Category Archives: strength training

How Green are my Movements? 1001 Journeys Later!

Getting Fitter Being Green

Global warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards benefiting the planet.

Quick Background

I spoke to you 3 months ago when I had completed 100 days of logging my mode-of-transport. The aim has been to observe if I am really as green as I think I am when it comes to all my movements from one place to another – within a city, and across the globe.

I noticed yesterday that just as we had crossed into the second half of this year, I had completed 1001 journeys in 6 months! So, here is a quick update.

[To equip yourself with more background, do read the initial article.]

Before I scoot off

I added Scooter to my transport modes because I did one such journey in the Indian city of Pune in April 2017. I was surprised to see the pure coincidence that the proportion of green journeys has stayed at 79%.

I hope that reading this, or the previous article, you too will keep a similar record, and, over time, try to make your movements more compatible with a greener planet for our future.

How Green are my Numbers?

Breakdown of 1001 Journeys

Breakdown of 1001 Journeys

Let green be your colour of focus in movement.

 Puru

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

I don’t care about your Ultra… How big is your ROTI?

How big is your ROTI?   —> click to enlarge 🙂

You participated in an ultra race and, quite rightly, feel pleased about it. But, there are many reasons I do not care much about it. Here’s one reason – tell me, have you thought about how big your ROTI is?

When I tell people that “I spend less than 30 minutes per day on exercise” or that “I spend less than 20 minutes per day on running” they look at me disbelievingly. Just like when I said I never do an ab workout, they think I am making up ‘facts’. But the ‘fact’ is that I am very passionate about time efficiency.

A few months ago, I took part in a reasonably tough 10km race. I was fortunate to come second. (As you probably know, I enjoy a podium finish but don’t care about it too much.) The friend who came first, deserved to. He was noticeably faster than I was and faster than I will ever be. A brief conversation around then revealed that his weekly running mileage was between 4 and 6 times what I was clocking in a typical week. Although the reason for that incredibly high mileage was justified because he was training for some very long races, it struck me that so often we spend too much time in the wrong way and produce time inefficient results.

Let’s go back to the very simple idea
The Denominator

Time is a severely constrained resource

It is clear that the one thing that all of us always wish we have more of is time! Getting sufficient hours of sleep is very important for our well-being and what we all look forward to is to have many more alert waking hours in our typical week. And, we look to have many healthy and happy years ahead of us. In all cases, it is natural to want the same return for less time invested. That would leave us with extra time to invest in other ways we desire.

Unless you are one of those sad people who is happy having no real friendships, you are likely to have a bunch of things in life that you are interested in. First there is spending time with your family – grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, spouse, siblings, children, nephews and nieces and grandchildren…and I’m out of breath! Then there are your friends – recent friends, old friends, new friends that you will make, work colleagues, romantic partners. And then there are activities that you enjoy, sedentary and those involving some physical movement – sleep and rest, prayer and meditation, indoor and outdoor hobbies.

All these that you enjoy need you to invest time in them for an appropriate return. Would it not be great to have sufficient time for all of them and to get the most from each of them with whatever time you could invest in each of them?

The Numerator

The return can be captured neatly with the branches of the Wellness Tree. If you are not foolish enough to be chasing money (medium maximization) and wise enough to be enjoying the experiences that your money buys, then your focus will be on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

When it comes to recreational distance running, the primary focus when investing time is to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular endurance. You also hope to have good flexibility, not lose absolute muscular strength and benefit from an improvement in body composition. (You may already know my thoughts on why you need not run.)

Numerator over Denominator

The refined question to then ask is – given the amount of time being invested in recreational distance running, how much are you getting back in terms of the primary goals of the activity? It is worth answering this question relative to your GPF (Genetic Potential Fitness), given that time is a severely constrained resource and there are so many more life enhancing activities that it could be invested toward.

Keeping Track

If you are going to maximize your return from any investment then you need to keep track of how much you are investing not just what you are getting back in return. Specifically, how much time are you investing in exercise? And, I have spoken about recording information in the past.

Smart investing

What is a good return on investment?

If you have been following my conversations over the last few years you will not be surprised to hear that I have no absolute recommendation for this question. What is more important to focus on is measuring it, and then trying to improve it. Remember, your GPF (Genetic Potential Fitness) plays an important benchmark here.

Less than 20 mins a day!

