Running a blog about learning and productivity for so many years, sometimes I surprise people by doing all the other things that I do. Recently one of my students felt overwhelmed and I suggested some mindfulness training. For me, it is no secret that dealing with stress is one of the most important things we can do to improve productivity. Today I will try to widen the range of subjects I usually discuss. You may read more here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Who wants to live forever?
You may want to have a very long and peaceful life, a short and bright one., or anything in-between. Either way, the last thing any of us wants is to be sick, feeble-minded and disabled. If for some damn reason the immune system we have will stop doing its job properly, we will suffer no matter what. We all know that the immune system fights disease. There are more recent scientific evidence that the immune system may deal with aging problems, like cancer or Alzheimer. We do not have direct control over the immune system, or at least I am not familiar with such mechanisms. Measuring the immune system over time is also tricky. So instead, we can do certain lifehacks and measure longevity as a result.
Longevity by country.
In certain countries, people tend to live longer. Japanese hold many longevity records, and we can point to the local low-fat diet, and genetic predisposition. I do not know the secret of Hong Kong, Singapore or Switzerland. I guess there is an advantage to the highly ordered daily routine, discipline, and planning. When it comes to the next places, we see the countries with a Mediterranean diet rich with vegetables and olive oil, like Italy, Israel, and Spain.
All of the leaders have a strong tradition and community values, great medical staff and equipment, very good utility and infrastructure. We can see some serious correlation with IQ which is high in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan.
Americans or Brits who read this post… You could probably get 3 or more productive years of life simply from pumping your brain with knowledge and your bodies with fish and vegetables. Australia is an interesting outlier, we will discuss a bit later.
The regular suspects.
I wish the first spots in the longevity list would belong only to the countries with low stress levels, like Denmark and Finland, long sleep like the Netherlands or sport-addicted population like Russia or Brazil. Doctors reassure us that these are the things that truly matter.
The dangers of not having the right substances in our daily diet hugely outweighs the risks of alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, and the other substances that kill people.
The correlation between IQ and longevity is not really clear, but it is very substantial and goes both ways. Maybe intellectual stimulation can stimulate our immune system via vagus nerve stimulation or some other mechanisms I am less familiar with…
Older parents have children who live longer.
One of the strange longevity hacks has to do with older parents giving birth to children who live longer. Telomeres are the DNA components that are responsible for our longevity and in particular the ability of cells to fight mutations. The length of telomeres is passed through the paternal line. The telomeres of our sperm do get longer as we get older. This effect is not infinite, as the sperm may get damaged with age. As the men tend to have children in their thirties and forties, the children happen to live longer. The Aussies happen to give birth later than others. Maybe this is the reason life expectancy in Australia is very high.
Stem cells in our brains.
As long as we deal with DNA, it is interesting to notice that there are stem cells in our brains. They are located in the hypothalamus, which is also responsible for our memory. Could it be that training memory could stimulate the stem cells, healing the brain traumas and increasing our lifespan? I do not have a huge medical laboratory to check this hypothesis. There are some anecdotal pieces of evidence of miraculous healing of people who trained under Anna’s supervision, but this is not science. Maybe one of the readers of this blog could make relevant research.
One of the things we constantly train in our courses is synesthesia. This is the ability to create and use visual associations for the texts we read. The are some studies connecting aging and synesthesia. Older people consitently score lower in synesthesia tests. Could it be that training synesthesia we stimulate our brains to stay younger?
Synesthesia is partially a genetic predisposition. This makes it hard to separate the trained elements from the naturally occuring phenomena. Both natural and acquire synesthesia make our lifes fuller and richer. The richer experiencs d not have to be pleasant, and in fact may make us more sensitive to things other people do not notice. Loosing synesthesia with age is as unpleasant as the loss of sight and hearing we experience. Eye exercises and relaxation may help with the aging of our eye and facial muscles, so that we will feel younger. Could it be that training synesthesia has a similar positive effect on our brains?
