Health and fitness – my personal journey

By August 16, 2011Personal health

Heath and Fitness for a Better LifeIt may be because I am approaching 40, or it could just be because eventually I become obsessive about most everything I do, but whatever the reason, it has become clear to me recently that getting my health and fitness to a high level and keeping it there has become a major hobby for me.  I haven’t really written about it here, except as context for posts on health related startups, but whilst on holiday earlier this month I decided to change that.

What I write will be of a more personal nature than most of my startup and venture related material, but please chip in with comments and Tweets as normal.  I’m taking this step to connect with others who are interested in this topic broaden my participation in the conversation.  My other reason for writing is that I hope to clarify my own thinking on what I’m doing and why.

The journey I’m now on started at the beginning of 2010.  Prior to that I’d always kept myself reasonably fit, and I used to exercise 2-3 time per week, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it.  That started to change when I picked up Ray Kurzweil’s Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, and the title of the book tells you the primary motivation for my change in behaviour: I want to maximise my youthful years.  There is a second thing too, and it took me a while to admit it to myself, but I’m also enjoying looking and feeling better.

As I’ve written before Kurzweil believes that within the next fifty years advances in technology will allow us to expand our life indefinitely and he wants to still be alive and in good shape mentally when that happens.  In Transcend he lists out the steps he is taking to give him the best chance.

Whether or not you believe that Ray’s predictions about eternal life are crackers it is clear to me that his research into diet, exercise, and vitamins is very thorough and by following his advice people can stay younger for longer.  So at the beginning of 2010 I started following selected pieces of his advice, choosing the elements that I thought would have the most impact, wouldn’t take up much time,  and which wouldn’t interfere with my social life.  Since then I have dropped some of Kurzweil’s ideas and picked up bits and pieces from others, most notably from Tim Feriss and The Four Hour Body.

So what have I changed in the last twenty months?  To many things to mention all of them, but here are the key items:

  • Started counting the calories I eat and reduced the daily amount to 2,000-2,100, on a good day, which is most days
  • Ramped up to five meals per day – I’m grumpy without my mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks these days!
  • Cut out the refined carbs (bread products, rice, potato)
  • Started eating much more protein, particularly in the morning
  • Increased my exercise to 4-6 times per week, 20-30mins per session
  • Made half of the exercise sessions strength based
  • Ramped up the number of vitamins I take – daily intake now 1 strong multi-vitamin, 1000mg vitamin C, 1-2 strong fish-oils (details of all three here), and 5,000 IU vitamin D, and I expect to add to this list.

My two main sources of inspiration and information have been Kurzweil’s Transcend (as mentioned above) and Tim Feriss’s Four Hour Body.

And the results? I’m about 10kg lighter than was when I started all this, I’m stronger and fitter, and I have more energy again.  It feels good.

As many of you will know, the science behind a lot of what I do is still not definitive, but rather than wait ten years for the Phd’s to prove it all out I’m seeking to enjoy some of the benefits now – although I avoid anything too radical.  Taking this approach requires an experimental mindset, a bit of research and a lot of watching and measuring myself, but I think it is well worth it.  Moreover, I think that as society gets older and wealthier and the human body becomes better understood, more and more people will go down this path.

Over the next little while I intend to start supplementing more, testing my levels for various vitamins and minerals, subscribing to 23andMe and no doubt buying health gadgets and tinkering with my exercise regime and diet.  I will blog about some or all of that.

  • Christopher McAtominey

    I can thoroughly recommend Withing’s wifi body scale. It’s a really good motivation to see that graph sloping down to the right to keep on going. Not too sure about their lean body mass measurements but interesting to note how it changes all the same.

    I tried to log all of this myself but didn’t have the discipline, health & fitness products that can quantify and log it all for me are a godsend. Adidas miCoach on my phone for tracking exercises too. Fitbit next for me, then probably 23andMe.

    I’m only 25 but why wait, eh? Just increases my chances of living to see Ray’s ideas come true. Kepp it going, I think publishing it is definitely the way to go – nowhere to hide then!

