In The Levelheaded Investor I discuss the significance of the Pie of Life, and not the other way round, which is a great book and spelled differently! One of the ‘pie’ slices is health and fitness which I guess is probably on many people’s ‘to sort’ list.

In our advanced society there exists a paradox between medicine and financial planning: medicine has one principle aim: to help us live longer, attain longevity, and financial planning, if done well, will accept the challenge of us living longer, ensuring people do not run out of money during their unnaturally overextended lives. This is a noble combination that on the face of it, surely must be celebrated, but it has far reaching ethical and moral implications.

It is only when you witness unnatural longevity first hand that you realise we need a radical rethink of one aspect of medical advancements: the notion of living as long as possible at all costs. Walk into any care home in the UK, and you will be faced with a frightening, almost grisly scene, of overly heated rooms full of inhabitants who have already checked out of their living years and are literally waiting to check out of life.
Very sad.

Dr. Peter Attia, podcaster and author of Outlive, champions the recalibration of how we live so we can change the narrative of the final chapters of our lives. He clearly articulates that the lengthening of life – lifespan – should be coupled with ‘healthspan’ – the extension of a good state of personal health. Extending life is a noble pursuit if the additional years are lived full of vibrance, vigour and purpose. However, many of us experience an active retirement to a certain age and then something happens, a health event, a fall, or a bereavement that knocks us sideways and life is never quite the same. But life is not over either. We enter a slow and gradual decline of our health and mental facilities, and only then do we ‘check out’.

This decline obviously varies person to person but what it does do is rob us of the ability to live our very best life to the very end. Reflect on this: when someone old dies, and their death is sudden, often the comforters offer platitudes of ‘at least it was quick and there was minimal suffering’. This may be a harsh way to help someone with their grief, but most of us deep down know this is better than the alternative, the gradual atrophy of our grasp on reality and our increased dependency upon carers.

If the picture I paint is too depressing for words, what can we each do to improve our lot, where we better our chances of an elegant exit? Attia, believes that mainstream medicine has fallen short in addressing the diseases of aging, the four horsemen of the longevity apocalypse that claim most lives: heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and type 2 diabetes. Rather than focus upon reactive treatments, he advocates for a personalised, proactive strategy for extending lifespan while enhancing physical, cognitive, and emotional health. In totality – healthspan!

Outlive the science and art of longevity by Peter Attia | Magus Wealth

Read more here

The aim is simple, try to make each decade of life better than the one before. We need to be intentional about how we approach aging: we should view it as something we do it rather than something it does to us! Attia directs our focus towards five buckets in our longevity hit list.

1. Health risk management:
We need to understand, analyse, and work with risks rather than avoid them. Burying our heads in the sand is not an option when we stand on the scales and they ask us politely to get off as we are too heavy to register a sensible weight!

No written rule mandates us to glide from fat to obese to pre-diabetic to having type 2 diabetes. This is not a badge of honour we should be proud to wear. It may be comforting to know you are not alone as others are in the same boat, but this collective boat is on a slippery one-way journey to Davy Jones’s locker.

We are told ‘what gets measured gets managed’. For a starter, we need to understand what our current health stats.

The list goes on. In this age of data, smart watches, freedom of information from the NHS and the like, these metrics are easy to know.

Like building a financial plan, once you know where you are right now, you can build a plan and then take the appropriate cause of action.

2. Protein importance:
My opening statement is that most of us are woefully deficient in our protein consumption! Protein is critically important for our health and quality of life.

One of the primary roles of protein, amongst many others, is to support muscle health and function. Muscle mass declines with age (circa 3-8% every ten years after age 30), a condition known as sarcopenia, which leads to decreased strength, mobility, and ultimately our independence.

Consuming adequate protein helps to build new tissue, repair old tissue, and conduct essential cellular functions throughout the body, thereby reducing the risk of falls and fractures.

As stated above, the issue is that we invariably consume far too little protein and unfortunately, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.8 g protein per kg body weight per day is only the minimum amount needed to maintain lean mass. It is too low to help increase lean mass, especially as we age.

To put this into context I currently weigh around 80kg, so according to the formula above, the minimum protein I need is 64g but according to the MyFitnessPal app, I should consume 170g, almost three times as much.

This is a huge difference and is actually quite hard to achieve even when you plan your meals to the nth degree. As an extreme example, to achieve that 170g goal it equates to 566g of chicken breast – which is a lot of chicken!

It is worth tracking your protein, even if only for a week. You will be shocked!

As Attia says, “If you are interested in living a long and healthy life and playing with your great grandkids someday, then muscle mass should be a priority. Never in the history of human civilisation has a 90-year-old said, ‘I wish I had less muscle.’”

3. Nutritional interventions:
We are what we eat, and we also know we need to eat well. This message is ubiquitous and generally hard to miss or ignore, but many of us do.

In my ever-ending battle to reduce my weight (reduce fat!) I was once told this rule of thumb: focus 80% on diet and 20% on exercise. I resisted these wise words for far too long, trying hard to prove otherwise as my relationship with food was one, I was not overly keen to sacrifice or confront.
Damn it, they were right!

