Bio Hacks That Work. No, Really. On Aging Exceptionally Well in a Well-Maintained Body
I let out a banshee scream into my facemask and put every ounce of effort into pedaling. I could barely breathe. The air was equivalent to that at the top of Kilimanjaro.
I’ve been there. Man, that air is thin.
My blood oxy level dropped to about 74%. That’s well into the hypoxemia range (https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/hypoxemia/basics/definition/sym-20050930). People with COPD live here. I was forcing this onto myself. My pulse, normally around 45–50 bpm, was close to 150.
I was ready to fall over. I punched out a few more seconds, then switched the oxygen back on. Medical grade. I could smell the sweetness of that rich brew as it flooded my damaged brain (yeppers, twenty one concussions, including a beaut on Christmas Eve). I sucked it in, slowed down.
As I watched the meter on my left index finger, my pulse plummeted to 60 in less than thirty seconds. Conversely, my blood oxy shot back up to 100% in about twenty.
Here’s what that tells me, at nearly 66: my cardio pulmonary system is in incredible, superb shape. I live at altitude, I hike, run steps, ride horses, run, cycle, swim, body build, you name it (other than ski) I do it. Frankly, those sports are part of why I have conked my coconut so often. Last year I installed a LiveO2 system (https://liveo2.com/) in my basement to help me deal with those concussions and the sometimes simply awful side effects.
Like descending into all-out screaming sessions with some poor customer service person on the phone who neither deserves to be treated like that nor has any control over your complaint. Sadly this is what TBIs do. Ask any NFL player. I can relate. So I engage in every single procedure I can find which can help me remain human, decent, polite, gracious and sane. Most haven’t worked. This one does. For me this is a lifesaver. That’s no joke.
I don’t care to walk around being an asshole, but repeated concussions can and do cause serious emotional volatility. Sucks, man. But I won’t stop playing (unless of course, playing stops ME).
The good news is that it takes about fifteen minutes for three hard sprints and a cool down. The bad is that it’s a serious financial investment. Whether it’s worth it for you, well. The military is sold on it for rehabbing Special Forces, pilots and other elite teams. That’s quite enough for me, because the military is intent on realizing its investment in elite troops.
Here’s what gets me: the VA wants me to take anti-depressants for my brain injuries which a) don’t work, b) cause suicidal thoughts and c) have horrific side effects. For their elite troops, they put them on oxygenation so that they can return to duty.
Precisely which of these options do you think I’m going to choose? I regularly return to duty, thankyouverymuch.
I typically hate life hacks. What most of them seem to proffer are short cuts to just about everything, including things that can only be gained with hard work and time. That’s insulting to those of us who do the work. In an uber-competitive world, driven by social media comparisons, many of us are desperate to get a leg up.
To wit, some folks will get muscle implants like this:
..because they’re too damned lazy to do the real work. I can’t speak for you but damn, man. That’s butt ugly and stupid to boot. To those of us who really do lift, and I’ve been at it for 45 years, their bodies are completely out of proportion to the enhancements. But hey, the surgeons are only too glad to wipe out your savings. That’s not a bio-hack. That’s just brain dead.
But that’s just me.
Speaking of getting a leg up on the competition…Look, at 66 and an athlete with these injuries, sometimes I’m just psyched to get a leg up and over the damned bike. However after I do a session I am nearly unstoppable. That speaks to how valuable getting enough oxygen into our bodies actually is.
Everyday Simple Life “Hacks” That Work
My house is hacked for life. Here’s what I mean: I have a gym in my basement where this bike system is set up. I have a bench, weights scattered around the house, two pull-up bars on two doorways, mats, equipment, yoga gear, foam rollers. There isn’t much I don’t have.
The part about hacking your house is that it’s utterly useless to have all this gear lying around if you don’t use it. Don’t sweat the details, you don’t get the detail.
To break up long sessions of writing, I have dumb bells that I can leap up and do curls with. I can hit the floor and do yoga stretches. Do at least two or three pullups every time I walk through a door. I always run the steps. Try to turn life movements into stretches in the kitchen, bathroom, everywhere. Life is movement, and the more we work, the longer we can play.
Unless of course I keep denting my forehead, but that’s another issue entirely.
I love to move, yet my work requires that I sit for hours all day. The only way to counteract my considerable appetite is to keep my body working, and the blood flowing.
Pick What Works
Despite our compulsion to try the Next Best Thing (kettle bells, bands, Crossfit, pick your poison), the absolute basics tend to really and truly do the job. As in:
-Aerobic work- run, cycle, walk, hike, etc.
The oxygen delivered, in other words. The body challenged. What you find works for you. What you will do, daily, for life .
