Month: November 2019

 

By Saul McLeod, updated 2018


maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid
What Is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.
  • Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.
  • From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

This five-stage model can be divided into deficiency needs and growth needs. The first four levels are often referred to as deficiency needs (D-needs), and the top level is known as growth or being needs (B-needs).

Deficiency needs arise due to deprivation and are said to motivate people when they are unmet. Also, the motivation to fulfill such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. For example, the longer a person goes without food, the more hungry they will become.

Maslow (1943) initially stated that individuals must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. However, he later clarified that satisfaction of a needs is not an “all-or-none” phenomenon, admitting that his earlier statements may have given “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges” (1987, p. 69).

When a deficit need has been ‘more or less’ satisfied it will go away, and our activities become habitually directed towards meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy. These then become our salient needs. However, growth needs continue to be felt and may even become stronger once they have been engaged.

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid

Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.

Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by a failure to meet lower level needs. Life experiences, including divorce and loss of a job, may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.

Therefore, not everyone will move through the hierarchy in a uni-directional manner but may move back and forth between the different types of needs.

Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others.

Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

1. Physiological needs – these are biological requirements for human survival, e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep.

If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.

3. Love and belongingness needs – after physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the third level of human needs is social and involves feelings of belongingness. The need for interpersonal relationships motivates behavior

Examples include friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).

Maslow indicated that the need for respect or reputation is most important for children and adolescents and precedes real self-esteem or dignity.

5. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. A desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming”(Maslow, 1987, p. 64).

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramidMaslow posited that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy:

“It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?

At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency” (Maslow, 1943, p. 375).

Maslow continued to refine his theory based on the concept of a hierarchy of needs over several decades (Maslow, 1943, 1962, 1987).

Regarding the structure of his hierarchy, Maslow (1987) proposed that the order in the hierarchy “is not nearly as rigid” (p. 68) as he may have implied in his earlier description.

Maslow noted that the order of needs might be flexible based on external circumstances or individual differences. For example, he notes that for some individuals, the need for self-esteem is more important than the need for love. For others, the need for creative fulfillment may supersede even the most basic needs.

Maslow (1987) also pointed out that most behavior is multi-motivated and noted that “any behavior tends to be determined by several or all of the basic needs simultaneously rather than by only one of them” (p. 71).

(a) human beings are motivated by a hierarchy of needs.

(b) needs are organized in a hierarchy of prepotency in which more basic needs must be more or less met (rather than all or none) prior to higher needs.

(c) the order of needs is not rigid but instead may be flexible based on external circumstances or individual differences.

(d) most behavior is multi-motivated, that is, simultaneously determined by more than one basic need.

It is important to note that Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five-stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b).

Changes to the original five-stage model are highlighted and include a seven-stage model and an eight-stage model; both developed during the 1960’s and 1970s.

1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.

3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).

5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability.

6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

7. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self (e.g., mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, religious faith, etc.).
maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid

Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Maslow (1943) formulated a more positive account of human behavior which focused on what goes right. He was interested in human potential, and how we fulfill that potential.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.

The growth of self-actualization (Maslow, 1962) refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always ‘becoming’ and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.

As each individual is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions (Kenrick et al., 2010). For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting.

Maslow (1962) believed self-actualization could be measured through the concept of peak experiences. This occurs when a person experiences the world totally for what it is, and there are feelings of euphoria, joy, and wonder.

It is important to note that self-actualization is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of a ‘happy ever after’ (Hoffman, 1988).

Maslow offers the following description of self-actualization:

‘It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.

The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions’ (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383).

Although we are all, theoretically, capable of self-actualizing, most of us will not do so, or only to a limited degree. Maslow (1970) estimated that only two percent of people would reach the state of self-actualization.

He was especially interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as individuals.

By studying 18 people he considered to be self-actualized (including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein) Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of a self-actualized person. 

1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;

2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;

3. Spontaneous in thought and action;

4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);

5. Unusual sense of humor;

6. Able to look at life objectively;

7. Highly creative;

8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;

9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;

10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;

11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;

12. Peak experiences;

13. Need for privacy;

14. Democratic attitudes;

15. Strong moral/ethical standards.

(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;

(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;

(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;

(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;

(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;

(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;

(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.

The characteristics of self-actualizers and the behaviors leading to self-actualization are shown in the list above.  Although people achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share certain characteristics.  However, self-actualization is a matter of degree, ‘There are no perfect human beings’ (Maslow,1970a, p. 176).

It is not necessary to display all 15 characteristics to become self-actualized, and not only self-actualized people will display them.

Maslow did not equate self-actualization with perfection. Self-actualization merely involves achieving one’s potential. Thus, someone can be silly, wasteful, vain and impolite, and still self-actualize. Less than two percent of the population achieve self-actualization.

Maslow’s (1962) hierarchy of needs theory has made a major contribution to teaching and classroom management in schools. Rather than reducing behavior to a response in the environment, Maslow (1970a) adopts a holistic approach to education and learning.

Maslow looks at the complete physical, emotional, social, and intellectual qualities of an individual and how they impact on learning.

Applications of Maslow’s hierarchy theory to the work of the classroom teacher are obvious. Before a student’s cognitive needs can be met, they must first fulfill their basic physiological needs.

For example, a tired and hungry student will find it difficult to focus on learning. Students need to feel emotionally and physically safe and accepted within the classroom to progress and reach their full potential.

Maslow suggests students must be shown that they are valued and respected in the classroom, and the teacher should create a supportive environment. Students with a low self-esteem will not progress academically at an optimum rate until their self-esteem is strengthened.

Maslow (1971, p. 195) argued that a humanistic educational approach would develop people who are “stronger, healthier, and would take their own lives into their hands to a greater extent. With increased personal responsibility for one’s personal life, and witha rational set of values to guide one’s choosing, people would begin to actively change the society in which they lived”.

The most significant limitation of Maslow’s theory concerns his methodology. Maslow formulated the characteristics of self-actualized individuals from undertaking a qualitative method called biographical analysis.

He looked at the biographies and writings of 18 people he identified as being self-actualized. From these sources, he developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of this specific group of people, as opposed to humanity in general.

From a scientific perspective, there are numerous problems with this particular approach. First, it could be argued that biographical analysis as a method is extremely subjective as it is based entirely on the opinion of the researcher. Personal opinion is always prone to bias, which reduces the validity of any data obtained. Therefore Maslow’s operational definition of self-actualization must not be blindly accepted as scientific fact.

Furthermore, Maslow’s biographical analysis focused on a biased sample of self-actualized individuals, prominently limited to highly educated white males (such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, William James, Aldous Huxley, Beethoven).

Although Maslow (1970) did study self-actualized females, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa, they comprised a small proportion of his sample. This makes it difficult to generalize his theory to females and individuals from lower social classes or different ethnicity. Thus questioning the population validity of Maslow’s findings.

Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to empirically test Maslow’s concept of self-actualization in a way that causal relationships can be established.

Another criticism concerns Maslow’s assumption that the lower needs must be satisfied before a person can achieve their potential and self-actualize. This is not always the case, and therefore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in some aspects has been falsified.