I want to stress again, that chasing higher absolute returns is a decent activity, but what will make it super for you is to also consider the returns relative to the time invested. If you are spending twice as much time on something for only a tiny improvement in results, it is time to rethink your strategy! Remember, Balance is True Mastery!

It may be that if you are in the early stages of a particular activity that your ROTI is high and that as time progresses and you start to get closer to your GPF, your ROTI drops. In that case my simple and effective advice would be this – consider just staying close to your GPF with a sensibly small amount of effort.

If you run, swim or bike an ultra race every once in a while, but the average stranger on the street does not look at you and think “athlete” then there’s something going wrong. Balance is True Mastery!

Consider your Capital

Whenever investing it is worthwhile to examine the promised (or expected) return from the deployment of capital. That capital need not be just financial capital, but could be human capital too. This human capital you invest could be physical effort (actual physical labour, or even exercise) or intellectual capital, or even emotional capital. And, I would like you to also think of spiritual capital.

[Read about Time Optimized Living]

The variable being considered in today’s conversation is time which translates almost directly to the physical labour capital. Given that good health is multifactorial, it is worth stopping and thinking if, perhaps, less time could be invested in the activity for better results. Or if time in that activity could be replaced with an improved focus on one of the other input factors. For instance, the fact that I achieve what I do in terms of fitness is clearly not only about the time I spend on exercise, but also the details in the many other things that I pay attention to in 24 hours  – including french fries.

It does not matter how many hours you spend with your head buried in books – what matters is what comes out of your head when it matters.

It does not matter how many hours you spend in Church – what matters is how you treat the world around you when you are out of Church.

I do not care about your ultra – how big can you make your ROTI?

Puru

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Get a 6-pack without ‘ab workouts’

Ab workouts not required

A year from now I’ll be in the 50th year of my life. For my age and lifestyle (minimum exercise, mostly sedentary days, and daily consumption of large amounts of fat and sugar in many forms) it seems unusual that I ought to have a noticeable set of abdominal muscles. They happen to be visible to the public because, when I run, unless it is too cold, it is almost always without a top on. (The reasons for that, some other day, soon.)

I receive a quizzical look in response when asked “Sir, how do I get a 6-pack too?” because my reply typically starts with…

I never do ab crunches or set aside any time to do an ab workout”.

Wait a minute! What did I just say? Yeah, just that – I never set time aside for an ab workout. The last time I did ab crunches with any seriousness was almost 35 years ago in Karate class! (And now you’re probably thinking that this sounds like my earlier conversation about why you need not run.) So, clearly any vaguely visible or distinctly discernible 6-pack needs some questioning! That is what today’s chat is about.

[see Why I am not a Fitness Freak]
[see The Accidental Wisdom of Pain Seekers]

These days even some women want a 6-pack (I’ve been approached by more than a handful with that request, and a couple of the ladies I mentor are a fair way there) but whether you’re a guy or a gal, it’s worth considering what it involves. So, let’s go through the following questions together:

What is a 6-pack?
What’s the use of it?
Did you know you have a 6-pack?
Why can’t you see yours?
Will you ever be able to see yours?
Why is doing ab crunches wrongly directed action?
What should you focus on instead?
What kind of effort do you need?
Who will have easier success with it?
…and…
OK, so you have a 6-pack, what next?

What is a 6-pack?

What’s happening underneath

Your muscles work when they contract. In your front abdominal region, there are many muscle groups performing different functions (e.g. twisting, bending side to side). The 6-pack that has captured the public’s attention is simply one of those many muscles, technical name, rectus abdominis. The reason it catches your attention is simply because it is the outermost muscle in that region. The other muscles that lie below it and perform different but equally important functions (e.g. internal oblique muscles) do not get the same media attention!

Bands of connective tissue traverse your rectus abdominis. These separate your rectus abdominis into distinct muscle bellies – the ‘packs’. In your abdomen if you are someone with low body fat, these masses of muscle can be viewed externally and are commonly referred to as “four”, “six”, “eight”, or even “ten packs”, depending on how many distinct muscle bellies were created in the first place by the connective tissue traversing across.

Not a 6-pack!

The lower your body fat, the more likely that the lower muscle masses will be seen. Six is the most common – and having more than six does not mean you are fitter or stronger – it is just about how many bands traverse your rectus abdominis. If you see just one pack – that’s a family pack – and it’s fat, not muscle. However, the good news is that you can convert it into a 6-pack.