  • Glad to hear you’re getting yourself in shape :). Have you seen – nicely rounded approach to helping people get fit and stay there.

    If you want to build strength as well as general fitness, have a look for Stuart McRobert’s Brawn, been following the key principles for nearly 20 years (on and off) and they still give results. Although right now I’m playing with power circuits to try and improve my strength endurance and recovery times, a masochistic decision it turns out!

  • I’m in a similar phase, some of it is due to wanting a maintain stamina and stave off infirmity, some of it wanting to be a role model for my kids, some of it is finding new challenges that are my own and some of it is having a new excuse to buy gadgets – I love my Withings scale and my iPhone has so many uses I couldn’t possibly live without it 😉 

    You seem a little more balanced in your OCD than I am though, I have pushed the fitness side to 6 – 9 sessions a week of at least an hour but I don’t count what I eat – I’m careful but approximate. I found the 4 Hour Body really interesting but I don’t have the motivation to pursue most of his goals (probably because they are HIS goals!).

    Will follow this thread with interest


  • Thanks Chris. Oobafit look’s interesting. I will check it out properly when I have some time, similarly for McRoberts.

  • Tks Matt – you too

  • You are out there in terms of your commitment Andrew. And I prefer ‘commitment’ to OCD ☺

  • I like the Whithings scale too – but the fat mass measurements are way out for me – showing 10-12kg on the scale when the BodPod measured me at 7kg.
    Knowing your numbers is critical, and low hassle tracking is the key.

  • Philip

    Likewise – just starting my plan on similar lines. To start with – even using those Alli tablets for a month. Issue for me is that I find jogging and gym mind numbingly dull… Any suggestions on fun exercise?

  • I’ve been using a series of mini-targets that take me a smallish number of months to achieve – current ones are 20mins skipping without a mistake and 75 kettlebell swings. Previous have been 100 crunches (achieved), 200 squats (achieved), 100 press-ups (2x failure).
    And I keep the session length short.

  • Cheers Andrew. In total contrast one of the ways I keep myself interested is changing my workouts so I get more benefit in less time.
    I will look at those supplements.

  • I might try the PHD Diet Whey, I currently take one of their protein bars first thing every and have been thinking about changing to a whey shake – more protein, less carbs, maybe a bit faster acting.  Have you tried many other brands?

    Also, I remembered last night that it was you who first put me onto the idea of mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.  We were on a night out with Jimmy in Mayfair when respecting our bodies was a topic for discussion but not on the agenda for that evening 🙂

  • You’re not alone here Nic! I’ve always been fit and have been “training” for years. About two years ago, I discovered Crossfit and the Paleo diet. Further, I started measuring everything via heart rate monitor, Runkeeper and the Withings scale. I also looked at my supplementation and pulled everything high in carbs out, switched to whey based protein, stopped anything with soy in it and increased fish oil. I’ve also lost about 12kg, significantly decreased my body fat, increased lean mass and have become “fitter”. 

    My biggest conclusion to date is the consistent energy. I used to regularly go into food coma after lunch and tended to be fairly dead by the end of the day. Now I can fairly consistently keep my energy level up throughout the day. Hardest hurdles for me are coffee, the drinks one tends to imbibe in at work events and social outings and low-carb eating every day. I don’t do the cheat days that 4HB recommends. Didn’t work for me at all since I’d spike on those days and it threw my energy levels off. Further, I don’t eat any “slow carbs” as recommended by Tim. The beans and lentils, etc. just don’t work with my body-type. Also, I also reduced my amount of training. I was definitely doing too much. I’ve seen far better results with the right amount of rest days and sleep. Short, super-intense workouts are what I shoot for and I try to do some different things every time hitting the weights. I run and bike for the fun of it and not to exhaust myself. 

    In summary, the experimentation is what made it “fun” for me and allowed me to constantly tweak things to optimize results. There is definitely no one-size-fits-all strategy in regards to our bodies, longevity and energy levels and it’s a journey. Glad to see you getting into this. Have fun!