Through examining cultures in which large numbers of people live in poverty (such as India), it is clear that people are still capable of higher order needs such as love and belongingness. However, this should not occur, as according to Maslow, people who have difficulty achieving very basic physiological needs (such as food, shelter, etc.) are not capable of meeting higher growth needs.

Also, many creative people, such as authors and artists (e.g., Rembrandt and Van Gogh) lived in poverty throughout their lifetime, yet it could be argued that they achieved self-actualization.

Psychologists now conceptualize motivation as a pluralistic behavior, whereby needs can operate on many levels simultaneously. A person may be motivated by higher growth needs at the same time as lower level deficiency needs.

Contemporary research by Tay and Diener (2011) has tested Maslow’s theory by analyzing the data of 60,865 participants from 123 countries, representing every major region of the world. The survey was conducted from 2005 to 2010.

Respondents answered questions about six needs that closely resemble those in Maslow’s model: basic needs (food, shelter); safety; social needs (love, support); respect; mastery; and autonomy. They also rated their well-being across three discrete measures: life evaluation (a person’s view of his or her life as a whole), positive feelings (day-to-day instances of joy or pleasure), and negative feelings (everyday experiences of sorrow, anger, or stress).

The results of the study support the view that universal human needs appear to exist regardless of cultural differences. However, the ordering of the needs within the hierarchy was not correct.

“Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you don’t have them,” Diener explains, “you don’t need to fulfill them in order to get benefits [from the others].” Even when we are hungry, for instance, we can be happy with our friends. “They’re like vitamins,” Diener says about how the needs work independently. “We need them all.”

McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

APA Style References

Hoffman, E. (1988). The right to be human: A biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Griskevicius, V., Becker, D. V., & Schaller, M. (2010). Goal-driven cognition and functional behavior: The fundamental-motives framework. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 63-67.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivationPsychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1962). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company.

Maslow, A. H. (1970a). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1970b). Religions, values, and peak experiences. New York: Penguin. (Original work published 1966)

Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). Delhi, India: Pearson Education.

Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 354-356. doi:10.1037/a00

Wulff, D. M., & Maslow, A. H. (1965). Religions, values, and peak-experiences. The Journal of Higher Education, 36(4), 235.

The Decision Making Guide: How to Make Smart Decisions and Avoid Bad Ones

decision making contingency table

What is Decision Making?

Let’s define decision making. Decision making is just what it sounds like: the action or process of making decisions. Sometimes we make logical decisions, but there are many times when we make emotional, irrational, and confusing choices. This page covers why we make poor decisions and discusses useful frameworks to expand your decision-making toolbox.

Why We Make Poor Decisions

I like to think of myself as a rational person, but I’m not one. The good news is it’s not just me — or you. We are all irrational. For a long time, researchers and economists believed that humans made logical, well-considered decisions. In recent decades, however, researchers have uncovered a wide range of mental errors that derail our thinking. The articles below outline where we often go wrong and what to do about it.

  • 5 Common Mental Errors That Sway You From Making Good Decisions: Let’s talk about the mental errors that show up most frequently in our lives and break them down in easy-to-understand language. This article outlines how survivorship bias, loss aversion, the availability heuristic, anchoring, and confirmation bias sway you from making good decisions.
  • How to Spot a Common Mental Error That Leads to Misguided Thinking: Hundreds of psychology studies have proven that we tend to overestimate the importance of events we can easily recall and underestimate the importance of events we have trouble recalling. Psychologists refer to this little brain mistake as an “illusory correlation.” In this article, we talk about a simple strategy you can use to spot your hidden assumptions and prevent yourself from making an illusory correlation.
  • Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate: We have a tendency to care too much about our present selves and not enough about our future selves. If you want to beat procrastination and make better long-term choices, then you have to find a way to make your present self act in the best interest of your future self. This article breaks down three simple ways to do just that.

How to Use Mental Models for Smart Decision Making

The smartest way to improve your decision making skills is to learn mental models. A mental model is a framework or theory that helps to explain why the world works the way it does. Each mental model is a concept that helps us make sense of the world and offers a way of looking at the problems of life.

You can learn more about mental models, read how Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman uses mental models, or browse a few of the most important mental models below.

Top Mental Models to Improve Your Decision Making

Best Decision Making Books

Want more great books on decision making? Browse my full list of the best decision making books.

All Decision Making Articles

This is a complete list of articles I have written on decision making. Enjoy!

 

What is Grit?

Let’s define grit. Grit is the perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals. Sometimes you will hear grit referred to as mental toughness. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that grit is a strong predictor of success and ability to reach one’s goals.

Duckworth’s research on grit has shown that…

  • West Point cadets who scored highest on the Grit Test were 60% more likely to succeed than their peers.
  • Ivy League undergraduate students who had more grit also had higher GPAs than their peers — even though they had lower SAT scores and weren’t as “smart.”
  • When comparing two people who are the same age but have different levels of education, grit (and not intelligence) more accurately predicts which one will be better educated.
  • Competitors in the National Spelling Bee outperform their peers not because of IQ, but because of their grit and commitment to more consistent practice.

(If you’d like more, I wrote about Duckworth’s research here.)

A Video Explanation of Grit

This short TED talk by psychology professor Angela Duckworth explains the concept of grit and how it helps foster mental toughness in our everyday lives.

 

How to Be Mentally Tough

Step 1: Define what grit or mental toughness means for you.

For you, it might be…

  • going one month without missing a workout
  • delivering your work ahead of schedule for two days in a row
  • calling one friend to catch up every Saturday this month

Whatever it is, be clear about what you’re going after.

Step 2: Build grit with small physical wins.

So often we think that grit is about how we respond to extreme situations, but what about everyday circumstances?

Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop.

Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to create when it would be easier to consume. Choose to ask the extra question when it would be easier to accept. Prove to yourself — in a thousand tiny ways — that you have enough guts to get in the ring and do battle with life.

Read more: The Proven, Reasonable and Totally Unsexy Secret to Success

Step 3: Build strong habits and stop depending on motivation.

Grit isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again.

Mentally tough people don’t have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent — just more consistent.

Grit comes down to your habits. It’s about doing the things you know you’re supposed to do on a more consistent basis. It’s about your dedication to daily practice and your ability to stick to a schedule.

Read more: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

Examples of Grit

  • Mentally tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t miss workouts. They don’t miss assignments. They always have their teammates back.
  • Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards each day. They don’t let short–term profits, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision. They make a habit of building up the people around them — not just once, but over and over and over again.
  • Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees deliver on a more consistent basis than most. They work on a schedule, not just when they feel motivated. They approach their work like a pro, not an amateur. They do the most important thing first and don’t shirk responsibilities.

3 Articles on How I Develop Grit

Best Books on Grit and Mental Toughness

Want more great grit books? Browse my full list of the best self-help books.

All Grit Articles

This is a complete list of articles I have written on grit and mental toughness. Enjoy!

 

Note: Listen to this post instead using the audio player below, and consider subscribing on your favorite podcast player!

 
 
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  • These Are The 10 Skills All Solopreneurs Need To Master
 
 
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Running a business is hard. Running a business by yourself is even harder.