Of what use is a 6-pack?

When your rectus abdominis contracts, its pulling action is at either end, between your chest and groin. So, the use of your 6-pack is primarily postural – for bringing your pelvic area towards your chest or, equivalently, for preventing your torso from tipping back. It also assists in your breathing and for forceful respiration when you exercise.

Did you know you have a 6-pack?

Yes, if you lead a reasonably active life then you probably have a rectus abdominis that is of decent size and strength.

Why can’t you see your 6-pack?

Family pack still gets you love!

If your 6-pack is not visible, the reason will be obvious to you by now. There is a layer of fat between the outermost layer of your skin and those muscles. Doing 1,000 crunches a day will not make them more visible! You will need to chisel the fat away. You don’t burn much fat at all doing 1,000 crunches!

Will you ever be able to see your 6-pack?

Yes, of course you will. It all depends on what you do for it. And what you stop doing. The details matter!

Why is doing ab-crunches not effective?

Although the classic ab crunch works your rectus abdominis, it is not the most effective in terms of stimulating those muscles. In fact, far from it.

6, 8, 10 – does not matter!

Have a look at this research report by San Diego State University. Specifically, the classic crunch is rated 11th out of 13 exercises examined. The ab crunch is also not a functionally useful movement – it does not appear in your activities of daily life. Also, in the same way that you would not put your spinal cord at risk by bending over repeatedly and rapidly when standing [remember all those tips to “bend your knees” when lifting objects off the ground?] – the classic crunch is not very different a movement for your spine housing your spinal cord (you are simply lying on the ground instead of standing on your feet).

What should you focus on instead?

When I say “I don’t do ab workouts” what I mean is that I never specifically target that region. Instead, acknowledging that your abdominal muscles are ideally engaged and working when doing most of your activities of daily life, including various sporting activities is a great way to get started. And, to keep going! I do not do any of the 13 exercises listed in that research report by San Diego State University. But, I am definitely stimulating my rectus abdominis to grow in size with all the other activities I perform. That is what I encourage you to do too.

Who will have your back?

Having a strong core is important for various reasons. To prevent injury from normal daily activities. To prevent aches and pains as you age. To ensure your body can cope with anything vigorous you do for recreation at various stages of your life. Since the rectus abdominis is only one of many muscles of your core, giving it undue attention can lead to imbalances that will not serve you well in the long run. And as I tell those I mentor, “symmetry is a subset of balance”, so ensure that you have equivalent development in your back musculature too. Balance between your ‘front’ and ‘back’ muscles.

A strong body with good flexibility and high levels of endurance will automatically lead you to a state where your body composition changes and your 6-pack emerges, almost as if by magic. No specific attention required!

Having a 6-pack ‘for show’ is not of much use unless you need it for your job. The vanity that might come with specifically targeting only that will be short-lived. Instead of focusing on appearance goals, focus on the processes for performance goals – being stronger, fitter, faster, leaner.

[see what I said earlier about Health Based Measures of Fitness]
[see the widely followed article on Pushups for the Ladies]
[see the 1-arm pushups article if you want to take things up a notch without leaving home]
[see my approach to nutrition]

Will distance running get you a 6-pack?

Not the final solution

In my mostly widely read article on why you need not run, I described how you will not see most of the men and women crossing the finish line at recreational distance running races looking ripped and toned. The observation does not change when you move from half to full marathons, to ultramarathons. Conversely, if you go to a gym where the big strong guys look muscular with well-defined 6-packs, you might find that they cannot do endurance activities particularly well. Like, I’ve said before –  Balance is True Mastery!

What kind of effort do you need?

The effort needs to go only towards systematic execution of daily processes. Nothing big, nothing extreme. Just the many small features of daily life that will lead to a body that is a fine-tuned machine. The physical 6-pack is just ornamental. If you are appropriately focused on living each day of your life well, then besides the physical 6-pack, your mental state will also have developed its own (invisible) 6-pack. The same holds true for your emotional and spiritual planes. Perhaps you have a 24-pack and most people can see only 6!

[for a mind map of the areas that might work for your current stage in life see the Wellness Tree]

Who will have easier success with it?

