Becoming Uncle Drew

Some of you are probably familiar with Kyrie Irving’s alter ego uncle Drew, a 60ish basketballer on a mad search to “get buckets” or perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo’s antics in disguise looking to further the cognitive dissonance created by either an old man or bearded muscleman who can dribble a soccer ball with the best.  There are even videos on YouTube of parkour athletes trying to run a game on spectators with facemasks to make them look old.

These are pro athletes in their prime poking fun at the aging process.  We all hope that we might be that ONE to cheat aging and be able to die with the physical prowess of a 25 five year old.  Doubtless there ARE Uncle Drew’s out there but what does uncle Drew really look like?  Hopefully he will look like us.  How can we train to maintain that exquisite poetry in motion into our waning years and keep on “getting buckets?”

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There is no way of knowing for sure but there are interesting theories.  In most of the molecular biological theories the metabolic pathways that maximize strength, speed and explosive athletic ability seem antithetical to longevity. But Prof. Michael R, Rose, an evolutionary biologist, has a different take altogether which I spoke about in my last post.

Perhaps we can look here how we can maybe advance in the quest of becoming uncle Drew in light of evolutionary biology’s idea that “aging stops.”

Biology vs Evolutionary Biology

What’s the difference?  This is not a question that I can answer with any efficiency.  I’m neither a molecular- nor an evolutionary biologist.  However, I pose the question for two reasons 1) to highlight the aha moment I experienced near the end of the summer when all the disparate elements I was trying to integrate into my weight-loss/fitness process dawned and 2) to encourage those of us wading through the loose strands of regular/molecular biology; the biology of cancer, of telomeres, of mTOR and so on to try on another pair of glasses.  If you’re like me and you’re geeky enough to even examine some of these things, you have to ask yourself, “is it necessary get a handle on all these metabolic pathways both intellectually and practically to optimize health or is there a simpler way?

I’m an artist by temperament and my reading of the biology is that of an artist and for that reason you should beware.  This is my limitation and bias. As a shiatsu therapist the human being is always taking first place rather than the science, which has both strengths and weaknesses.  I’m sure you have your own biases and neither of us is in a position to ignore these. For example those with a stake in the energy medicine game find it easy to cherry pick studies to advance their cause or when convenient to ignore the science altogether and stand on convention/tradition/authority.  Those running the quack-watch websites and others professing pure allegiance to the scientific method can also fall victim to citing poorly done studies or ignoring the possibility that scientists also respond to incentives like professorships, tenure and straight out cash when they sit down to interpret the data.  It’s of course not supposed to be that way anymore than politicians are not suppose to stuff the ballet box but there is a real world existing apart from our innermost desires for justice and truth.

So, I can’t break down what evolutionary biology is in its deepest sense but I can give you my take on Michael R. Rose’s 55 Theses and how they tie together the many strands of information related to the biology of obesity, weight loss and the diseases of aging that have occupied me over the last several years.

In regular biology or what MJR sometimes calls 20th century biology, two main theories hold sway as to why we start to decay as we age.  The first is that there is an internal program that gets triggered which causes us to age. This program theory of aging can be further broken down into three aspects which you can examine for yourself in the link. The other is the damage theory of aging.  Over time our cells, tissues and genetic material accumulate all sorts of junk and damage and that we are never able to eliminate this with enough efficiency to maintain a state of youthful vigor. At the molecular level these seem to be true, biological programs run amok and damage is accumulating however Rose posits a different cause, perhaps a level up.

Dr. Rose points out that aging itself is not universal and that some species do not age (those reproducing through fissile division). He has observed in his laboratory experiments that in species that do age there is a point where aging actually stops, a point where visible and cellular decay plateaus. He contents that aging actually is a function of the lessening of the force of natural selection in organisms and that there are environmental factors affecting this decrease such as the first and last ages of reproduction and food quality and availability. From this perspective cellular damage is not the cause of aging but the result of the diminishing force of natural selection, which is the true cause of aging. It may seem like semantics but closer inspection of Rose’s methods (which I will not take time to do here) will show that he is offering quite a different point of view.