When you’re doing things on your own, you’re responsible for everything. Every little aspect that goes into running a business is put on your shoulders.

This balancing act is tough, and it’s no wonder why so many new entrepreneurs don’t make it.

In this article, let’s look over some of the most important skills for solopreneurs to develop, if their goal is to eventually grow to massive levels.

1. Focus

Early on, it’s easy to get plagued by ‘shiny object syndrome.’

This is where you’re constantly shifting from opportunity to opportunity, because it seems exciting and promising.

Of course, it doesn’t help that shady marketers are constantly trying to sell you on their BS ‘step-by-step systems to riches.’

The problem with shiny object syndrome is that it’s constantly jerking your focus around.

It’s not that some of these systems don’t work, but that nobody sticks with them long enough to actually see results. You try them out, don’t get results quickly enough, and switch to the next shiny thing that gets put in front of you.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve been at this place – many people have.

Instead of jumping between shiny objects, focus on one thing. Preferably, a business model that is:

  • Proven to work.
  • Proven to scale.
  • You’re in control over (not reliant on one platform or company for survival.)
  • You have something unique to offer.
  • You enjoy the process of developing it.

Find what that business model is, and go all-in on it. This is the only way to see it through to profitability.

2. Content Creation

Blogging For MoneyIt doesn’t matter what business you decide to enter into, all businesses need content.

Content marketing is perhaps the most powerful way to grow your business online, and is only becoming more important as time goes on.

Get good at one of the three content mediums – written word (such as blogging), audio (podcasts), or video.

Not everybody will be comfortable with all three platforms, and that’s fine.

For example, I’m not too great at video yet. However, I’m able to hit all three platforms by using my blog posts as scripts for a podcast, turning the main points into slides, and combining the slides with the audio to form a YouTube video.

As more and more companies compete for the same attention of consumers, getting in front of them regularly with content that is actually valuable to them, will become increasingly important.

3. Analytical Thinking

The best marketers know how to work with data.

Data is undervalued by solopreneurs, and you need to learn how to analyze it, run data-driven tests, and optimize your pages.

On the most fundamental level, this means installing data collection tools like Google Analytics on your site, and heatmapping your sales pages.

You need to be tracking how you’re investing your resources (be it time or money) and understand what’s actually delivering an ROI.

One of the biggest mistakes solopreneurs make is this – they spend too much time on things that aren’t moving the needle, and they don’t repeat the things that work.

You don’t need to become a data scientist, to make use of data. At the same time, if you fail to utilize it, your business won’t be nearly as effective as it could be.

Remember – businesses do not run on emotions! They run on reality. And the reality is represented in your data.

Solopreneurs often spend too much time on things that aren’t moving the needle, and they don’t repeat the things that work.CLICK TO TWEET

4. Copywriting

At the end of the day, you’re in business to make money.

It doesn’t matter how much attention, Instagram likes, or engagement you get – if its not turning into a transaction, your business will die.

Copywriting could actually be rephrased as any form of sales skills – it’s just a different platform.

If you’re able to sell in person, it’s not difficult to write that down and adjust it for web, video, etc.

Still, copywriting is both an art and a science that is difficult to master.

You need to learn the psychological triggers that entice people to buy, eliminating their objections and concerns, all while doing it in a carefully crafted way.

This is a skill I’m looking to improve at myself this year, utilizing the data I collect on my own sales pages.

5. PPC

Copywriting

Combine great copywriting skills with good analytical skills, and you’ve got yourself a great foundation for dabbing into pay-per-click advertising. (PPC)

Mastering pay-per-click is one of the quickest ways to scale a company and if you figure this one out, you’re set.

Craft a profitable ad that takes in $1 and spits out $2, and you can grow your earnings extremely quickly – all while getting paid to give exposure to your brand.

The problem is that it’s rare that you can throw up an ad and forget about it.

Even ads that start out doing well, do not always stay profitable forever.

Therefore, you need strong copywriting and analytical skills to figure out how to craft ads that convert, as well as learn what works in certain conditions and what doesn’t.

PPC is an enormous topic and is constantly evolving. What works today might not work as well this time next year, so it’s a skill that constantly needs to be developed.

Still, master it and you’ll have practically won the game – at least for now. Learning to develop profitable pay-per-click is the only reason I was able to develop my two eCommerce brands to their first $1 million in sales.

6. Office And Media Software

Because you’re a solopreneur, you can’t always afford to hire people knowledgeable in the software you need to run your business.

I highly recommend taking the time to learn some of the following software:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Excel (especially this one!)
  • Adobe Photoshop (or GIMP, a free alternative)
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Quickbooks, Xero, or other bookkeeping software.

There are others, but most businesses will need to utilize these tools.

I highly recommend picking up a $10 Udemy course on each piece of software you use regularly in your business.

Each piece of software listed is extremely powerful, and chances are, you’re not utilizing it to its full potential.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t even know what you’re missing!

I grabbed a course on Excel for $10, and it easily provided me an extra value of $10,000 due to how much time I was able to save after learning about some of the more advanced features.

7. Networking

Networking Is One Of The Quickest Ways To Skyrocket To New Levels
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They say it’s not what you know, but who you know.

I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know this – connecting with other people is the quickest way to bring your business to new heights, and is matched only by well-performing PPC campaigns.

What’s great about networking however is that it brings you opportunities that money can’t buy you. Often times, these opportunities present themselves in unforeseen ways.

But to use a money example…

I regularly import goods from China. I had a friend who wanted to get into importing one of the same product lines that I regularly manufacture.

Instead of having them go through the whole process, I collected money from them and placed a bigger order from the same factory I already use, which brought us two benefits:

  1. We both got cheaper prices / unit, because I was able to negotiate better terms due to the increased order size.
  2. Shipping per unit was much cheaper.

Most of the pieces in the order were mine, so I netted the largest amount of savings overall, but my friend did not have to spend weeks dealing with a new factory. It was a win-win for the both of us!

8. Consistency

Nothing mentioned in this article so far matters if you’re unable to stay consistent.

Consistency, even moreso than outright knowledge or skill is a valuable trait all successful entrepreneurs share.

You need to be willing to show up for work, give it your all, and continue training yourself for a lifetime.

I started my first blog at the age of 14, and it failed. But I was consistent. Despite making no money, I was consistent.

I was gaining value, it just wasn’t in the form of dollars just yet. I was learning what worked, and what didn’t. What I was good at, and what I wasn’t. What I enjoyed, and what I didn’t.

The hardest part of any entrepreneurial endeavor is the beginning. It is the part where you’re doing the most amount of work for the least amount of reward.

If you’re going to make it, you’re going to have to be consistent.

This doesn’t mean chugging away at something that isn’t bringing results, but it does mean that you have to have patience, and keep pushing day in and day out.

The hardest part of any entrepreneurial endeavor is the beginning. It is the part where you’re doing the most amount of work for the least amount of reward.CLICK TO TWEET

9. Delegation

You may wonder what delegation is doing on a skills list for solopreneurs, but hear me out.

Even if you don’t have any full-time employees, you need to break out of the mindset that you’re going to do everything yourself.

