Let's say you knew that on December 15, 2020, you were going to die in Springfield, Illinois. What would you do? Well, for starters you would probably prolong your life simply by avoiding Springfield, Illinois on December 15, 2020. It just so happens we can use statistics to plan for the future, and by doing so, potentially postpone death as long as possible.
I'm sick of the anti-aging industry. Basically, nothing fancy works. Dr Oz recommends reservatrol but scientific studies only show that enormous amounts of it are what expands the lifespan of a mouse. There's no way to take an equivalent amount as a human. Anti-aging expert Andrew Weil often suggests herbal remedies instead of pharmaceutical medicines but I think, again, the research is very unclear and it's no secret that lifespans have gone up in general with the rise of more readily available, FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. There's always a lot of discussion of homeopathic medicine but, again, the evidence is lacking.
My view is to take a very common sense view towards aging. By the way, I have never thought about anti-aging techniques before. But I'm 42 years old now, and probably past the half-point of my life, so I've started to wonder about it. Common sense has served me well in most other areas of my life. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, puts it succinctly with "Do no harm" in his Hippocratic Oath. There's a similar rule in the area of financial advice which I think applies here as well. It's actually two rules, stated by Warren Buffett, the greatest investor ever: "Rule No. 1: Don't Lose Money. Rule No. 2: Don't Forget Rule No. 1."
The Warren Buffett approach is appealing. Think about it from a financial perspective. Most of the reasons people go broke is not because they failed to make money but because they spent their hard-earned money on bad investments that went to zero. In other words, they broke Buffett's rules. Much more important than figuring out how to add dollars to your net worth is how to avoid losing the dollars you've already accumulated. Applied to the anti-aging industry - don't spend so much time figuring out how to add years to your lifespan. How about use common sense to make sure you don't make additional decisions that cost you your health.
We know what the main killers are in life (this comes from the centres for Disease Control, US Government, data):
Top 10 Killers
Heart disease: 616,067 Cancer: 562,875 Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 135,952 Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 127,924 Accidents (unintentional injuries): 123,706 Alzheimer's disease: 74,632 Diabetes: 71,382 Influenza and Pneumonia: 52,717 Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 46,448 Septicemia: 34,828
So lets start by avoiding some of these diseases.
No Smoking. You only have to go to the American Heart Organization website to see their research on how smoking is related to heart disease. A quote: "Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery." That doesn't sound good. There's also numerous studies on the effects of smoking on cancer. Go to cancer.gov. Here's a quote: "Of the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, more than 50 have been found to cause cancer. These chemicals include:
- arsenic (a heavy metal toxin)
- benzene (a chemical found in gasoline)
- beryllium (a toxic metal)
- cadmium (a metal used in batteries)
- chromium (a metallic element)
- ethylene oxide (a chemical used to sterilize medical devices)
- nickel (a metallic element)
- polonium-210 (a chemical element that gives off radiation)
- vinyl chloride (a toxic substance used in plastics manufacture)"
That's pretty bad. I just have to read the first: "arsenic". Who wants to put arsenic in their body? Don't forget rule #1!
- No Heavy Drinking. Note that I say "heavy" drinking and not drinking in general. In fact, many studies show that moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart attacks by up to 40 per cent. Go to this link. It has a list of studies that show the types of cancers that moderate drinking actually help prevent. What is moderate versus heavy drinking? At cdc.goc, "drinking in moderation is defined as having no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men".
Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is lethal. Obviously, it increases your risk of having a fatal accident, but there's numerous studies showing that heavy drinking is linked to various cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer's. Here's a quote from Alzinfo.org: "In the study, researchers found that the combination of heavy drinking and heavy smoking sped up the age of onset of Alzheimer's by six to seven years. That is a considerable number, making them among the most important preventable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease." Oh yeah, there's that smoking thing again.
On heartdisease.about.com: "After their heart attacks, patients who had done any binge drinking during the previous year had a death rate that was 73 percent higher than patients who did not do any binge drinking. Even occasional binge drinking (as they defined that term in this study) increased the risk of death." Binge drinking they define as having three or more beers in a day.
From the American Cancer Society: "Death from liver cancer is higher among heavy alcohol users than among people who do not drink."
So it's pretty simple. You can avoid accidents, heart disease and a bunch of cancers if you never drink more than two beers a day.
- Sex. It doesn't have to be all puritan. Maybe you like to smoke and drink a lot and now you're pretty upset. How about taking up a more fun activity during the day, like sex. Here's an article by Jonah Lehrer: "Sex is stressful but good for you." Basically it shows that sex activates various hormones that increases your immune system, decreases your stress levels, reduces the risk of Alzheimer's and all sorts of other good things. And it's pretty much common sense that this is a good thing. Heck, the Bible recommends we do a lot of it. There's an article from WebMd on the 10 health benefits of sex. One quote: "The researchers also found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half for the men, compared with those who had sex less than once a month."
- No snacking. Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, etc. There's no shame in being obese. Over one-third of adult Americans are obese according to the centres for Disease Control. And being overweight and enjoying food are not crimes. But if you stick to the basics you'll avoid (reduce) being obese. Ugh, I'm really hungry right this second as I'm writing this. Since last year whenever the market's gone down I've felt an irresistible urge to eat. I'll eat an apricot Danish, or a corn muffin, or a hot dog, Pringles, Doritos, or anything with Cajun spices. If you have some corned beef hash when I'm in this state, please send it over. I'll eat all of it. I'm like a shovel working on Obama's trillion dollars worth of road repairs, I'll shove it all in.
This is not a healthy lifestyle and now that I'm about to breach the age of 42 I have to think about my metabolism and how its beginning to weaken. This happened to me once before, towards the tail end of the bear market of 2002. My entire life I've weighed my college weight except for that one time in 2002 when I gained about 20 lbs. I read through all the diet books and nutrition sites but none of them made sense to me. So I came up with my own diet and it worked. What follows is the "James Altucher White Book Diet" as seen on Oprah, The View, the Today Show, Obama's Inaugural speech, and other top Nielsen rated TV shows [note from ed. Unable to verify]. It took me about two months to lose the 20 pounds once I started using this plan.
- No soft drinks. Ever. One can of coke contains 16 sugars. That's just mindless calories.
- No snacks between meals. Have a breakfast, lunch and dinner. And that's it.
- No white at night. Meaning, no pasta, no ice cream, no cheese, no bread. Nothing white at night. Enjoy a steak and some asparagus.
- One item for breakfast. Knock yourself out if you want a croissant. Or a bagel with cream cheese. Or a fruit cup. Or one Belgian waffle. But stick to only one item.
Do whatever you want for lunch. Doesn't matter as long as you stick to the other rules above. And if you are also avoiding the heavy drinking then your calories will stay down and your weight might go down.
- Exercise. I know, everyone says this. I don't want to be boring so we'll keep this simple and stick to the minimal basics. First off, its obvious that exercise and being in shape has health benefits. From the Mayo Clinic, there's an article on the benefits of exercise. A quote: "Regular physical activity can help you prevent - or manage - high blood pressure. Your cholesterol will benefit, too. Regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly by lowering the buildup of plaques in your arteries."
And there's more. "Regular physical activity can help you prevent type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer."
BAM! We avoid the two top killers and probably a bunch more.
If you are already an exercise fanatic, then this section isn't for you. But if you are not really that into exercise or you get bored with it then we need to figure out how to trick your mind and body into getting motivated to exercise. Minimally, you want to do a half hour of exercise a day but that can be spread out. Some ideas:
- Can you wake up 10 minutes earlier and do 30 push ups and 30 sit ups? If all you did was 100 push ups a day, spread out throughout the day (do 30 more during a commercial break, for instance), you're going to get in good shape and build muscle.
- Can you take the stairs instead of an escalator whenever you get the chance?
- Can you park a little further from work and walk a half mile instead of parking right at the door?
- Take a tango lesson once a week or ballroom dancing. Or play a couple of games of tennis or even ping pong. Anything that can get you to sweat a little bit.
- Find a basketball court and just try to shoot 10 baskets. Just the jumping and shooting is decent exercise for 10 minutes and might be fun.
- Get someone to show you two to four yoga poses. Do them every day.
The key is just to get the body moving in a way that's new and a little more difficult than its usual movements (sitting down, sleeping and eating). And if you're really motivated and just want to get through a half hour of solid exercise, just do 100 push ups, 100 sit ups, and 100 squats in a half hour period. Do it three times a week and you're set for life.
I have insomnia. I've also been day trading for a living, on and off, for the past 10 years. I've traded my own money and others. It's an unpleasant way to live. The highs are very high and the lows are very low and painful. Whether you are at the highs or the lows you're probably going to experience insomnia along with 32 million other people in this country that have insomnia.
