Assorted Links

Thanks to Melody McLaren.

More Muscle Strength, Less Cancer

A 2009 study followed about 9000 men for 10-20 years. It found that strength (how much you can bench and leg press) measured at the start of the study was associated with likelihood of dying of cancer during the study. Men in the upper two-thirds of the study population in strength had 40% less cancer mortality. This might be the most surprising result:

Further adjustment for BMI, percent body fat, waist circumference, or cardiorespiratory fitness had little effect on the association. The associations of BMI, percent body fat, or waist circumference with cancer mortality did not persist after further adjusting for muscular strength.

In other words, muscle strength was a better predictor than several similar measures (BMI, etc.) and these other measures stopped predicting when corrected for muscle strength. Muscle strength is closely connected to something important.

Men who are stronger by and large exercise more, no doubt. Yet muscle strength is determined by resistance training, not aerobic exercise — and it is aerobic exercise (and to some extent walking) that have been promoted by countless experts since the 1960s and the invention of the concept aerobic. Jogging reduces how much time you have for resistance training.

These findings interest me because I do a lot of resistance training — stand on one leg to exhaustion several times per day — purely to sleep better. By improving something easy to measure (sleep), these data suggest I have also been improving something hard to measure (chance of dying from cancer). Not surprising, but reassuring.

My data also suggest two different possible reasons for the strength-cancer association. One is that men who exercise more sleep better as a result; better sleep, better immune function, less cancer. Another possibility is that strength is a marker for good sleep. Among men who do equal amounts of exercise, those who sleep better will be stronger.

From The Breviary.

The Year in Personal Science: 2013

Here are some especially notable results (most notable first).

Other People’s

1. Bedtime honey greatly improved sleep. Stuart King found this after many other things had failed to help him. He got the idea from Dave Asprey, who got it from The Honey Revolution (2009) by Ron Kessenden and Mike McInnes, but Stuart made by far the best case that the effect was important and determined some boundary conditions (e.g., don’t eat a lot of sugar during the day). The improvement is so big and easy (honey tastes good) that it’s quite possible this is why evolution shaped us to enjoy sweets after dinner — to improve sleep. In the future, I believe, it will be understood that sugars (at the right times in the right amounts) are a necessary nutrient — exactly the opposite of what all nutrition experts, including paleo ones and Weston Price, say. When this stunning reversal will happen I don’t know — but no one will have foretold it more than Stuart. Continue reading “The Year in Personal Science: 2013”

Sleep: Summary of What I’ve Learned

I want to summarize what I’ve learned about how to sleep well. I’ve found about a dozen changes that helped. Taken together they suggest the importance of four dimensions:

1. Healthy brain. My sleep greatly improved when I ate a lot of pork fat. (As far as I can tell, butter produced the same effect.) I wasn’t getting enough animal fat. My sleep also improved when I started eating honey at bedtime. I assume honey raised blood sugar to better levels during sleep, improving brain performance. The great importance of this, I believe, is why we evolved preferences that push us to eat strongly sweet foods, such as fruit, separately and later, i.e., dessert. Bedtime honey also caused my muscles to grow more in response to exercise — a sign of better sleep, since muscles grow during sleep. I have never measured the effect of flaxseed/flaxseed oil on my sleep but the brain benefit was so clear in other ways I’d be surprised if it didn’t improve sleep. Continue reading “Sleep: Summary of What I’ve Learned”

“Sitting is the New Smoking”

I learned this phrase (“sitting is the new smoking”) from Galen Cranz, with whom I taught a class called Office of the Future in 2001. We agreed that sitting was bad. I believed that sitting was bad because I discovered that if I stood a great deal, I slept better. A recent review:

A study published in the journal Diabetologia in November 2012 analyzed the results of 18 studies with a total of nearly 800,000 participants. When comparing people who spent the most time sitting with those who spent the least time, researchers found increases in the risks of diabetes (112%), cardiovascular events (147%), death from cardiovascular causes (90%) and death from all causes (49%).

