Flip The Youth Switch

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This is the title of an inspiring book I’ve recently read. Dr. Bob Arnot is still in fantastic shape in his 70s. Among other things he competes, and often wins his age group, in long-distance events like the 26 mile Ka’iwi channel (O’ahu to Moloka’i) standup-paddle event. He also competes in cross-country skiing, ski-mountaineerings, and gravel grinder bike races.

He has also lowered his biological age to effectively that of someone several decades younger. One important marker for this is heart-rate variability (hrv), which is higher when we are fit and well rested. A high value of hrv indicates good balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and correlates with low chronic inflammation. It tends to decline with age, but not in Bob’s case. He wears a training device from WHOOP, which tracks hrv, sleep quality, and other measures. There are also competitive devices on the market that you can find by searching for “heart-rate variability tracker”. The one from whoop is one of the more highly rated ones. It’s main use is to optimize the balance of training hard and recovery.

Here is the improvement Dr. Bob achieved in Hrv over four months:

His beginning value is about average for someone of his age (early 70s), while the final value would be above average for someone in their 20s. So if it is true hrv is a good marker of chronological age, he has made himself effectively decades younger.

He gives lots of tips in his books how anyone of use can achieve this, starting with challenging fitness activities, but balancing training with recovery. Healthy eating is high on the list also, he is big on fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain lots of polyphenols. Having an ongoing purpose in life is also important. There are inspiring stories of some of his own ongoing activities such as volunteering to do medical work overseas in crisis areas.

I was intrigued by Bob’s account of the usefulness of the WHOOP device. The company was having a black-friday sale so I couldn’t resist and signed up for a year. It is typically $24 US per month if you sign up for a year but was on sale for $18. It just arrived a couple of days ago. It uses data from the first four days to calibrate itself so it can give training recommendations. But I’ve already gotten a some good feedback. I mentioned in my previous post that it caught my heart rate being too high on what should have been an easy day. It also has given me an hrv reading that is disappointingly low, less than 30. The third symptom is my sleep quality, which appears “fitful”: not enough of my sleep is deep sleep.

If you look at Dr. Bob’s chart above, I’m definitely at the beginning. I’ll try to use the WHOOP feedback to optimize my training to improve hrv, as this appears to be the best way to get fitter and healthier. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.