seductive influence of mere eloquence. And words like ‘obviously’ are not represented in the primitive vocabularies of any computers. A computer is a merciless critic.”

My biohacks

October 27, 2019

The word “biohacks” seems to be popular these days. I take it to mean doing some action on the body that gets rapid results.

Here are my biohacks:

  1. Sleep: 8 or more hours of deep sleep will eliminate mental and physical toxins. This is the most important biohack.
  2. Foam rolling: 10 minutes of foam rolling every day releases the fascia (connective tissue that covers the muscles). It makes you more mobile.
  3. 10-minute walk after each meal: three 10-minute walks every day balances the body’s blood sugar level, reduces cholesterol, and a bunch of other wonderful things. Next to sleep, this is the best biohack.
  4. Eat simple, unprocessed foods: make meals from scratch, using real ingredients.
  5. Deep breathing: breathe in deeply, exhale, hold. This will push oxygen into your body and brain. Yogis have been doing this for thousands of years. Very important biohack.
  6. Fresh pepper: improves digestion!
  7. Read for enjoyment: let your mind be immersed in another life, it will release stress.
  8. Exercise: many of the sins from poor eating can be reduced or eliminated by regular exercise.
  9. Vacation: get away from work. Think of other things. It will keep your mind fresh.
  10. Fresh rosemary plus mint: forget coffee (i.e. caffeine). Rosemary and mint in a glass of water plus the juice of a fresh lime will make your mind alert. Remember, caffeine doesn’t make you alert, it merely blocks the sleep receptors in your brain, i.e., it just makes you less sleepy.
  11. Super-strong peppermint tea: when I feel a cold or flu coming on, I make a super-strong batch of peppermint tea: pour hot water over one cup of loose peppermint. It doesn’t eliminate the cold/flu, but it does lessen its duration and intensity.
  12. Chinese cupping: remember the odd ring marks on Michael Phelps back at the last Olympics? That was from cupping. I have found cupping to be very effective at providing instant relief from back pain.
  13. Hot-cold baths: I fill one bathtub with hot water. I fill the other bathtub with cold water and 30 pounds of ice. I soak 2 minutes in the hot water, immediately followed by 2 minutes in the ice bath. Repeat three more times. After that, all aches and pains are magically gone.


This blog article has been translated to Swedish by Medicinska Nyheter.

The secret to deep breathing that pushes tons of oxygen into your cells

October 19, 2019

Recently I learned some exciting things:

  1. When we are young, we have a lot of oxygen in our cells.
  2. As we get older, the amount of oxygen in our cells decline.
  3. Want to get younger? Then increase the amount of oxygen in your cells.
  4. The way to increase the amount of oxygen in your cells is to do deep breathing.
  5. However, there is a secret which makes deep breathing much more effective: inhale deeply and then exhale completely and then hold for as long as you can. While you are holding, carbon dioxide is building up in your system. The carbon dioxide pushes the oxygen into your cells!

The Yogis have been doing this kind of breathing for thousands of years. I never knew what the rationale was, but now I know.

This morning on my 10-minute walk I did this type of breathing. I will do it 3 times per day, every day.


This blog article has been translated to Swedish by Medicinska Nyheter.

Wake up and move

October 13, 2019

After sleeping 8 hours I would go sit in front of my computer for 30 minutes. No more.

I realized, “Hey, I just spent 8 hours inactive, it makes no sense to be more inactive.”

Now, immediately after getting up, I walk around the house for 10 minutes.

Also, I used to turn on the (artificial) lights immediately upon waking. No more.

I realized, “Hey, I want my body and mind to gradually enter the new day, I want naturally lighting from the moon and stars.”

So, I do my 10-minute walk in the dark, with lighting only from the moon and stars.

Recovery is key to mental and physical health

October 7, 2019

“There is one thing that I am better at than anyone in the world, and that is recovery.”

  • Eddie Hall, the only person to deadlift 500kg (1100 pounds)

So, you just finished a hard exercise session. The degree to which you will benefit from that physical stress is the degree to which you recover from it. If you don’t recover 100% before your next session, then you will decrease your physical health.

So, you just finished a hard day of knowledge work, creating and solving challenging problems. The degree to which you will benefit from that mental stress is the degree to which you recover from it. If you don’t recover 100% before your next knowledge work session, then you will decrease your mental health.

I have listened to Eddie Hall talk about all the recovery techniques that he does – massage, hot-cold therapy, shockwave therapy, oxygen therapy, foam rolling, chiropractic, and others. Very impressive. I understand why he is the best in the world at physical recovery. I am incorporating more and more recovery techniques in my daily routine.

To recover from mental stress, lately I have been reading mystery novels. I have found that beneficial. I can approach my knowledge work with a fresh (recovered) mind.

Pace yourself in career and exercising

September 29, 2019

On Friday my chiropractor informed me that, starting next week, he is only working mornings. He said, “throughout my life I have always paced myself.” He is currently 69 years old  and wants to work another 14 years, to the age of 83. To enable this, he is reducing the stress on his body (chiropractic is a physically demanding occupation).

The words “pace myself” struck a chord with me. I have never been good at pacing myself. In anything. But I will change. I will look at my career as a marathon, not a sprint. I will look at my exercising as a life-long endeavor, not a short-term ego trip.

So, practically, what does this mean? It means that I will stop dedicating nearly every waking hour of my life to work. I will stop being obsessed with exercising. I will find, appreciate, and enjoy other things in life.

Parents, don’t let your child grow up to be a video game designer

September 7, 2019

4-year old Tommy announces: “When I grow up, I want to be a science teacher.”

“Wonderful,” replies his grandfather. “That is an excellent career choice.”

Six months elapse. Tommy has discovered video games and is now immersed in them.

Tommy announces: “When I grow up, I want to be a video game designer.”

This time his grandfather kept his thoughts to himself. He thinks, “That is an awful choice. We have too many video games already. The world doesn’t need another video game designer.”