That’s just stupid. No great business has ever been built without the help of others.

Being small is not something to be proud of. Sorry to say it, but it’s true. I don’t want you to be small.

If you’re able to outsource something for $20 that would’ve taken you 5 hours to do on your own, you’re valuing your time at $4 an hour. If that’s the case, work on your business less and go get a job, using that money to build your business.

Letting go of control is difficult – most people that start out on their own have a very difficult time with it. However, it’s imperative – you’re going to need to come to grips with it.

Put a price on your time. If you’re working a job, calculate your hourly rate, and that is your price.

Once you have the resources to do so, focus on the tasks that you’re actually required for, and outsource everything else that can be done for lower than your price.

10. Self-Growth

Finally, all entrepreneurs need to make continuous self-growth and self-improvement mandatory.

The world is changing faster than ever, and you need to make sure you are on top of things if you want to stay relevant in the marketplace.

Learning is never something you’re done with. It’s ridiculous that kids are expected to go to school and learn new things every day, but once you reach adulthood that stops.

Set aside time each week to stay up-to-date with what’s going on and pick up new skills.

Let Me Make This Easy For You

1. All of my new articles are going to be published as an audio blog, meaning you can subscribe to it and listen to my articles while you shower, drive, exercise, etc. Audio makes it so much easier to consume content because you can do it while also doing something else. If you don’t have time to visit my site here every week, search for ‘James McAllister Online’ on your favorite podcast platform and subscribe!

2. Likewise, if you’re having trouble reading books, pick up an Audible subscription. I’m signed up to the 2 book a month plan, and buy more when I need something to listen to. I believe most people could read at least 2 books a month this way, without having to ‘spend time reading.’

3. Enroll in my courses! They cover huge topics like blogging, email marketing, and more in comprehensive detail and are always kept up to date. This means you’re not going to need to waste time and money on other outdated materials on the same topics. The prices are stupidly low and if you learn even one thing from each one that you can apply to your business, it’ll have paid for itself many times over.

Click here to browse all of the courses I currently have to offer!

Conclusion

Part of what makes entrepreneurship so difficult is the fact that it’s such an enormous learning process.

By focusing on the right things, you make your job so much easier.

I hope that this article has given you some ideas on how you can begin developing the skills necessary to take your business to the next level. I’d love to hear your plans, and if there’s anything I can do to aid in your growth, don’t hesitate to reach out.

To your success,

– James McAllister

Summary:

Review the main points of this article in the SlideShare below. Feel free to embed this on your site, use it in your organization, and share it with others! All I ask is that you give credit! (Download links are available from SlideShare’s website, which you can access by clicking the LinkedIn icon)

About James McAllister

James is the owner of JamesMcAllisterOnline.com. He started his first blog at the age of 11, and has since gone on to start several successful businesses. In total, these businesses have sold hundreds of thousands of units and have touched millions of lives. Here on JamesMcAllisterOnline.com, he shares his knowledge that brought him to where he is today. If you want to connect with James, follow him on your favorite social networks!

 

 The answer to both questions is, “YES.”

I enjoy studying different online business models. Especially how they change and adapt to the times. A business model is a framework a business is built over that enables it to run smoothly and efficiently. Today, new online business models are being designed to allow solopreneur business owners to enjoy six-figure incomes.

Solopreneurs are individuals who set up and run a business on their own. Much like entrepreneurs.

Not to get caught up with definitions, but – some people make a distinction between entrepreneurs and solopreneurs. They describe entrepreneurs as being more of the managerial types while considering solopreneurs as being more work-oriented or hands-on oriented people.

It’s a fascinating subject because many online business owners are now finding themselves at a crossroads of sorts in their business lives. Let me explain. With many business models, getting to the next stage financially involves a significant investment. Especially if you don’t have a technical background. It’s an investment in time, money, and personal energy

Competing for high-ticket clients $20k+ is a much different proposition than competing for your average local business client. You might call it a different financial culture altogether. Besides that, full-service agencies have been struggling here in North America for years now. It’s the elephant in the room that’s not often addressed.

The Lifestyle Factor

The solopreneur business model has changed a bit over the last few years. Today, this approach to the entrepreneurial journey is as much about lifestyle as it is about income. Depending on your situation, you may be happy with x-number of dollars per year?

As funny as it sounds, you may not be driven to obtain unspeakable wealth!

Most of you didn’t start your business with the goal of creating a mega-corporation in from home, did you? Most of you probably aren’t comping at the bit at the prospects of managing a large staff of people, either? Remember, you have to manage whatever you build or whatever you own.

So, it’s worth taking the time to be brutally honest with yourself when it comes to business. What do you REALLY want to build? Are you starting to find yourself disliking what it is you’re building? You’re not alone.

If You Could Make Six-Figures on Your Own, Would You?

If given the choice to earn a six-figure income with no employees or just by yourself, would you take it?

No, that’s not a trick question. The solopreneur of today has more advantages than at any other time in history. With the systems, platforms, and services we currently have in place, you can literally build an agency of one. I’m using the word “agency” loosely in this context.

That doesn’t mean you won’t want to hire a virtual assistant or other sub-contractors on an as needed basis. That’s fine. What I’m saying is, the core of your business will just be you.

And yes, you’ll be able to take time off, take vacations, and live a life that doesn’t revolve 24/7 around the clockwork.

Let’s take a minute to look at some of the obvious pros and cons.

A Healthier Lifestyle

In a recent study, roughly 70% of the individuals polled said they felt healthier and happier since making the decision to work on their own. Just under 45% said they were making more money. The absence of office politics plays a huge role in the happiness equation, especially when you consider how much an individual may spend trapped working with a group of people.

Yes, “trapped” is an emotionally charged trigger word. I used it purposely because that’s exactly the way an office environment makes many people feel.

The Downside of Being a One-Person Show

In the online services business, the disadvantages of being a one-person show are obvious. You only have so many hours per week available to perform your service. You have only so many hours to trade for cash. If you have lower-paying clients, this can make the growth process truly an uphill battle.

Like most people, I started out as a solopreneur with low-paying clients. At the time, I really didn’t see a way out of that cycle except to get new clients who paid more than the previous clients did. So, that was my approach. I persevered and didn’t mind doing the work. I saw it as paying the price to succeed.

I did, however, realize that I needed to be smarter about how I moved my business into the future.

Isolation isn’t the Issue it Once Was

Some people find it difficult working alone. You would think there would be fewer distractions working alone than there would be working in an office? The reality is, distractions are always just a click away. On the flip-side, so are communities of people running the same or similar businesses. They’re just a click away, too.

Even in the earliest day of the internet, bulletin board services brought communities of people together from around the world who shared similar occupations, interests, and hobbies. Sure, it’s not exactly the same as sitting across the table from someone and enjoying a drink together. But, it’s still better than living in alone in a cave!

Time-Consuming Activities

I hate thinking in terms of productivity at times, but there’s really no getting around it. There are only so many hours in a day. Besides the service you perform, there are other time-consuming aspects associated with running a business. For example, there’s bookkeeping, marketing, ongoing education (software, books, videos, etc.) and so on. Things, however, are rapidly changing.

For example, bookkeeping used to be tedious and time-consuming in the past. Today, most bookkeeping software will automate just about everything for you that used to be done manually. I’m talking about things like reoccurring billing, late payment reminders, etc. That’s just one, quick example. There are many others.

The Negatives are Slowly Disappearing

We haven’t reached what some people call “the tipping point” yet with the “solo approach.” Suppose a bunch of people believe a certain thing? For example, let’s say the general masses believed there was nothing wrong with smoking cigarettes. Then, over time, personal experience and data start proving otherwise. Sure, there will always be the story about uncle so-and-so who smoked 4 packs a day all his life and lived to be 85, but it starts becoming painfully obvious that he was an exception to the rule.

Finally, we approach the tipping point where the crossover occurs, and more people believe smoking is harmful than not.

Bigger is better – that’s a commonly held belief that’s applied to just about everything, including business.

The solopreneur business model isn’t bigger. By extension, it must not be better, either. That’s what many people think. I believe the tipping point concept will be applicable to this over the next five years.

Why? Because the technology is here to replace most of what used to be the manual labor. And the tech keeps getting better, too.

Technology Replaces People in Large and Small Businesses

Two large machines put a dozen individuals out of work at a company located about 18-miles south of where I live. That’s just one simple example of what’s become the norm in just about every industry. And let’s be really honest about it, who among us hasn’t worried at one time or another that we could possibly meet a similar fate?

I look at it this way, people still hire people to clean their homes and offices even when they can do it themselves. There will always be people who’d rather pay others than do it themselves. That’s just human nature.

That’s all besides the point, though. The point is, there’s a reason why companies are replacing people with different forms of technology (and machines). It’s cheaper! Cheaper production means higher profits.

With the right tools, you could enjoy similar results and benefits within your own business couldn’t you?

The Pros of the Solopreneur Approach

Remember, you can hire someone (even temporary help) whenever you want to. The idea here isn’t to stay within the confines of a definition. The idea is to create a highly profitable business without the burden of managing (or some might say babysitting) people and dealing with all the issues and inconsistencies they bring to the table.

Here’s something else you don’t hear about very often. Employee loyalty is a thing of the past. In most cases, we all move in the direction of the highest bidder. Then, as the employer, you start the training process all over again with a new person.

That’s the reality every business owner must face. A young person is interested in bigger and better. They’re going to move onward and upwards if they’re skilled and even a little bit ambitious. If someone offers them benefits and you don’t (or can’t), they’ll move on.

With the solopreneur approach, you’re building a business around yourself and your individual strengths. Unlike the past, you can now have automated systems in place that eliminate the need for your around-the-clock presence.

You Need the Right Vehicle

The best race car drivers in the world still need the right vehicles to win. Put the Formula One champion in a Honda Civic and he’s not going to win much of anything. Sure, that’s a crazy analogy, but it makes a point. Your business is a vehicle, and you need the right vehicle for what you’re trying to do if you want to succeed. Back in my publishing days, I had a machine that bound paperback books. I forget how many books it could bind per hour, but there were machines out there that were much faster (and really expensive!).

As technology changed, it became obvious that I no longer had the right “vehicle” for that business. It became the equivalent of delivering mail by Pony Express while trying to compete with FedEx.

Could I have sought out investors and gone that route? Sure. But that’s not the kind of business I wanted to build. I was looking for something that was easier to manage with less stress involved. Working two to three times as hard to get the same result as the bigger players in your niche gets wearying after a while. By the late 1990s, I concluded that I was competing in a market that wasn’t a good fit for me.

What’s Keeping You from Going “All-In?”

One foot on the gas, another on the brake. That’s where untold numbers of online business owners find themselves at today. Why is it that so people many who’ve read the books, watched the videos, and taken the courses remain stuck? Sure, information overload plays a part, but I think it runs deeper than that.

On a deeper level, maybe even a subconscious one, I believe people sense that what they’re in the midst of building will never bring them freedom. Work-wise, and stress-wise, it’s quite the opposite. Even so, they haven’t found a viable alternative yet. They haven’t found the right vehicle.

One foot on the gas, another on the brake.

I’ve been in this place before, so don’t think it’s just you. It’s not. You’re not in the minority, either.

It’s not that you’re afraid to do the work. It’s not that you’re lazy. It’s more like you’re wearing clothes that you intuitively feel are a poor fit, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why yet. Too loose, too tight, wrong style, etc., you’re not confident in moving full speed ahead for a reason.

The Solopreneur System

A friend of my is a restaurant consultant. She’s a solopreneur. She once told me the top choice for entrepreneurs with deeper pockets is the restaurant business. It’s a business fraught with perils if you don’t know what you’re doing. Still, that doesn’t keep people from doing it. At one point, she owned a successful cupcake business herself and sold the product to restaurants.

Today, she consults.

There’s a pattern I’ve repeated over and over again since the 80s. I’m talking about people leaving the corporate world to work for themselves. Unlike the “old days,” however, the solopreneur of today can reach a worldwide audience through videos, eBooks, online membership courses, and webinars.

Instead of working with one person at a time, they have host group sessions without ever leaving their homes and with clients from around the world.

How about this for a visual – you own your own theater and sell tickets to your “show.” Your show is recorded. Others can buy access to it several months from now when they discover you for the first time.

Compare that with the old way –

For example, I could rent a hotel room for a few hours and sell tickets to a training session of some kind. I can teach people how to build their first website. Or how to design a logo for their business. If only two people buy tickets, I’ll lose money.

Compare that with the new way –

The other option is to do the whole thing online. If two people show up, it doesn’t matter. I’ll still make money and still have a product or training to sell down the line with the recording.

If I try the same in a local hotel, I’ll have to hire a video person to record everything. And again, if only two people show up (because I’m a newbie in the area), I’ll really lose money once you total up the costs for the room and the video team.

It’s Not About Courses, Webinars, or Books

Now, here’s where people go wrong. They’ll read what I just wrote and think, “He’s saying what everyone else is saying – write an eBook, make a course, etc.”

No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, you can teach people from the cradle to the grave – business-wise, and use the “tech part” to do it with less stress and a minimal amount of moving parts.

1. You’re a teacher
2. You’re an audience builder
3. You’re a guide
4. You’re a coach and mentor
5. You’re an accountability partner in some cases

Remember, just like the restaurant business, there will always be people who will want to start the kind of business you may be trying to get away from! I hate to put it that way, but there it is. There will always be people who want to jump into the hustle and bustle of a project driven agency.

With the solo-approach, the eBooks, courses, webinars, and everything else are just a means to an end. The end might be to create financial independence for people, not 1,000 book sales. One is a byproduct of the other.

Here’s the thing, when you want to help change the lives of 2,000 people, you’ll approach it with a completely different mindset than if you just try to make something people want to buy.

Starting this as a Side-Hustle Business

The best way to see if something is a good fit for you is to test it out for yourself. I’m talking about a part-time, side-hustle type of business.

When I look at my own business, I still enjoy working with my agency clients and local business owners. I like being connected to the people in my community. Still, having the opportunity to help thousands of people around the world while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very appealing.

