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Atomic Habits for Achieving Your Goals. Podcast with James Clear

Why is it so hard for us to make healthy lifestyle changes – even when we have the knowledge to do better?

Most of us have a list of things we would like to change. Maybe you’d like to lose thirty pounds, or be able to do fifty pushups, or run a marathon. But each of these comes with a long list of associated behaviors – many of which aren’t intrinsically rewarding – that are required to achieve and maintain these goals. It’s no wonder the statistics on weight loss are so underwhelming.

On this episode of humanOS Radio, I talk with James Clear. James is an author and entrepreneur who is focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Time magazine, and other major media outlets.

In his latest book, “Atomic Habits,” James draws upon a wide array of evidence from psychology, biology, and cognitive neuroscience to construct a guide for building and reinforcing good habits and abolishing bad habits.

So what do I mean by habits? James defines habits as behaviors that are repeated enough times to be nearly automatic, and not demanding your cognitive effort or willpower. Like brushing your teeth, or heading to the gym at 5:00pm every day, or eating a smoothie every day for breakfast. These automatic processes, which are mostly mundane things that we take for granted, are actually foundational to all of our goals.

The problem, of course, is that we generally don’t see the immediate payoff for any of these behaviors. You don’t drop twenty pounds just switching from regular to diet soda one time. It is only after you’ve committed to these behaviors for a while – after your efforts have compounded – that we start to see the difference. That is why we need to develop a system to assess our current habits and build better ones. This is where “Atomic Habits” comes into play. Check out the interview to learn more!

Sleep: An Antioxidant for the Brain? Podcast with Mimi Shirasu-Hiza

Why do we need to sleep? Part of what makes sleep so fascinating, as a field of research, is that it is such an enigma. Sleep is a profoundly vulnerable state, leaving us at the mercy of predators and the environment, and unable to defend ourselves or our possessions. It’s also largely unproductive. Yet we spend about a third of our life in slumber.

Moreover, sleep seems to be nearly universal in the animal kingdom. Indeed, we have yet to identify an animal that clearly does not sleep at all, or one that can forego sleep without experiencing physiological consequences.

All of this, taken together, unambiguously shows that sleep is extremely important. And this makes it all the more remarkable that the actual purpose of sleep remains elusive.

One idea is that sleep may function as an antioxidant for the brain, protecting neural tissue from the ravages of oxidative stress. This hypothesis largely fell out of favor, but researchers have recently started to revisit this compelling notion.

In this episode of humanOS Radio, I talk to Mimi Shirasu-Hiza. Mimi is an associate professor of Genetics and Development at Columbia University. Her lab uses circadian mutants of fruit flies to unveil the molecular mechanisms that underlie circadian-regulated physiology. Mimi and her colleagues hypothesized that fruit flies with various genetic mutations that reduce their sleep might share a common physiological defect due to that sleep loss, but independent of the specific mechanisms driving their reduced sleep. And if they could find such a defect, that might reveal the core function of sleep.

Through an elegant series of experiments, Mimi and her team did indeed uncover a shared defect, which points to a potential purpose of sleep. Check out the interview to find out what they discovered and what it might mean for us!

The Surprising Role of Leg Exercise in Forming New Brain Cells

We have known for a long time that physical activity affects the brain. For instance, we know that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is involved in learning and memory. In fact, just a single exercise session can favorably affect performance on tests of cognitive function.

But what about the other side of the equation? How does lack of physical activity – a state that is only becoming more common and relevant – impact the function of the nervous system?

A new study suggests that weight-bearing exercise – particularly using the large muscles in our legs – sends signals to the brain that are crucial to the formation of new brain cells. In this blog, I’ll go through this ground-breaking new study, and distill what it might mean for us.

Can Enhancing Slow Wave Sleep Boost Your Brain Function? Podcast with Kristine Wilckens

All of us know that lack of sleep impairs cognitive performance. But we are now realizing that sleep quality, and how long that you spend in deeper restorative sleep, also plays an important role in brain function.

Today on humanOS Radio, I talk to Kristine Wilckens. Kristine is an assistant professor in the Sleep and Chronobiology Center in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research has focused on how sleep structure can be altered to enhance cognitive function.

In this interview, we review the role of slow wave sleep in learning and memory consolidation, and the kinds of activities that have been demonstrated to promote slow wave sleep. Many of these techniques – like heat exposure – are things that you can experiment with yourself right now. Check out the interview to learn more!