  • Hi Nic,

    Happiness. Been following a similar-ish journey for the last eight years. The biggest benefit is happiness.

    Also, I’m your age and, as more time passes, the less shiny objects and chemicals provide happiness. You’re right about the coming change in our ‘nature’ and, for the wealthy at least, there’s going to be a lot of time in which to try to be happy.


  • That’s true James. There’s an age dimension to this which is more than just ‘my body is falling apart so I should fix it’

  • Saveen

    20-30 mins of training sounds like a smart approach (high intensity without overtraining).  For strength, training to the point of failure brings maximal gains, then rest becomes important.

    I’m not a fan of supplements but whey protein is a simple way to increase your protein intake.  Try for your shakes.

    23andMe is a fascinating approach to health & fitness.  Would love to hear how that works out and also your thoughts on “the singularity”.

  • Hi Saveen – I will blog on 23andMe in due course. You can find my thoughts on the Singularity here:

  • Hey Paul – I’ve been surprised at how many people are ‘closet trainers’!
    Why did you cut out soy?

  • Andrew McDonald

    I’ve tried Maximuscle which is similarly nice but comes at a price.  I think most protein shakes offer the same, it’s all down to taste IMO – and PhD are very nice. My personal trainer gave me a great ‘start the day’ smoothie recipe of: low fat cottage cheese (or quark), oats, frozen berries, vanilla whey protein and a bit of low fat milk.  I’d blend that before bed (its actually better blended in the morning if you can tolerate a whizzing hand blender before the sparrows are up!) ready for eating at 6am, training at 7 followed immediately by another protein shake and a bowl of muesli at about 9.  Felt set up for the day after that!   A protein shake after training is a no-brainer especially with weights.  Only c.100 cals, about the same as a slice of unbuttered bread.

    PhD Diet Whey and normal Whey have the same cal content, altho I think the idea is to take 2 scoops of diet whey and use it as a meal replacement.

    Haha, yes we’ve had a few chats like this late into the evening. The irony of in depth analysis about a healthier lifestyle with a pint of amber nectar in the hand isn’t lost on me!

  • Cheers junior – I’m currently breakfasting as per The Four Hour Body – ie lean protein and beans/lentils + a protein bar. It’s working pretty well, but I’d like to inderstand the science behind what I’m doing a bit better – e.g. I’m avoiding carbs like oats because they are too refined.


  • Well spotted Nic … there is a clear connection between investment in business and investment in our health that VCs, Entrepreneurs and Biz Angels seem to recognise….

    For instance, my story…

    I sold my fitness (although not health) to a computer start up from 1999 to 2009.

    Nevermind, I told myself at the beginning, we’ll exit for £5m in 5 years – and fitness can wait!

    Of course, the £5m exit never came, we acheived too much and we reset a much bigger goal, got 60% towards it and then saw our market collapse and decided to fold the business in 2009.

    There were a few reasons why we folded – a) we could b) didn’t beleive that our market or business would deliver our goals but also c) I just wanted to get fit.

    Having made the decision to close, I also realised that I needed more time to achieve my goals – and even achieve bigger goals.

    I guess I also realised that when you achieve a goal, you simply set a bigger one – so the key is to create more time.

    And, more time means, living longer, living healthier and staying mentally and physically sharp. I don’t want to live to 100 but get Alzheimers at 75!

    When we began in 1999 my partners used to talk about retirement in our 40s – I now know that retirement would kill me – so, I simply must combine fitness and health with my business goals.

    Hence, in a similar way – and at a similar age – I now run 30 mins two or three times a week. Walk a border collie for 1 hour every day, play tennis as often as possible and swim.

    I heavily supplement – fish oils, various nutrition (ACE vitamins for instance) honey and lots of aloe vera.

    Just as I have discovered that the biggest challenge to a startup is not money – but time, so I’ve realised that the same challenge applies to ourselves too.

    Now, my focus is become – how do I stay fit, sharp and healthy for longer…. because that it the basis of achieving any of business goals.

  • Well put Neil

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