I finally gave in and flipped the dial and have awesome results to show for it. I’ll share more on my personal journey in other articles. For now, suffice to say we cannot ignore these wonderful and rather annoying phrases: ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’ and ‘digging your grave with your teeth’ – lovely!

4. Optimizing exercise and sleep:
Again, this should not be a surprise to any of us. Who knew getting exercise and the necessary hours of sleep was a thing!

Looking at exercise, this is a mine field of options which can be so overwhelming we stagnant into taking no action at all. I joined a CrossFit gym a year ago. This was about as scary a thing as I have done is many years.

When I was in the decision-making phase of ‘do I or don’t I’ join, many friends looked at me up and down and proceeded to recommend anything but, saying it was way too hard core and I’d do myself more bad than good.

Eventually I crossed the gym’s threshold and was greeted by one of the owners who shared two pearls of wisdom with me.

The first was that people tend to join the gym to either look good naked – I said I was sadly past this phase in my life and the second was to be able to wipe one’s own bottom at 80 – ah that’s more like it!

The other pearl was when you join, it will hurt and you will ache; do not over think it and just come in and turn up, do your best for you.

This latter piece of advice is pertinent to the ‘do more exercise’ mantra. In many respects it doesn’t matter what exercise you do but just do it (Nike were definitely onto something here) and keep turning up. And absolutely do not overthink it because, sure as eggs are eggs, your brain will talk you out of any exertion, irrespective of how much logic you apply to the longevity benefits this exercise will deliver to you 3 months from today.

For my part of this story, if you are vaguely interested…I have lost 39lbs (over 17kgs in new money) and my resting heart rate hovers in the low 50s. My blood pressure has gone from a medical concern to optimal, and my cholesterol levels have reduced by 25%, again to optimal. My GP no longer calls me with offers of medicinal intervention.

5. Emotional and mental health:
You need not look too far to realise that the mental health topic has risen in public prominence.

Celebrities and even royalty are keen to share their mental health trials and tribulations. Once, it was a sign of weakness. No longer, thank goodness.Emotional health is a crucial pillar for longevity and it does not have to decline with age.

There are many strategies and resources available to help and tackle this often hidden and misunderstood illness. At a high level we need to focus upon three predominant strategies that should feature our daily lives:

Stress management:
The detrimental effects stress has on our physical bodies is well documented and there is little doubt that it promotes the growth and spread of some forms of disease.

Put simply, “stress makes your body more hospitable to cancer,” states Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D. of The University of Texas. I can count on more than two hands clients who battle through the incredibly stressful process of selling their businesses only to be struck down with one form of cancer or another within 3-6 months of the business sale.

And another battle of a very different kind begins. Obviously this is not a controlled medical experiment, but anecdotally, this is a very unfortunate outcome and you can join the dots.

There is a distinction between healthy and unhealthy stress. This differentiation is important for understanding the impact of stress on our wellbeing. Healthy stress, often referred to as eustress, is a type of stress that can be beneficial and motivating. It typically occurs in manageable amounts and can lead to improved performance, focus, and productivity.

Eustress can arise from situations such as: starting a new job or project, meeting deadlines (why is it I always leave a task to the last minute?!), engaging in physical exercise (ask any gym rat the overwhelming benefits they get from physical exertion) and pursuing personal goals with the sense of achievement when they are achieved. Eustress tends to be short-term and is often associated with feelings of excitement and fulfilment which are considered as some of the tenants of the PERMA wellbeing model created by Prof. Martin Seligman.

On the flipside of the ‘stress coin’ sits unhealthy stress, or distress, which occurs when stress becomes excessive, overwhelming, or prolonged beyond a person’s ability to cope. Distress can have negative effects on physical, emotional, and mental health. It can arise from a chronic work overload, relationship conflicts, financial difficulties, trauma and major life changes (e.g., loss of a loved one, divorce).

While some level of stress can be beneficial for growth and development, excessive or chronic stress can be harmful. It’s important to recognise the signs of distress and take steps to manage stress effectively to maintain overall wellbeing.

Quality sleep:
Prioritising restful sleep to fundamental for our physical restoration and cognitive function, supporting a healthy immune system, metabolic balance, as well as our emotional health.

Ask any sleep deprived new parent how they are coping with interrupted nights to see this in action. I will cover sleep as a topic in much more depth in other articles.

Social connections:
Often cited as one of the most feared prerequisites of aging is loneliness and the demise of our once established social connections and status.

This was evidenced and magnified across all age groups, and not just the old, during Covid. As with the other two strategies, we need to be intentional at maintaining our sociability.

By doing so we can fall back on our safety net of support during challenging times such as bereavement, reduce the impact of loneliness and we are able to maintain or even improve our cognitive health, possibly even staving off the dread of Alzheimer’s.

Lastly, good relationships are linked to better physical health as they encourage behaviours with collective exercise, which then influence our food choices, which ultimately provides emotional resilience during illness.

Studies consistently show that people with strong social ties tend to live longer. Nurturing relationships is not just about companionship; it’s an investment in our mental and physical wellbeing.

In summary, while there is a lot to consider, the main takeaway is that we should not abdicate the responsibly of the quality of our last life-chapters to anyone else except ourselves.

Let the Ying of lifespan be balanced with the Yang of healthspan.


Risk warnings
This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale.

This article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the Firm and does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy, or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed.