On Re-Reading Gifford’s Spring Chicken and Thinking About Improving My Health Span

Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying)
Bill Gifford

I almost never re-read books. So the fact that I have now read Bill Gifford book on the science of aging twice should show you something about my current obsession with aging. As I said last time I read it, the book hits just the right point of science, personal reflection, and interesting anecdote. This stuff is catnip for someone like me – a middle age dude attempting to expand my “healthspan”* and maybe set some new PRs along the way.

My first read of this book was my gateway into following anti-aging research. This second read, and a lot of ancillary reading in this area, has left me focused on three things I’d like to incorporate more into my life: (i) fasting, (ii) cold exposure, and (iii) weight training. (I’ll likely write a separate piece about diet and supplements, which I’ve also been thinking a lot about, in the future)

Early research has shown that intermittent fasting, whether it be the popular 16/8 split or alternate day, appears to have a range of health benefits and no real down side. Assuming you’re a healthy person, and not at risk of developing an eating disorder, why wouldn’t you skip breakfast?

Same with cold exposure. Many, many health gurus talk up their ability to improve your health, but one of the few who has allowed his methods to really be tested is Wim Hof, who combines cold exposure and breathing techniques to, apparently, improve autoimmune system. Studies are starting to back up his claims (though some wonder if there’s a placebo effect happening).** Again, when done in moderation, there appears to be no downside to cold exposure. So why not take that cold shower?

Of the three listed above, weight training is the biggest no brainer. Unless actively engaged in strength training, a man my age could be losing up to 20% of their muscle mass. This combined with weaker core muscles and failing balance are leading causes in reducing one’s health span. So, while running remains my first love, I need to balance it with more time in the gym (and standing on one foot).

These three points are really just blips in this very informative book, but they’re the blips which stuck with me. Read it yourself to figure out what you can learn about getting older without breaking down.


* Health span is the period of your life when you are not only alive, but active and healthy
** I review the leading book on Wim Hof here.

Review: Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us

What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Enviromental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength.

Scott Carney

Ok, the title is awful. But this might still be worth your time.

An exploration of the philosophy of weirdo fitness guru of the moment Wim Hof as well as the latest science on breath holding, cold immersion, and other bodily stressors which are very much in vogue in the fitness community these days.

So, basically catnip for someone like me.

Carney is an investigative journalist who previously wrote an expose on the cult of personality surrounding Buddhist teacher Michael Roche, and he came to Hof with a heavy dose of skepticism. He left a convert, incorporating Hof’s breath exercises and cold exposure philosophy into his daily life (with measurable improvements in his health) and eventually accompanying Hof and a group who attempt to set the record for group speed assault of Kilimanjaro… shirtless.

If, like me, you’re fascinated with the outliers of the health and fitness world, it’s a great read. Hof is probably the most scientifically tested fitness guru of the modern age, and many of his ideas seem to be panning out. Science appears to be showing that his breath holding exercises and advocacy for exposure to cold work on a variety of auto-immune issues. Of course, as with all things fitness, its impossible to say whether these results are placebo effect or real. But who cares right? Either way, its changing people’s lives.

Still, despite the good work, Hof isn’t without his flaws of ego and hubris, which Carney points out. That Hof knows these things about himself is a bit of a consolation, but suffice to say, I won’t be putting myself in his hands anytime soon. All in all he’s an incredible guy and this is an interesting story for the fitness enthusiasts among you.

Recommended for the enthusiast.