When I have insomnia here is the form it takes: I have no problem falling asleep. But then at about 2 or 3am, I am awake and can't get back to sleep. The worst is when I finally get back to sleep around 5.30 but by then I'm in trouble: I'll wake up around 6.30 or 7 completely exhausted for the day.
This is no good for a day trader. You need to be focused, on your game, and not make mistakes which cost you your livelihood because you are simply too tired to be sharp. Imagine if you take out $US5,000 and just drop it on the street and walk away. You would be stupid if you did that. It's also stupid to let insomnia force you into mistakes that cost you many multiples more than $US5,000.
Some of the suggestions below may seem harsh. And the correct solution for insomnia will be different for everyone. But if you do follow the suggestions below, I can safely say it's unlikely you will have insomnia.
- No computer for the last hour of the day. Not only that, turn off the computer. There should be no computer sound or monitor light. The sound and light keeps you sucked into the virtual reality of the day trading world, where you live and die on every tick in the markets. You need to disengage from that world and enter back into the real world in order to sleep.
- No food after 7pm. I really meant to write 5pm but that might be unrealistic for most people. Sleep and digestion are closely linked. Studies show that many people with insomnia have either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or sensitive stomachs. Not eating past 5pm and drinking more liquids throughout the day can help you be cleaned out for your sleep. You want to eat easy-to-digest foods at night. No meat, not too much sugar. Vegetables and fruits.
- No alcohol. The sugar will pop you awake in the middle of the night.
- Exercise. This is directly related to what happens to your body when you day trade. Imagine if you were mugged. Adrenalin and stress hormones would get released in your body and you'd either fight or flight. Fighting or running would work off those stress hormones. When you day trade, it's as if you are getting mugged all day long - but you are just sitting there. You aren't working off the stress hormones. Those chemicals will keep you awake at night. Exercise (if done early in the day) will at first increase the stress hormones but then over the next few hours after exercise finishes, will work those hormones off.
- Clean your bedroom, your closet, your office, your kitchen, etc. Your mind and your living space need to be friends with each other. Clean mind equals clean living space. Cluttered space means cluttered mind. Cluttered mind leads to anxiety, nervousness, stress, and then those stress hormones are waking you up again in the middle of the night. Power down the computer and clean your room before you go to sleep.
- Put closure on the end of your work day. Make a list of the work related things you did that day. Write them down on a pad. Trades you made, articles you read that you remember, ideas you had, calls you made related to business. I write everything into an email I send to myself. It helps me to see how productive I was (or not), particularly on days that might not have been that good otherwise (i.e. if I lost money trading that day). It also helps me understand and analyse my trades a bit more. And finally, when I hit "send" on that email to myself, my day is over. Onwards to the next thing (talking to family, friends, etc).
- Meditate. You don't need to get in the lotus position and start chanting for an hour or two. Most of the time during the day, particularly when you're stressed, you may stop and notice that your breaths are short and uneven. Sit in a chair for ten minutes, with the lights out or on dim. Simply watch your breath. Don't breathe too deeply but as deeply as is natural. Count the breaths to ten. Then start over. If you find you are losing your place too much (or slipping into "11..12..") then just count to five and start over. Do that for just ten minutes in the evening. Ideally, do it in the morning also before you begin your day.
- Early to bed, early to rise. Ben Franklin is right. This will make you wealthy (maybe wise also but we're focused on trading here). 5am is a good time to wake up, read the news, check futures, and plan your trades for the day. That gives you a little over 4 hours to get ready for the trading day. If you need 8 hours of sleep then backtrack from 5am to see when you need to get to sleep.
- If you follow these guidelines you will be on your A game when you trade, you will sleep better, and you will wake up each morning refreshed and ready to go.
Regular Flow. You know what I mean: constipation is bad. Imagine keeping all that horrible bacteria in your body one more second than you have to. Get it out! What happens is that fecal matter builds up in your colon, causing an unvirtuous cycle: the more fecal matter that builds up, blocking the openings of the colon, the more faecal matter gets stuck up there, putrefying for years, leading to everything from colon cancer to a breakdown of the immune system: more flus, allergies, heart disease, etc. The key of all of this article is how to very simply avoid the leading causes of death. Keeping the inside of your body clean is the simplest. Going to the bathroom more than three times a week is key. Everyone varies in this but ideally, at least once a day is enough to keep the factory working. How to avoid constipation:
- Use it or lose it. When you have to go … GO!
- High fibre diet: fruits, vegetables, high fibre cereals (Dr John Harvey Kellog, the founder of Kellog's cereal, invented his high-bran, high fibre cereal for just this purpose).