I wonder whether any effect of sitting would remain after adjustment for quality of sleep. Maybe those who sat less slept better, as I did. Epidemiologists haven’t yet grasped the importance of sleep — part of an overall failure to realize that the immune system matters. Whether or not you sleep well is surely as important as whether or not you smoke. Here is a study that connects poor sleep and heart disease.

At a recent conference, I foolishly sat a lot more than usual. Maybe I sat for 7 hours two days in a row. After the first day I woke up with a minor muscle spasm in my lower back that went away. After the second day, I woke up with a really bad muscle spasm in my lower back and could barely move most of the day. Maybe my sitting muscles are weaker than other people’s.  Maybe eating more sugar than usual (sugar is inflammatory) and less flaxseed than usual (flaxseed is anti-inflammatory) also contributed to the problem.


Surprising Predictions From Self-Measurement

Patrick Tucker, an editor at The Futurist, posted a request on the Quantified Self Forums for “astounding” predictions based on self-quantification. He is writing a book about using data to make predictions.

Here are examples from my self-measurement:

1. Drinking sugar water causes weight loss. The self-quantification was measuring my weight. It began when I found a new way to lose weight, which pushed me to try to explain why it worked. The explanation I came up with — a new theory of weight control — made two predictions that via self-experimentation I found to be true. That gave me faith in the theory. Then the theory suggested a really surprising conclusion, that loss of appetite during a trip to Paris was due to the sugar-sweetened soft drinks I had been drinking. If so, drinking sugar water should cause weight loss. (The nearly-universal belief is that sugar causes weight gain, of course.) I tested this prediction and it was true. More.

2. Seeing faces in the morning improves mood the next day (but not the same day). This is so surprising I’ll spell it out: Seeing faces Monday morning improves my mood on Tuesday but not Monday. For years I measured my sleep trying to reduce early awakening. Finally I figured out that not eating breakfast helped. There was no breakfast during the Stone Age; this led me to take seriously the idea that other non-Stone-Age aspects of my life were also hurting my sleep. That was one reason I decided to watch to watch a certain TV show one morning. It had no immediate effect. However, the next morning I woke up feeling great. Via self-measurement of mood, I determined it was the faces on TV that produced the effect, confirmed the effect many times, and learned what details of the situation (e.g., face size) controlled the effect. More.

3. One-legged standing improves sleep. Via self-measurement I determined that how much I stood during a day controlled how well I slept. If I stood a long time, I slept better. Ten years later I woke one day after having slept much better than usual. The previous day had been unusual in many ways. One of them was so tiny that at first I overlooked it: I had stood on one leg a few times. Just for a few minutes. Yet it turned out that it was the one-legged standing that had improved my sleep. Without the previous work on ordinary standing I would have ignored the one-legged standing — it seemed trivial.

4. Butter is healthy. I found that butter improved how fast I can do arithmetic problems. No doubt it improves brain function measured in other ways. Because the optimum nutrition for the brain will be close to the optimum nutrition for the rest of the body — at least, this is what I believe — I predict that butter will turn out to be healthy for my whole body, not just my brain.

5. Mainstream Vitamin D research is all messed up. Via self-measurement I confirmed Tara Grant’s conclusion that taking Vitamin D3 in the morning (rather than later) improved her sleep. It improved my sleep, too. When I had taken it at other times of day I had noticed nothing. Apparently the timing of Vitamin D — the time of day that you take it — matters enormously. Take it at the right time in the morning: obvious good effect. Take it late in the evening: obvious bad effect. Vitamin D researchers haven’t realized this. They have neither controlled when Vitamin D is taken (in experiments) nor measured when it is taken (in surveys). Because timing matters so much it is as if they have done their research failing to control or measure dose. If you fail to control/measure dose, whatever conclusion you reach (good/no effect/bad) depends entirely on what dose your subjects happened to take. And you have no idea what dose that is.