In the old days, it could take someone a lifetime to build an audience. All that has changed. Yes, it’s noisy out there, but most people are focused on selling “stuff” first and helping people second. So, they just blend in.

I’ve heard psychologists argue that whatever drives you, that’s what influences you in ways you’re not even conscious of. Some are driven by greed. Others by more charitable intents. Yes, you’re in business to make money. That’s not the point. The dollar amount isn’t the issue either. The point is, what if you could help people, change lives – AND make good money? Some would see that as a dream come true.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your own comments and thought about this in the section below!

Jim Galiano

Jim Galiano

Jim Galiano is an Internet consultant, web developer, author and podcaster who started doing business online in 1998. His consulting, marketing and publicity services have been used worldwide since 2002. Jim has been interviewed by a variety of media sources including the Wall Street Journal and CBS News in New York.

 

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I shifted awkwardly on the toilet seat, using one porcelain-planted hand to steady myself while I held a small paper collection device shaped like a hot dog tray (complete with red and white checkered squares) in the other hand. It had been ten minutes, and still not a single particle of fecal matter had materialized from my backside. I squirmed, grimaced, then finally managed to squeeze out a marble-sized speck of poo onto the tray.

A handful of brochures and poop-collecting instructions were splayed out on the bathroom floor in front of me, along with a small plastic storage container for my tiny turd. Based on the photograph on the tube, my deposit was large enough. I could now finish my duty in an actual, civilized toilet bowl, thank-you-very-much. With a sigh of relief, I dropped my sample into the tube and settled back on the toilet seat, slightly apprehensive about repeating this procedure on day two and day three, and wondering what my wife would think of the pre-paid Fed-Ex shipping bag full of my poop tubes laid neatly next to her homemade kimchi in the refrigerator.

Fact is, from sniffing peanut butter in an attempt to drip massive amounts of saliva into a tube for DNA analysis to spraying urine into a giant orange bucket I carried around for 24 hours for a University of Connecticut lab experiment on endurance athletes to giving a dizziness inducing nineteen full tubes of blood to the lab for a plasma longevity panel, in my quest to discover the best ways to self-quantify everything happening inside the human body, I’ve tested and tracked just about everything one could test and track.

Not a single day goes by that I’m not asked what the most important parameters to track would actually be if one wanted to fully analyze and optimize the performance of their body and brain.  The fact is, in our modern era of “The Internet Of Things”, Web 2.0 and a dizzying number of self-quantification devices,  it can be confusing and frustrating to figure out what’s to actually measure when it comes to blood, biomarkers, metrics and beyond – and even more confusing and frustrating to figure out what to actually do with all the data.

After testing, tracking and interpreting biometrics from self-quantification devices, along with blood, saliva, urine, hair and poop, I’ve found specific tests and tracking tools to give one the most bang for the buck without producing oodles and oodles of unnecessary data. And this article will explain just that: the 20% of self-quantification efforts that give 80% of the valuable data and results, and the best way to figure out exactly what is going on inside the body on a daily basis.

While there are literally hundreds of different blood, urine, and saliva measurements you could use to track recovery, and scientific advances are constantly making more and more test markers available, I’m going to share with you the best, most reliable indicators of proper recovery and the best tests for determining whether you are venturing into the land of nutrient depletion, gut issues, the wrong diet for you, overtraining or whether there are hidden missing components that can be optimized from a diet, lifestyle or supplement standpoint.


The 10 Best Blood Biomarkers To Test

When it comes to testing your blood, I’m a fan of paying the closest attention to the biomarkers that have been proven to be associated with the aging process. After all, if you can control for these blood values, you can be relatively confident that you’re going to not just be maintaining a reduced rate of biological aging, but also superior overall health. If you care at all about how well you’re doing in the longevity game, you’re curious how fast you’re aging, or you want to quantify the efficacy of your healthy eating and healthy living efforts, it’s worth paying attention to each of the following parameters.

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1. RBC Magnesium

Red blood cell (RBC) magnesium is a mineral that can help predict important longevity markers such as insulin sensitivity and likelihood to be hospitalized whereas high levels of RBC magnesium can predict physical performance and potential for sarcopenia (muscle-wasting) as you age.

An RBC magnesium test can provide an earlier indicator of magnesium deficiency than a standard magnesium blood test. This is because when levels are low, the body will pull magnesium from the cells to keep blood levels normal. In this case, a magnesium blood test may show normal levels while an RBC magnesium test will give a far more accurate result.

2. Estradiol

During the first year of menopause, women lose on average 80% per year of their estrogens! This can result in a significantly accelerated decline in muscle mass and strength. Related to this loss of estrogens, which can of course cause subsequent decreases in physical function and the ability to be spry and supple as you age. Higher endogenous estrogen levels are associated with higher muscle strength and lower rates of fall-related limb fractures even after adjusting for bone mineral density. Estrogens can also stimulate muscle repair and regenerative processes, probably by acting as an antioxidant, thus limiting oxidative damage; acting as a membrane stabilizer by interacting with cell membrane phospholipids, and binding to estrogen receptors to govern the regulation of a number of downstream genes and molecular targets.

Estrogens also play a protective role against oxidative stress protection, and can participate in the antioxidant system because they can decrease the expression of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase, an important source of superoxide radical, and can increase nitric oxide (NO) availability. In addition, estradiol activates mitogen-activated protein kinase and nuclear factor-κB signaling after binding to the estrogen receptor, and this stimulates the expression of mitochondrial antioxidant enzymes such as manganese superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, which results in reduced reactive oxygen species production of mitochondria (possibly contributing to the longer expected lifespan of women compared with men).

Estrogens also play a key role in the regulation of bone mass and strength by controlling the activity of bone-forming osteoblasts and inhibiting activity of bone-resorbing osteoclasts. Bone tissue is essential for structural support and locomotion in the vertebrae and critical for hematopoiesis (red blood cell production) as one ages. Bones also serve as an endocrine organ in the regulation of calcium homeostasis. Interestingly, when women are treated with exogenous estrogens, the decrease in bone mass and increase in bone turnover can be reversed, suggesting that estrogens have a potent bone protective effectHere’s a great resource to see optimal estrogen (and testosterone) levels in men and women.

3. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein

Over two dozen research studies have proven that baseline levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in healthy men and women are highly predictive of future risk of cardiovascular ailments – including heart attack, diabetes, stroke, sudden cardiac death, and the development of peripheral arterial disease.

It has also been shown that CRP levels predict repeat coronary events among patients who already suffer from heart disease and that the outcome of patients immediately after a heart attack is tightly linked to CRP levels. Ultimately, individuals with excessive levels of CRP have a risk about two to three times higher than the risk of those with low, optimal levels.

In my opinion, a CRP test for inflammation, combined with a basic lipid panel, is the single, best way to evaluate your risk of heart disease. By eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory herbs, spices, and nutrients (especially turmeric and fish oil) and avoiding overtraining and excessive stress and toxin exposure, I personally try to keep my CRP below 0.5 and prefer to have it below 0.2.