Dietary Nitrate and Health: Effects on Blood Pressure and the Brain

In the last blog, I discussed how dietary nitrate influences exercise performance in healthy people. In this post I’ll focus on dietary nitrate and health, exploring other contexts in which it makes sense to increase dietary nitrate intake. I’ll also touch on whether you should be concerned about consuming a nitrate-rich diet. To cut to the chase, there’s compelling evidence that dietary nitrate-rich vegetables are good for blood pressure, brain health, and more, so I’ll leave you with a list of the most nitrate-rich vegetables.

Dietary Nitrate and Exercise Performance: Benefits of Beetroot

Read the words “nitrate” and “nitrite”, and your mind may conjure thoughts of fertilizers, or supposedly carcinogenic compounds in processed meats that predispose people to cancer. But there’s now a strong body of evidence that consuming nitrates in vegetables confers many favorable effects on health, and we’ve known for over a decade that dietary nitrate often enhances exercise performance. In this blog, I’ll highlight some of what we currently know about dietary nitrate and exercise. I’ll leave you with simple strategies you can use to enjoy the benefits of dietary nitrate supplementation on exercise performance.

Is “Moderate” Drinking Really Healthy? Podcast with Todd White

Alcohol is fun and rewarding for a lot of us. So perhaps it is unsurprising that so much research and media attention has been directed toward the purported benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. We tend to want to believe that our culturally engrained habits are healthy.

But bubbling under the surface has been intense debate about the true merits of moderate drinking, and that has erupted over the past few months. A massive $100-million study investigating the health effects of moderate alcohol was terminated by the NIH in June due to undue influence by the alcohol industry. And a global analysis of the health impact of alcohol use was released last month, ominously concluding that there is no safe level of alcohol. This has cast serious doubt on the popular notion that drinking moderately is good for you.  Should we even be drinking alcohol at all?

I’ve avoided diving into this particular rabbit hole for a long time, because I wasn’t sure what to make of the literature, and because I wondered if my own biases might cloud my judgment. But this is too important and too timely an issue to ignore.

In this article, we will take a hard look into the relationship between alcohol and health. Why might alcohol be healthy? Why might it not be healthy? And what should we do about it? This is a bit of a longer post, but if you hang in there you’ll come away with a better understanding of the health effects of alcohol.

And if you want to learn about a potentially better way to imbibe, don’t miss the podcast at the end with Todd White, a curator of natural wines (we’ll explain what we mean by natural wines later).

But first, let’s talk about alcohol in general: what the research seems to say about it, and what it really says.

Dietary Protein and Cancer: mTOR, IGF-1, and Tradeoffs (Part 2)

In my last blog I focused on dietary protein and aging, introducing several concepts that are foundational to the main subject of this blog: dietary protein and cancer. So, how does the protein you eat influence your risk of cancer? And how might the protein you eat affect cancer if you already have this disease? In addition to addressing these questions, I’ll end by tying together what I’ve discussed as I share my current perspective on these matters.

Dietary Protein and Aging: mTOR, IGF-1, and Tradeoffs (Part 1)

At humanOS, we’re interested in helping people feel, look, and perform as well as possible throughout their lives, so how to stay youthful is often at the forefront of our minds. Think about this: Your age is the primary risk factor for afflictions like cardiovascular diseases, type two diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. But how can you defy these associations as the years go by? Behind the curtains, one thing I’m working on is a course on how you can optimize your protein intake to turn heads at the beach and ensure your musculoskeletal system is healthy and robust throughout life. As I drafted the script, I anticipated an interesting question that will surely be raised in response: yeah, but what about protein and aging? So, I’m addressing this query in the next two blogs. This is a really interesting topic and is definitely worth thinking about.

How to Avoid or Improve Back Pain Podcast with Stuart McGill

About 40% of people worldwide will get lower back pain at some point in life, and on any given day roughly 12% of adults are experiencing lower back pain. This crippling condition strongly influences quality of life, often affecting relationships with loved ones, impairing performance at work, and leading to substantial costs – not only healthcare expenses but also other expenditures due to absenteeism and so on. In today’s episode of humanOS Radio Greg interviews Dr. Stuart McGill about the many causes of back pain and what people can do to overcome their back pain.