Most of these absolute basics you and I can do without any special equipment or DVDs. However, since I love yoga and am a putz on my own, I have DVDs. Since I love kickboxing and am a dsylexic camel on my own, I have DVDs.
One hack is that I do not HAVE to do the entire program. I can pop in a DVD, complete ten minutes. Done. Next. Many of us think that if the DVD goes in they’re committed for the entire hour. Later, we think. Later becomes a day a week, a month, a year. Later means dust on the dust cover.
Later means never in real life parlance.
That brand new, top-quality bench you bought at Costco? Later.
Mine gets used every single day. Every. Single. Day. At least when I’m not out running, cycling, riding horses, climbing mountains and kayaking all over the world. Or for that matter, popping my punkin’ head against a rock somewhere in Creation.
Look, if I don’t laugh about it I might as well throw in the towel.
Here’s the larger piece. As you and I age, part of what happens to our bodies is that they can (operative word “can,” it’s not inevitable) become vastly less efficient at delivering critical nutrients-and oxygen, thank you- to all our cells. Between sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss, and the loss of lung capacity from lack of exercise (and the crap food we eat) our bodies lose muscle mass. Our bodies are nowhere near as efficient at delivering what our cells need to continue to turn over and renew us.
When people smoke, or develop Black Lung disease, or suffer other forms of illnesses that impede their cardio-pulmonary system, they end up on supplemental oxygen (https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/supplemental_oxygen/the_need_for_supplemental_oxygen/). You and I see people like this all the time. TV ads pummel us with brand-new, smaller, purse-sized versions that we can CARRY TO THE STORE THE PARK THE MALL THE MOVIES.
Look, if you and I carried a kettle bell around the house regularly we’d likely prevent the need for a purse-sized oxygen system. Most of us.
There’s enough research that demonstrates that those of us in our mid-seventies who move hard every single day have very young lungs. Those who work out have the muscles of a 25-year old (https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-11-regular-lifelong-body-young.html).
Since I’ve bruised my brain multiple times, I tried lots of way to stem the tide of deterioration. Delivering oxygen through the LiveO2 method is the only process that has been of direct benefit-as well as regular, challenging exercise- to help me deal with my many concussions. When I do my adventures I am constantly moving with rare exception. This past November, I climbed Mt. Kenya, and came home not only with arthritis in my hip but a torn quad in my right leg. That would explain why my pegs were barking at me. It was also a very good piece of feedback about the need to stretch more. Yes, even in a cold tent on the side of the mountain at 15,000 feet.
There are no quick bio hacks for me to recover from these injuries. They take time, discipline, physical therapy and lots of loving care to heal. In the meantime I do all the other exercises that I can, which supports healing. Not a single biohack in the world is going to help me heal faster than good food, proper rest, targeted PT and all the associated work that comes when we incite our bodies to riot. I see people who are in a terrible hurry to return to their sports re-injure, do severe damage to their bodies and cripple themselves for months out of impatience to get back out running, on the slopes or to their Tuff Mudders. This is particularly true of those of people in their twenties, when we still assume a measure of indestructibility.
Older people tend to heal more slowly. However older people who eat well and exercise often heal a great deal faster than the norm because the muscles, lungs, circulatory system all are in terrific working order.
That’s the true bio hack if one exists. Build a better machine, love and care for it, respect it and it will give you a lotta miles. For those of us who have a few challenges like TBI, finding a way to get more oxygen into our injured parts helps a lot. Other than that, I’m a bit of a skeptic about all the hype surrounding fasting, paleo, keto and all the (very expensive) tests that we do out of our intense fascination with our forms. The forms that will indeed eventually fail us, no matter what we do. However, the cottage industry that has grown out of our desperate need to shortcut the inevitable will be happy to take our money, although I seriously doubt anything can trump regular movement and decent, healthy food.
But what do I know? Well, hell, this:
My VA doctor told me recently that if I weren’t in this kind of shape, my most recent head injury would have been a lot worse.
My doc in Iceland told me after I did a butt over teakettle headfirst down 32 concrete steps, smashed my pelvis in two places, broke my elbow and wrist that had I not been in this kind of shape, I’d be dead or a quadriplegic.
My doc in Dubai told me after my horse threw me at the gallop in Kazakhstan and broke my back in four places, that had I not been in this kind of shape I’d be dead or a quadriplegic.
Most folks don’t do what I do, certainly not at this age. But I don’t need pricey biohacks to be in “this kind of shape.” It does take commitment.
I think my body’s a pretty damned good bio hack in and of itself already.
So is yours. If you take care of it.