4. Triglyceride:HDL Ratio

Also known as the “atherogenic index of plasma” (yep, that’s a mouthful), a high triglyceride:HDL ratio (meaning a high number of triglycerides relative to your HDL cholesterol) is also one of the best indicators of your risk for heart disease. This test also has the added benefit of also predicting lipoprotein particle size and insulin resistance, two other important markers for longevity. For example, in one study in elderly women, the triglyceride:HDL ratio predicted all-cause mortality (not only cardiovascular mortality but overall risk of dying from anything!).

There are of course a host of additional studies on this ratio, including this study that shows triglyceride/HDL ratio predicts coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease risk mortality as well as or better than does full-blown metabolic syndrome. A ratio of 2 or under is good for your triglyceride:HDL ratio, and I’m a bigger fan of shooting for 1 or under. Above 4 is bad news bears.

5 & 6. Full Lipid Panel And Omega 3 Fatty Acids

An advanced cardiovascular and lipid panel goes beyond the typical cholesterol test to help uncover early risk factors for heart disease. Most people may not realize it, but a cholesterol test is important way before you feel old or sick. A basic lipid panel measures fats and fatty substances in the blood that indicate current and potential heart health, such as LDL, HDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol, while a full lipid panel goes far and beyond typical blood tests, and includes a particle size measurement.

Particle size is extraordinarily important because research has shown that small dense LDL cholesterol can be inflammatory and toxic to blood vessels and that a high level of Lipoprotein(a) indicates the most dangerous blood lipids. This Lp(a) is a specific type of small LDL cholesterol particle that inflames your blood and makes it “sticky”, and patients with Lp(a) are more prone to clotting. A comprehensive lipid panel can investigate the types of cholesterol particles in your blood and give you a far more accurate profile of your cardiovascular risk than standard cholesterol tests do.

In addition, the fatty acids present in your blood are worth examining because a higher proportion of omega-6 linoleic acid can result in lower longevity and predict earlier death and physical and cognitive decline. This is because linoleic acid can make red blood cells more susceptible to oxidative damage, which ages the cells and impairs their ability to deliver oxygen. In contrast, the more omega-3 fatty acid in the red blood cells, the lower your risk for colon cancer (and the higher the omega-6, the higher the risk for colon cancer). Older individuals with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids physically decline more quickly than older adults with higher levels. Low omega-3 fatty acid count also predicts smaller brain volume and cognitive decline, even in older adults who don’t possess any other symptoms of dementia.

Known as the saturation index, your stearic acid:oleic acid ratio is another important marker to check. Stearic acid is a saturated fat and oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat. A lower saturation index is linked to several aging-related diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver diseaseprostate cancercolon cancer and gallbladder cancer. When it comes to longevity, a higher amount of stearic acid is preferred.

7. Testosterone + Free Testosterone

Several reports published in medical literature have proven that low testosterone is associated with increased mortality. They include this study, which shows that low testosterone levels are associated with increased mortality in male veterans; this study, which shows that low testosterone is associated with increased mortality over a 20 year time span, independent of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and prevalent cardiovascular disease (but attenuated by adjustment for IL-6 and C-reactive protein, making yet another case for keeping your inflammation low, especially if you have lower testosterone); and this report, which concludes that low testosterone may be even more dangerous than previously thought, and lead to a greater risk of death.

In that final report, men with low testosterone had a 33% greater death risk over their next 18 years of life compared with men who had higher testosterone. The study tracked nearly 800 men, 50 to 91 years old, living in California. Their testosterone level was measured at the beginning of the study, and their health was then tracked over the next 20 years. In addition, low testosterone can also drastically affect the quality of your life as you age, as symptoms reported by these men included decreased drive, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, loss of strength, decrease in bone density and decreased muscle mass. Also, these men tended to be overweight or obese, and at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Men with the lowest testosterone, below 241 total serum level, were 40% more likely to die!

You can delve into even more resources on the link between testosterone and longevity in this helpful article by Dr. Jeffrey Dach, which includes links to optimal testosterone levels.

8. IGF-1 (Growth hormone surrogate)

I first discussed the link between a “sweet spot” for Insulin-Like Growth Factor I (IGF-I) in this article. In it, I summed up the writings of Dr. Rhonda Patrick on this matter, who said in a recent interview with the blood testing company WellnessFX:

…”in some cases there may exist a trade-off or a “faustian bargain” between longevity and performance. Optimizing for IGF-1, otherwise known as insulin-like growth factor-1, is one such case where more performance driven goals like maximizing growth and maintaining muscle and neurons may, to some degree, come at odds with ones desire for longevity.

The reason for this is that, aside from IGF-1’s more notorious role in building muscle, it has been shown to have some very interesting properties that haven’t entered mainstream dialogue as of yet: mice deprived of IGF-1 live longer…finding safe and effective ways to increase growth hormone and IGF-1 naturally, thereby, improving muscle and brain function while simultaneously preventing their atrophy seems like a no-brainer, who doesn’t want to be more fit and smarter – for longer?

Or is it longer? Mice, worms, and flies that are genetically engineered to be deficient in either growth hormone or IGF-1 live almost 50% longer than controls, which is a huge increase in lifespan. The converse has also shown to be also true: Overexpressing growth hormone by 100 to 1,000-fold in mice causes a 50% shorter lifespan, mainly due to kidney and liver dysfunction. The same results have been demonstrated in lower invertebrate species such as worms and flies, suggesting that this mechanism is evolutionarily conserved. Okay, admission here: either eliminating growth hormone or blasting it 1000-fold in mice is rather extreme…

…if you’re not quite convinced that the aging component to all of this is something that might also be relevant to humans consider this: polymorphisms (variations) in the gene that encodes for the IGF-1 receptor, which leads to decreased IGF-1 levels, have been associated with the longer lifespan found in centenarians.”

Ultimately, while the anecdote above sums things up pretty thoroughly, recommended levels of IGF can vary widely – but in a very eye-opening hormone replacement therapy podcast interview I conducted with anti-aging physician Dr. Richard Gaines, he recommended IGF-1 values between approximately 80 and 150 ng/ml.

9. Insulin

Low fasting insulin can be a crucial market for longevity and indicates an important variable called “glycemic variability”, which is basically how often your blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day. In this article I wrote on blood sugar management, you learned about the extreme importance of glucose regulation and glycemic variability when it comes to longevity – and insulin is intimately tied to these variables.

For example, high fasting insulin levels are associated with a greater risk of cancer mortality. In addition, cancer patients who eat the highest amount of insulin-producing foods experience worsened cancer and increased overall mortality. Furthermore, high insulin levels can predict cancer mortality, even when controlling for confounding variables such as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. In older adults with type 2 diabetes, the level of insulin use also predicts mortality.

The trick is not to eliminate insulin altogether, but to keep insulin levels within control. My friend Dr. Joseph Mercola recommends “a normal fasting blood insulin level…below 5, but ideally… below 3”.