Would have been easier 15 years ago

Men, younger men. Women typically have to work much harder for the same visual results because of their naturally higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass. And because from the age of 30, even men lose about 1% of their muscle mass each year (assuming they did not make any changes to their lifestyle to get fitter or otherwise), younger men will find it much easier than older men. But, remember, difficult does not mean impossible. If you are an older woman and work at it, you can get there too, if you want it. And if you do get there, I’ll admire you like no one’s business!

So, you have a 6-pack, what next?

The great thing about having a 6-pack is that you will appreciate that it is your own effort to live as close to your natural state as possible. And, when I talk about effort, I am not even referring to any unusual effort. Just the simple effort of living as naturally as possible.

It’s always work-in-progress

Having got there, it is worth then asking yourself how you got there. To what extent did you stray away from what is natural? (pharmaceutical aids, poor sleep, free of chronic injuries or illness). Think about what you can do to fix those. Then ask yourself how you are placed vis-à-vis where you would like to be for the health and skills based measures of fitness I wrote about earlier. Then take steps to get there too. And going beyond the physical dimension, looking at the Wellness Tree, ask yourself how you can get a 6-pack in the dimensions of mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

A 6-pack is not a panacea for happiness – but working to have one will, perhaps, help get many other rooms of your house in order. Ab workouts not required!

Puru

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Life can be Good with French Fries

Things are not always as simple as they first appear

I am often asked questions like “is it OK to eat French fries?” or “isn’t weight lifting dangerous?” or “isn’t running bad for the knees?” or “why do I find running boring?” or “is it OK to sleep in the afternoons?” or “why am I not able to motivate myself to exercise?

The questions are simple. My answers are rarely so. I invariably prefix them with “it depends”. And for good reason. Or many good reasons. Most expressions of love are conditional. And, so it is with the answers to most practical questions of life.

There are 2 central messages for today’s conversation. And they are both related. The first is that the details matter when you have a specific problem to deal with. The second is that what appears to most people to be a problem need not be one for you, and what might be OK for someone else might be a problem for you.

Allow me to explain, with that yummy plate of fries.

Scenario D (for Disaster)
Mr. FatCat has spent the day in a sedentary manner, eating a gut-busting breakfast, a luxurious lunch and then a delicious dinner with dessert. An hour after dinner, strolling around his neighbourhood he has an urge to eat fries from the burger joint that’s bustling with business at 10pm. Poor quality factory bulk processed potatoes deep fried in (reheated) animal fat. All consumed when his glycogen tank is fantastically full already. There’s almost nothing good about that snack. A recipe for disaster if this becomes a habit.

A disaster in the making…

Scenario A (for Awesome)
Sunny the Swimmer has cycled from school to his daily 2-hour swim. He has then cycled back home and along with a large platter of fruit, nuts and seeds, his father has prepared a plate of fries. These are sweet potatoes bought at the local organic market, and have been grilled after being brushed with a combination of olive and mustard oil to just the level of crispness on the outside that Sunny enjoys. There’s so much value in that meal. Awesome!

Fries can be awesome for you!

These 2 scenarios are not out of the ordinary. I have friends who fall into each of those scenarios on a regular basis. Both groups enjoy their fries. But for one the result is positive on long term wellness, for the other, negative!

And so, whenever I’m asked “are French fries bad for me?” my answer typically starts with “it depends…“.

I have referred to this aspect of life numerous times before. When talking about attention to detail or process for performance. And, just looking at the Wellness Tree, you can see that there are so many drivers of good health and sickness. Paying attention to the details is what will make a difference whatever be the aspect of life you are considering.

French Fries go to Heaven

So, when someone asks me in passing conversation a question looking for a short answer, I invariable respond in an enigmatic manner, if at all. It is only when the situation or context in which the question is being asked is clear can a short answer carry specific value to the questioner.

This applies to all kinds of questions besides the ones at the start of this conversation. Examples of other simple popular questions for which my answer would definitely start with “it depends…” include:

should I invest in the stock market?
is it OK to eat chocolate?
should I do an MBA?
is it OK to drink coffee?
is my yogasana class good enough as my only exercise?
are eggs bad for me?
should I do my own tax return?
what’s wrong with being vegetarian?
how do I improve my guitar playing?
can a vegan be unhealthy?
is it expensive to have children?
should I run a full marathon?

The list is almost endless.