- Lots of liquids.
- Avoid eating too much low-fibre foods. Obviously we all like our ice cream. But too march starch and sugar could be bad, particularly if you are currently suffering.
- Feel Gratitude. Stress effects every aspect of your physical health and can cause every single one of the causes of death mentioned above. Every technique described above indirectly reduces stress. But dealing with stress also involves building your mental muscles. Mental muscles are like physical ones - they atrophy. If you are bedridden for a few months then you would have to engage in intense physical rehab in order to even walk because your muscles would've atrophied that severely and quickly.
Its the same with mental muscles. The muscle that prevents stress needs to be regularly exercised or you will succumb to the excesses of too much stress in your life and you won't be able to climb out of the hole. Believe me, I know this. At different times in my life I've made and lost millions. Part of what I do is I daytrade for a living. While there are many stressful jobs out there, daytrading has to be among the top 10. When I'm in a big position and it starts moving against me I feel every heartbeat in my body pushing the blood all around. The stress permeates me and part of the daily routine of a daytrader is learning to deal with the stress.
Think of the human body when its mugged, or when a car is bearing down on it. The human body signals a flight or fight response. Your adrenalin pumps through and its almost as if you have superhuman powers as you either run the fastest you've ever run, or you jump out of the way of a car or, god hoping, you block a car from running over your baby, as has happened in extreme examples. In other words, in a normal response to stress you feel the stress, your body produces the adrenalin and hormones to deal with it, and you react, quickly working off the stress.
But the normal daily grind that causes our stress almost never gets worked off. Its as if you are mugged all day long. And that leads to only bad things in the body (see all 10 killers above).
There are many ways to avoid stress but the one I'm focusing on in this technique is to exercise your gratitude muscle. Try it for just five minutes a day. List all of the things you are grateful for. Don't think about anything else. You don't need to meditate with the Dalai lama to reduce stress. All you have to do is for five minutes a day think about the things you are grateful for. Your kids. Your friends. The walk you took yesterday. The smile a stranger through your way this morning.
Once the muscle is exercised, then get it working again during the moments you feel stressed. If you are feeling stress about a family relationship, think about a time when that relationship was great in your life. If you are feeling stressed about money, remember that all things cycle and whatever you have this second is still enough for you to enjoy life. I know it sounds corny. But if you do that five minutes a day I can guarantee that you'll be surprised at the new muscles you find.
Mental exercises. Nobody knows for sure how every detail of the brain works. But we do have a basic model. The brain has 100mm neurons, give or take, that communicate via synapses. When you learn something new, a bunch of neurons and their synapses fire up with traffic. The more traffic between neurons, the more their synapses strengthen. Like in the Gratitude section above, if we keep on strengthening the synapses between neurons all across the brain then we build up resistance to any illnesses that effect the brain, such as Alzheimer's, the #6 killer above. Additionally, there are other benefits to keeping sharp: higher income, perhaps less stress, hopefully an ability to avoid accidents (like balancing your checkbook incorrectly), etc. Some mental exercises you can do daily to keep sharp:
- Play memory games. Exercise your memory.
- Get a book of brain teasers and puzzles and solve them.
- Play chess, checkers, poker, any game that requires some strategic thought and memorisation.
- After meeting a person, try to remember everything he or she wore and said.
- Try to eat lefty every once in awhile (or right-handed if you are left-handed).
- Right now try to figure out what coins are in your pocket just by touch. Now do the same for bills (100 dollar bills are less worn than ones).
- Play boggle or any other game which takes a set of letters and you try to see how many new words you can form from it.
Like physical exercise, if you do mental exercises for 20-30 minutes a day for five days a week you'll see dramatic results in a very short time.
- Question all surgeries. If the doctor says "can you do surgery next Tuesday", find out first if there are any other non-surgical procedures. I hate to be blasphemous to the medical industry but first check with an acupuncturist (a good one that is recommended by friends who were actually helped by that acupuncturist) or a chiropractor. See if physical rehab can help first, or at least be tried without detrimental effects to the body part in question
- If you must do surgery make sure the surgeon has ample experience (no students!) and make sure a checklist is used durin the procedure (Atul Gawande has an excellent book on the topic of doctors using checklists.
- You want to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible if you are having surgery there. Here's a basic tip: Don"t have your surgery on a Thursday. Doctors don't want to work on a weekend. You might be stuck there for the whole weekend if you just need to be in the hospital for a max two days.