There are many forms of synesthesia. Some have to feel human feelings and contact with more feelings than others, increasing empathy. Could it be that we focus on the wrong kind of synesthesia? If we were buddhist monks, our form of mental practice could link sounds and shapes with compassion, making us more empathic and socially more senistive, mabe even wiser. Could that be better than simply reading books x10 faster than the peers?
Meditation vs testosteron
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and one of the world’s leading researchers on human emotion, says that cultivating positive emotions such as compassion helps to build the four key resources that progressively enhance success and overall happiness in life. Firstly, it helps to build cognitive resources, such as the ability to mindfully attend to the present moment. This, in turn, enhances concentration, creativity and focus. Secondly, it helps to build psychological resources, such as the ability to maintain a sense of mastery over life. This can help ward off anxiety, stress, depression and feelings of being trapped or exhausted. Thirdly, it builds social resources, such as the ability to give and receive emotional support. This helps to build and maintain family ties and friendships. And fourthly, it helps build physical resources by, for example, boosting the immune system so that you are healthier and more energized by life. Enhancing these four resources will help you to meet life’s challenges more effectively and to take advantage of its opportunities. In short, says Dr Barbara Fredrickson: ‘When people open their hearts to positive emotions, they seed their own growth in ways that transform them for the better.’
Some even state that meditation lengthens telomers, which I find highly contraversial. Mastering our monkey mind is a serious business, strongly overhyped in blogs and literature. I practiced meditation for a large part of my life, as did some of my friends. Meditation makes people somewhat more compassionate, focused and envigoured, but it is not a magic solution. It could make you 10% happier if you can spare an hour a day. You could spend that hour doing other useful things. The choice is yours, and either way can be smart. Simply reducing the testosteron level may have an effect similar to meditation.
I quote from another source
The latest study was based on 243 men, mostly college students. About half the men rubbed testosterone on themselves; the rest got placebo gel. About four hours later—when the full impact of the hormone would be felt—they all took a three-question Cognitive Reflection Test. The testosterone-gel group scored 20 percent lower. That is, they were more likely to give the knee-jerk wrong responses.
By the way, eunuchs live longer. I do not encourage you to modify the testosteron level one way or another, I am just pointing out that hormones have a huge effect on our lives well beyond puberty, and this effect might be more dominant than a cerrtain kind of meditation.
In 20th century the IQ in developed countries used to rise from year to year, as did the longvity. Certain recent studies show that the IQ in developed countries is starting to drop, while the IQ in developing countries is still rising.
Many researches blame smartphones for making the milleneals dummer. Shorter attention span and a need for immediate gratification are also associated with rising stress levels and reduced creativity. Maybe we should finally make the smartphone less accessible, or introduce some digital detox procedure for the hard cases?
Every technological leap causes some experts to warn us about certain negative effects of this technology. I certainly remember experts rising all sort of concerns related to TV and computer gaming. Yet nothing fundamentally bad happened. Why should mobile device be any different?
It is still too early to tell. When I check the list of mobile usage by country, I do not see a pattern. Azerbaijan and Australia have about the same mobile penetration rate. I feel the only other thing they share is the first letter in the country’s name.
Personally I do not limit the screen time of myself or my kids. Yet, again, we have too many things going in our lives, so the mobile devices take only a very small portion of our time…
Longevity, intelligence, and certain other qualities most people want are interconnected. We know that diet helps, yet it is hard to find solid evidence for further helpful lifehacks. With so many changes happening around us, it is really hard to generate meaningful studies over long time periods. While there is a concensus regarding the positive effects of sleep, sports, meditation and digital detox, these effects might be relatively minor compared with other less know factors as the age of the parents and the level of the hormones. We do have some anecdotal evidence regarding brain training improving the quality of life, but this is not a scientifically proven fact yet. If anything, my message is one of freedom. Until further notice, we are free to explore for ourselves what works better, rather than trust what others tell us.