Life is like a bowl of fries, it is up to you to pay attention to the details to make the best of what you desire.

Puru

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Balance is True Mastery

Balance is True Mastery

You have targets to achieve in life. You want to achieve them all. Overlying this is your desire to be happy and live a fulfilling life. You have heard me rant about process and discipline. But it happens often that you work really hard at something and results do not seem to follow through. So, what might be going wrong? Well, what if you are rowing hard in the boat with a strong wind blowing, and all you needed to do was to put the sail up? Often, that is the case. But, wait, there’s more. Read on.

Progress in just about anything is typically driven by many factors. For example, within the framework of the Wellness Tree you will know these factors to be the various roots feeding into the various branches. Yet, we often forget to strike the appropriate balance between the various input factors that drive results.

We see it all around us even if we do not look for it – but you do have to pay closer attention to notice it happening. An excess display of a narrow dimension of effort. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a strong place for focused and intense effort in the journey to success. And there is a great deal of internal happiness from the completion of a bout of intense and single-minded focused hard work. But often what ought to be all of those adjectives, ends up being this – “just a large quantity of a tiny number of actions”. Oops!

Why might you fall into ‘the trap of extreme‘ instead of ‘mastering balance‘?

The lazy will typically have low effort in a few things let alone overdoing one or many! The rest of us are often obsessed with the singular idea that ‘doing’ is the way to progress. So, we might do a lot in order to make a lot of progress. And, since we observe some improvements, it appears to make sense that we do even more for further progress.

How will you handle many variables?

The way your human brain has evolved, the pre-frontal cortex typically handles, at one time, just 4 variables well. So, it is always easy to focus on a couple of input factors. Add to this the constraint of your most valuable resource i.e. time, and you might feel that with that limited resource, it makes sense to focus on only a couple of factors and push them really hard. Dealing with multiple input factors is always challenging for the brain – and interactions between them can make things even more perplexing to think through. [With 4 variables, there will be 6 pairwise interactions.] And so, we conveniently fall into what I call The Tuesday Trap – to turn up for class on Tuesday and feel good that we must be making progress just because we turned up.

Ultra-unwise

Whenever someone who has recently introduced recreational running into their life approaches me with the grand idea “I have run a half marathon, I have a run a full marathon, now I want to run an ultra”, my first question in response is always “why?”. Not because running an ultramarathon is not a tough challenge, but because often the thought process behind the desire to do so is heavily skewed. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.

[To understand why you need not run see this]

Going longer, without paying attention to other factors that drive performance does not need much intellect. And the results are not likely to be great. Driving results in life, using a range of factors, appropriately balanced with changing life conditions, is what is difficult. Getting that right is satisfying, and leads to greater success. Balance is true mastery.

What’s wrong with not focusing on balance?

Balance is True Mastery

At a bird’s eye view level, I spoke about how even having daily or weekly work-life balance was not enough and focusing on lifetime optimization was more important. So, if you do not have a plan to stay balanced, to start, you are reducing your chances of getting to your goals in the first place – simply by not having a balanced approach to getting there. Depending on what the area of focus is, there is also the risk of burnout, illness, injury, boredom. Now think about the fact that what you do is only rarely isolated from others around you, and then the societal (or family) problems only worsen the argument against balance. For instance, your children or others who look to you as a role model will also pick up the wrong strategy to follow for a fulfilling life.

Did it impress you when that parent once talked about how their 12-year-old was swimming twice a day every day to qualify for the school team? When your neighbor told you they were doing a zillion suryanamaskars to get fitter for a marathon did you think “Wow, how cool!”? When your colleague told you how they were forced to practice the guitar for an hour every school day before they were allowed to go out and play, did you think “Wow, such discipline!”? When that investment *anker gloated about how he worked 120 hour weeks, did you think “Such an impressive job!”? I wonder if you know where I’m going with this. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.

The gist through the mist

Move yourself towards Mastery

The central message for today is simply this – within your process, set up a regular assessment of all that you are doing and their connection with your final set of goals. It is wonderful to love the daily process because, after all, that internal motivation helps you move towards your goal. But, it would be unwise to have those processes not be in sync with your longer-term goals. And, typically, if you are doing a lot of X to get to your goal, almost always you need to do a little less of that X and introduce Y and Z too. Because, together, XYZ have a much better chance of getting you there. That is balance. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.

Let us look at a few examples together.

The Student Before Exams
The typical behavior plan I see is greater numbers of hours spent studying. Sometimes sleep is compromised. The effect of this is worst when the midnight oil is burnt the night before the exam. Food habits become unhealthier. Junk food is increased to satisfy the emotional stress of the grind, instead of there being greater focus on what one might call ‘brain foods’. Play time goes for a toss, instead of there being regular physical activity to support the academic study time. (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)

The Long Hours Investment Banker
Unfortunately, most corporate finance investment bankers gloat about their long hours at work. Those who have had any experience of what those professionals do will understand that a large part of it is grunge work, driven mostly by the chance of a large payoff from the lucky one out of 20 (or 50!) pitches. The sacrifice of personal health, relationships, and plain and simple (lack of) exposure to daylight plays havoc on the overall state of being. The idea that this must be the holy grail to a life of wealth and happiness is an odd one. (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)

The Newbie Ultramarathoner
When I see a friend has recently taken up recreational distance running and is clocking a crazy number of miles each week I wonder if they have ever stopped to think about the bigger picture. Typically, their effort seems to be pointed toward going longer with, perhaps, their main lifestyle change being to eat more calories to support the energy expenditure of their training. With only 24 hours in everyone’s day and the need to often be at work most days of the week, something has got to give. Unfortunately, that something is often sleep hours! Of all things, sleep is, perhaps, the single most important activity in a person’s week for good health, but it gets tossed out of the common-sense window. And there is often no increased focus on the details of the quality of nutrition. And what happens to family time and socializing with non-runner friends? (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)

The many good examples

This successful business woman targets balance=mastery

OK, so those were a few dismal displays of imbalance. On the positive side, if you look around you, you will find excellent examples of balance too. I happen to mentor so many women who have wonderful balance between their satisfying careers, taking care of their homes, their children’s education and husbands’ demands. And yet they ensure that their own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is in balance. Perhaps your mother was like that too. Balance is true mastery!

So, what next?

I mentioned that broadly it is important to take stock and check if you have balance between the various driving factors that will feed into successfully achieving any of your many goals. This approach can be taken at any level. Within a process, for a balance between the sub-processes. Or within each sub-process, a further balanced approach to what goes into each of those as well. This is true for every aspect of your life – from the quality of overnight (or mid-afternoon!) sleep to minimizing the negative impact of dessert after dinner. The Wellness Tree highlights that concept well.

I know someone who reads a lot but knows very little of value. Yet, I also know someone who spends only a small amount of time on study and knows a lot. I know someone who spends hours on prayer and meditation but seems to never be in a state of calm and peace. Yet, I know someone who appears to dedicate no time to silent meditation but maintains a state of immense calm even when others would be in a state of turmoil. I know someone who runs a lot but looks nothing like an athlete.  Yet, I know someone who dedicates only a small part of the day to exercise and is fit and looks ripped.

Balance is true mastery of life!

Puru

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Genetic Potential Fitness

GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness

What is Genetic Potential Fitness? How do you apply the concept to your favourite hobbies? Did you know it need not have anything to do with your physical fitness? Can you possibly measure it accurately? How could you estimate it? How does it vary through your life? What is an optimal level for your performance target? What should you do to ensure that your performance stays optimal?

What is GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness?

In a recent media interview when I made reference to Genetic Potential Fitness, a term I coined when proposing a framework for lifelong assessment of progress, I meant for it to be relevant for all your dimensions of existence. Although, at first, because of the word ‘fitness’ in the acronym, GPF appears to be relevant for sporting activities, it is applicable for just about every dimension of human endeavour. Or even where you are not consciously making an effort.

Your performance at anything you do, whether it be playing a game of chess, writing poetry, painting or running a marathon is a combination of the genes that came from your parents and the nurturing of that aspect of your life. You cannot do better than your genes will permit – a fast tortoise will never overtake an average rabbit – but how good can you get? As good as your genes will permit!

It is important to note that I am not saying that only your genes solely determine your actual performance. As a matter of fact, I live my life believing and professing quite the contrary. What I am referring to is an upper bound on your actual performance – and if your actual performance is 50% about your genes, then the other 50% is driven by all those parts that were in the roots of the Wellness Tree.

Your GPF has nothing to do with what others are doing

When I first had an IQ test about 30 years ago two things became clear to me around that time. One was bad news, the other good. The first was that deterioration was guaranteed (bad news) but the second was that the rate of deterioration was significantly under my control (good news). From that time on, just being smarter than over 99% of the population in a very narrow dimension of existence was not what was all important for me. My own performance relative to myself is what matters. I made direct reference to this when I spoke to you about what you could do regarding Competing and Comparing, Targeting Happiness Maximization.

What therefore became more relevant for me three decades ago was the need to have a strategy to maintain that specific measure of (mental) fitness as close to what was genetically possible for the next 80 years ahead. And the same for all the other parts of my Wellness Tree. This theme also appeared when I told you why I do not care much about your podium finish (or mine)!

What does GPF apply to?

I spoke a few days ago about the Wellness Tree but what about achievable targets for those many branches of wellness? Your fitness levels in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are all equally important. From those branches, even if you pin-point a very specific leaf e.g. controlling anger, you can have a quantifiable measure that can be improved upon. Perhaps the measure chosen for a specific leaf is open for debate – for instance, what measure correctly captures how mindful you are? Having said that, it should be possible for you to focus on ways to work on your performance in that dimension.

Because you can think of GPF being applicable to anything you do, there are literally millions of versions of it depending on the granularity you decide to look with. For instance, you could have your GPF with respect to muscular endurance, or specifically running, and even more specifically, running marathons, and to be yet more specific, running long distances uphill. In summary, the concept of GPF can be used to focus-in with depth, or it can be used to zoom-out to look at your life from a broader perspective.

Can you measure your GPF exactly?

I do not believe that you can measure your true GPF exactly. Because you are typically so far from your genetic potential in most things, and perhaps a little closer in a few that interest you, you rarely ever have a precise measure of it. Perhaps if you are competing at an elite level e.g. Olympic swimming, you can have a narrower estimate range for your GPF in that specific sport – in fact specifically for the stroke that you specialize in. For the rest of us, non-Olympians, GPF is a measure that we are typically very far from. In fact, even the Olympic athlete is likely to be close to his GPF in only a specialized set of activities that her focus is on e.g. 50m backstroke.

Estimating GPF

Although you cannot measure it exactly, what you can do is estimate your GPF. If you work really hard on your squash game for 12-24 months you could get to a level that is very close to (but lower than) your GPF for squash. Because you are close to it, estimating your GPF is likely to be more correct. However, if you have never played water polo, during that same period of squash training, you are likely to be very far (much worse) than your GPF in water polo. And, because you are far from it, confidently estimating its level within a narrow range is difficult.

Estimating your GPF is easier when you are closer to it

How can GPF be useful for you?

So, if your GPF is something that is far from your current ability and is difficult to estimate anyway, what use is it?

Each of the three individual terms provide clues to answer that question. One of the benefits of giving serious thought to the concept of GPF is that it allows you to think about what you might be naturally capable of, given your genetic foundation. The other benefit is that it allows you to think about your potential and thus it can be a realistic motivating factor in your practice. And, finally, to the extent that the term fitness focuses your mind on the various branches of wellness, that is a good thing too.

How does your GPF change through your life?

You will have gathered by now that your GPF is a useful benchmark about where you could get to given your genetic material. Your GPF will change throughout your life for various reasons and depending on the activity or measure you are considering. Some physical fitness measures e.g. muscular endurance peak in the second or third decades of our lives. Typically flexibility is highest closer to birth. Some skills based measures deteriorate faster than health based measures of fitness. Your IQ (as measured by standardized tests) will have peaked in early adult life. Some measures of emotional health can get stronger as we age. Perhaps some measures of spiritual health continue to strengthen as we go through life all the way up to the point of death. And, it may be that something like wisdom necessary increases through life, almost by definition.

Your GPF varies differently through your life depending on what it is focused on

If you examine the roots in the Wellness Tree you will see that many factors feed into the branches. Because life is typically path dependent, your GPF will also be altered by what you feed the roots for the branches to flourish. At a microscopic level, your body literally turns genes on/off based on the exposure it faces. So, you can think about the various factors (roots of the Wellness Tree) and how they might turn certain genes on/off.

Although I said earlier that your GPF has nothing to do with others, there is of course an environment that is created by others too that affect your life and possible gene expression. This could be as sinister as second- hand smoking or even third-hand smoking, or as benevolent as a best friend with an excellent sense of humour.