- If you are using a teaching hospital, try to avoid going there (if possible) during July. There is the notorious "July Effect" when interns become residents, residents become full-time doctors, etc. It's the first time many of these new doctors are full time in their specialty and may not have the experience yet to accurately diagnose and prescribe the right medicines, etc. Here's an article on the dangers of July in a hospital.
- Make sure the doctor has clear handwriting on prescriptions. Believe it or not, the famous ability of pharmacists to read the handwriting of doctors is just not true. Here's a recent article claiming that 7,000 deaths per year are caused by poor handwriting on prescriptions.
- Avoid being plugged into an IV. If you can swallow liquids, drink the water, don't have it put into you via a possibly contaminated IV unit.
Avoid hospitals. Something like 40,000 people die each year from infections they get in the hospital according to the CDC. Essentially, hospitals are filled with bacteria and hospital staff (not in every hospital, but some) routinely ignore the basic steps required to insure that people do not pass infections to others.
- Make sure anyone who touches you washes their hands first.
- Don't read the magazines (or, if you are a kid, play with the toys) in the waiting lounges at hospitals or doctor's rooms.
- Have an advocate with you preferably at all times.
A quick story: I was once pretending to be a respiratory therapist for a week in a hospital (long story) and I got to walk around with doctors, other respiratory therapists, etc on their routines. It wasn't uncommon to hear a story such as "such and such nurse took the tracheotomy tube out but forgot to plug it up and the patient suffocated". Again, not every hospital is like this but mistakes are made. There are millions of surgical procedures a year. Some complicated and some simple and all it takes is a tiny percentage of those to go wrong and the number of deaths from surgery accidents will far exceed the number of deaths from plane crashes each year. "The number of adverse events each year (is) equivalent to 13 jumbo jets crashing and killing all 350 passengers on board," Kevin Rudd's Australian National Health and Hospital Reform Commission says. An advocate every step of the way can insure that proper procedures are being followed.
Cleanliness. This one's obvious. We collect bacteria throughout the day by touching doorknobs, staircase rails, elevator buttons, shaking hands, eating food, etc. Also, there's the saying: "clean desk, clean mind". In other words, keeping our environment clean is not only physically healthy but helps to reduce stress and makes you more productive. Reducing stress, as mentioned above, is key to avoiding many of the diseases that cause death.
- Wash hands every time you go from outside to inside. Under the nails is one of the dirtiest parts of the entire body and once you take those nails and rub your eyes or scratch an itch, you are infecting yourself with any bacteria that grabbed onto the inside of those nails. Keep them short. Wash them regularly.
- Brush your teeth. Bacteria is all over your mouth. Brushing after every meal is keep and before you go to sleep and after you wake up. It sounds annoying but brushing, flossing and using a tongue scraper for anything that stays attached to your tongue will help prevent any disease and, of course, keep your breath clean.
- Make your bed. Who doesn't like to come home to a made bed.
- Clean your desk.
- This is a drag but shower every morning and night. When you go to sleep at night you have a whole day's worth of bacteria on your body. Why take that bacteria and put it all over your nice clean sheets when you can avoid it?
- Avoid accidents. This almost seems like an oxymoron. The word "accident" implies there is some degree of luck involved. Like you were walking along outside of a building and something falls out of a high up window and hits you. That's an accident that seems like just bad luck. Or is it. We know that 123,000 accidents a year occur. So lets break that down a little further.
About half the accidental deaths come from car accidents. So one thing we can do is simply avoid getting in cars. Now, that's not always possible because we need cars to get to work. But a couple of thoughts:
- If you have a choice: live closer to work. Or take public transportation.
- If you don't have a choice: try to avoid doing more than one activity at a time while in the car. Don't eat, talk on the mobile phone, don't play with the radio.
- Don't jaywalk (don't be the recipient of a car accident if its easy to avoid).
- Wear a seat belt .
- About one-third of accidents happen at home. Don't get fancy and try to fix the TV antenna on the roof. Don't get on a ladder if you don't have to. Be careful when walking down stairs, etc.
The anti-aging industry makes billions trying to get you to take fancy pills., buy expensive equipment, do expensive medical tests, etc. But sometimes the simplest way to live longer is to avoid all the ways you were going to die.
James Altucher has written five books on investing, started and sold a few companies and runs a small VC fund. Lost all his money, made some back. Repeated that adventure a few times. Now tries to live a simple life. Writes at jamesaltucher.com and you can find him on twitter at @jaltucher.