Dr. Rose is admittedly a “fruit fly guy,” meaning that all of his experiments over the last several decades have been conducted on fruit flies. However he draws two basic conclusions for human populations from this research. 1) Those populations that live in environments closest to the ones that humans evolved to live in will show the highest levels of natural selection.  These populations will tend to reach this theoretical plateau where aging stops much earlier. 2) Delaying the age of first reproduction will over time (many generations) lead to an increase in the overall longevity of a given population.  Please examine the links for the details (which are fascinating) but he essentially says that the ancestral hunter gatherer diet and lifestyle i.e. physical activity, sleep et cetera create the earliest plateau in aging, sometimes as early as 50 or 60 years of age. The agricultural diet and lifestyle causes a significantly later plateau of 75 to 80 and that our industrial diet and lifestyle creates a plateau at around 90 to 95 years.

What does this mean in general?  It means that there is no program per se; that aging is not an evolutionary given and decay is dependent on evolutionary adaptive forces rather than something like telomere length (correlations aside) or diminished cellular apoptosis. He makes the suggestion that different human populations will reap differing levels of benefit from an evolutionary approach of returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle after the last age of reproduction.  For example, those populations with lesser adaptations to agricultural and industrial foods and lifestyles like the Inuit who return to their traditional diets and lifestyles will achieve earlier aging plateaus and therefore maintain greater physical function than say European populations that are further along in the process of agricultural adaption to things like cereal grains and milk drinking.  These populations will have later aging plateaus than the Inuit when adopting what is popularly called a “paleo” diet but it would be an improvement over remaining on an industrial or even agricultural diet.

For me in particular it means that that there just may be a simpler way of reaching greater function in old age than calorie counting or restrictive macronutrient schemes.  We’ll just have to see won’t we?

Spring, Summer, Fall…

 

It’s very nice to return here with the feeling that I can write again about things related to Movement, Music, Meditation and Massage. Since my last entry I’ve concentrated on really just one thing. Losing weight! Spring and summer morphed into this fat n=1 process of comparing the methods of Calories In, Calories Out (CICO) and Jason Fung’s idea of obesity as a hormonal phenomena rather than one of energy balance.

I wanted to experience this on my own body and it represented the end of a very long process that began in 2006.  Essentially the CICO concept was the only one I had ever known and I had tried and failed to lose weight trying to increase energy expenditure while decreasing energy input several times over the last decade.  Success if any was always fleeting and marginal.

Over time I upped the ante trying to count calories more precisely.  I began to weigh everything I ate. When that proved ineffective I began to use an application called CRON-O-METER with the hopes of greater precision. The CRON-O-METER made it also possible to monitor my macronutrients and as I had heard that this is wildly important I also began to obsess about my ‘macros.’  Eventually I heard that High fat Low Carb (HFLC) could be the key to the treasure chest I was seeking to open and I played with this.  I played throughout the entire range of possibilities that I could.

In time my lack of success convinced me that I wasn’t being precise enough on the output end of things and so I added a Fitbit to my technical arsenal. Eventually I also added monitoring of my blood glucose and blood ketones in order to add another layer of checks to understanding my ‘macros.’ My weight remained stable of even increased no matter what I tried it seemed.

By late spring my day to day experience of the process of trying to lose fat and maintain muscle was a very trying routine of weighing every morsel of food, wearing a device that monitored every step I took and the quality of my sleep as well as trying to hit on the right balance of calorie restriction with optimum nutrition.  The CICO approach in the end didn’t work very effectively.

I did however eventually loose about 13kg (27lbs) but the counting calories and tracking macros wasn’t what finally got the needle to move, it was fasting, it was just not eating.  I’ll speak later about these things in scattered bits and bites here and there.  I’ve shared many posts however on FB related to these topics throughout the summer (which you can scroll along my timeline to find) that make writing about it exhaustively here superfluous.

Throughout this process, though fasting, I continued to follow CICO (at least keeping track on all of my devices). I’ve lost a nice bit of weight but how can I sustain it now without obsessive number crunching and quantification for the rest of my life?  It’s this next stage that I feel is worth talking about here.  I’ve abandoned the scale, I’ve abandoned the Fitbit and I rarely measure my blood sugar or ketones.  Can I continue to improve my body composition, physical function and my blood work purely through the experience I have from this experiment without the “quantified self.”  Is there a more natural path? And what about you? We’ll see.

By the way follow me now on Twitter for the blow by blow exploration of my personal approach to coming into harmony with evolutionary biology.  Maybe it’s simpler than you think.