What is an optimal level to be at relative to your GPF?

Depending on what you are measuring this ought to vary considerably. For instance, if you enjoy playing your piano for recreation, perhaps being far from your GPF is desirable or at least not a problem. On the other hand, if your interest is in performing for others then perhaps you will want your performance at the piano to be pushed closer to your GPF. Or it might simply be that taking your playing closer to your GPF is precisely what makes you happy, even though you play for no one other than yourself.

The largest constraints we typically face are those of ‘time’ and ‘money’. And for most of us, the constraint that is typically binding is ‘time’. So, with constraints of this nature and many different areas of interest, it is natural to think of a portfolio of interests and trade-offs between them in terms of proximity or distance to their respective GPFs.

And as you go through life, your interests and preferences will change, as will your constraints. If you think of your basket of interests, the decision for each constituent in that basket will also vary. Perhaps running marathons is of less interest to you now that you have taken up Latin dance and bread-baking. Approaching these changing interests in a structured manner will allow you to be at greater peace with the decisions you make. Even Olympic athletes cannot simultaneously maintain fitness close to their GPF in more than a few areas.

How do you get to your target level relative to your GPF?

The simple answer is “it is complex”. If you look at the Wellness Tree again, you will see the myriad pathways to the roots of the tree. To ensure that any branch flourishes will require you to engage as many of the paths in some optimal manner. I shall explain this in more detail in future conversations. For now, the key thing to remember is that your GPF is your GPF, that your GPF varies over your lifetime, and you can do things to get yourself to get closer to it at any age – but only if that is your wish. There is no compulsion!

Puru

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

As Beautifully Simple as PuruTheGuru’s Wellness Tree

The Wellness Tree – CLICK to ENLARGE

I have grown it for you, and here it is today, The Wellness Tree from Puru The Guru.

Quick Background

A few weeks ago, I presented you with The Better Life Infographic. That infographic pertained to information, thoughts, feelings, actions, results. However, almost every day someone I mentor asks a question about the benefits of ‘this’ or the problems associated with ‘that’. The ‘this’ or ‘that’ could range from anything like ‘running while listening to music’ or ‘the impact of drinking coffee on the effort to regenerate the beta cells of the pancreas’ or something as banal as ‘body-sculpting to get a 6-pack’.

The Wellness Tree

For living life well, I believe we need to focus on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. These branches of the tree of wellness will be healthy and grow well if the driving factors that feed into them, the roots, are managed well.

Most things in life are multifactorial, and so it is with wellness. Some things have a small impact, some large, some a positive impact, some negative, and in most cases the impact is non-linear. In addition, things can get confusing from interactions between two or more factors. On top of that we have the impact of my favourite variable, time! In practice, almost nothing stands still as time flows. So, as I’ve said before, details matter.

Fruits from The Wellness Tree

In the weeks ahead, you will hear from me on a wide range of topics. I grew this Wellness Tree as a backdrop to describe various concepts, discuss many hypotheses and present guidance – usually with, sometimes without, evidence.

This tree probably won’t grow much above the ground i.e. I am unlikely to change my definition of wellness. However, below the ground, the roots might start branching further as the weeks go by as and when I decide to fill in further detail as relevant to the topic, or based on my mood. For instance, if you look under wellness->activities->social the root has not branched out further yet – but, perhaps, it will! Whenever the tree grows in any part, the ‘last updated’ will have a fresher date. Keep an eye on that!

I suppose one more thing to point out at this stage is that often what we think is important for good health is just one part of myriad changes we can make in life for living it well. For instance, it might take you a while to even locate ‘exercise’ in that tree, and when you do, you might continue to look but will not find something as powerful as ‘running’ in it. At least not in this version of 8th May 2017. That should also not surprise you if you have already read what I have said about why you need not run.

Learning from The Wellness Tree

You would do well to spend time looking at this tree as often as possible over the next few days. (Go ahead, bookmark this page, or save the image on your smartphone.) I suspect that, if you do, over time certain new thoughts will come to your own mind that you will be happy to explore further to live your life well – to live it better.

I will chat again soon, perhaps about that 6-pack question – or perhaps about the regeneration of the beta cells of your pancreas…who knows? We’ll see!

Enjoy the fruits of The Wellness Tree by focusing on the roots

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.