10. Complete Blood Count w/ Differential

A complete blood count with differential, also known as a CBC, is often used as a broad screening test to determine an individual’s general health status. It can be used to screen for a wide range of conditions and diseases and to help diagnose various conditions, such as anemia, infection, inflammation, bleeding disorder or leukemia. The CBC is a panel of tests that evaluate the three types of cells that circulate in the blood, including:

Evaluation of white blood cells, the cells that are part of the body’s defense system against infections and cancer and also play a role in allergies and inflammation. White blood cell (WBC) count is a count of the total number of white blood cells in a person’s sample of blood and identifies and counts the number of the various types of white blood cells present (the five types include neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils).

Evaluation of red blood cells, the cells that transport oxygen throughout the body. Red blood cell (RBC) count is a count of the actual number of red blood cells in a person’s sample of blood. Other factors in this part of the panel include hemoglobin, MCV, MCH, MCHC, RDW, MPV and PDW. Hemoglobin measures the total amount of the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood, which generally reflects the number of red blood cells in the blood. Hematocrit measures the percentage of a person’s total blood volume that consists of red blood cells. Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is a measurement of the average size of a single red blood cell. Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) is a calculation of the average amount of hemoglobin inside a single red blood cell. Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) is a calculation of the average concentration of hemoglobin inside a single red blood cell. Red cell distribution width (RDW) is a calculation of the variation in the size of RBCs. The mean platelet volume (MPV) may be reported with a CBC. It is a calculation of the average size of platelets. Platelet distribution width (PDW) is also be reported with a CBC and reflects how uniform platelets are in size.

In the article “Which observations from the complete blood cell count predict mortality for hospitalized patients?”, it is reported that the most impressive predictors of mortality to be derived from a CBC are burr cells, nucleated red blood cells (NRBCs), and absolute lymphocytosis (an increase in the number of lymphocytes in the blood.). In the analysis, the first two (burr and NRBCs) were associated with mortality rates 8 to 10 times higher than that of the average admitted patient. There are anecdotal reports in the literature of burr cells being associated with “ominous prognosis” and more robust statistical analyses showing NRBCs to be associated with increased mortality. Lymphocytosis has also been reported as a mortality risk in patients, especially those with trauma and emergency medical conditions. The analysis shows that all 3 of these findings are strong independent predictors of mortality.

In addition, this article reports that men and women with above-normal white blood cell counts could face an increased risk of death at an earlier age, particularly from cardiovascular disease. People with normal white cell counts may not be out of danger since individuals on the high end of the normal range are also at increased risk of illness and death. Basically, the risk of cardiovascular mortality increases progressively with increasing white blood cell counts, and the increased risk of mortality associated with high white blood cell (counts) is maintained over 40 years of follow-up!

So there you have it. Sure, you should certainly pay attention to qualitative, objective variables such as love, life, relationships, healthy food, fasting, grip strength and more – but also use modern science to track important internal variables and the biomarkers you’ve just discovered in this new Anti-Aging panel. The only blood test not included above, but that I still highly recommend if your goal is to track the biological aging process, is the “Teloyears” telomere test. You can learn more about that test here.


How To Test Your Hormones

Because hormone levels widely fluctuate throughout the day, the gold-standard method for testing your hormones is the DUTCH urine steroid hormone profile, which measures hormones and hormone metabolites (called conjugates) in a dried urine sample, and is performed via multiple measurements throughout the day – all from the comfort of your home. It is the most cutting-edge way to truly see what’s going on when it comes to your hormones because it doesn’t just measure hormones, but also something called “metabolites”, which are a measurement of hormone production and hormone breakdown.

Measuring both hormones and their metabolites can give you or your healthcare practitioner a much better overall picture of hormone production. For example, a DUTCH urine steroid hormone profile on someone with low salivary cortisol could show normal cortisol production, but high levels of metabolites. In other words, this would indicate that you are producing enough cortisol, but it’s just getting broken down into its metabolites very quickly. There are also some metabolites that are important markers for cancer risk that can only be measured in urine. With serum (blood) and saliva hormone spot-testing, it’s possible to track variations in hormone release throughout the day – and this is a great way to measure how your hormones change during a 24-hour period (your circadian rhythm).

In contrast, the standard 24-hour urine collection many physicians use reflects your total hormone output in a 24-hour period. But by using the DUTCH urine steroid test, you get the best of all worlds: blood, saliva and urinary results with just a urine collection. The DUTCH test measures the following:

-Free cortisol

-Free cortisone

-Creatinine

-Tetrahyrdocortisone

-a-tetrahydrocortisol

-b-tetrahydrocortisol

-DHEAs

-Progesterone metabolites (a-pregnanediol, b-pregnanediol)

-Androgen metabolites (DHEAS, etiocholanolone, androsterone, testosterone, 5a-DHT, 5a-androstanediol, 5b-androstanediol, epi-testosterone)

-Estrogen metabolites (estrone, estradiol, estriol, 2-OH-estrone, 4-OH-estrone, 16-OH-estrone, 2-Methoxy-estrone, 2-OH-estradiol)

-6-OH-melatonin-sulfate

Testing is easy. When you order the test kit here, you are sent a collection kit straight to your front door, and the kit includes five easy-to-use filter paper devices on which you urinate. You then use the enclosed pre-paid label to simply send it back to the lab. To learn more about the DUTCH test in great detail, take a listen to these two podcast episodes:

Why Is My Cortisol High Even Though I’m Doing Everything Right? Hidden Causes Of High Cortisol, The DUTCH Test & More!

High Cortisol Mysteries Unveiled, The Adrenal Fatigue Myth, Advanced Lab Blood Testing & More!


How To Test For Food Sensitivities

I prefer to use Cyrex Labs for food sensitivity testing because their tests are highly accurate, consistent, and based on the latest research and development in food sensitivity analysis. Versus outdated tests that test only one form of the food, Cyrex tests for multiple forms of foods (raw, cooked, processed, and combined foods). This is important because food proteins change when they are either cooked or processed. You might react deleteriously to a food only when it’s cooked but not raw, or vice versa. In addition, you may react to a food only when it’s in combination with other foods. Cyrex takes all of this into account and identifies foods that challenge your immune system so you can reduce the load on your immune system by minimizing exposure to those foods.

On your results, Cyrex gives three ranges of results: “normal,” “equivocal,” and “out of range”. “Normal” indicates an immune response within the accepted reference range, “equivocal” is one standard deviation away from a normal result, and “out of range” is two points of deviation from normal.

You should consider any “equivocal” result to be significant and worth addressing, and any “out of range” result to mean that a food is provoking a serious immune response. Even an equivocal result may mean you are just beginning to exhibit an immune reaction to a food, and short-term elimination of that food combined with addressing issues such as a leaky gut or other strategies you discover in my “How To Fix Your Gut” article here is a very good idea. If you test positive for immune sensitivity to many foods, you should remove only the ones you react most to (the “out of range” scores on the Cyrex panel), and begin a protocol to restore tolerance. After several weeks, you can test again, and if fewer foods come back positive, it’s a sign you are on the right track.

The Cyrex Array 10, also called the “Multiple Food Immune Reactivity Screen”, measures reactivity to 180 food antigens, including reactions to foods in cooked, raw, and/or modified forms. This can then help you customize which foods to eat and avoid. Of all the Cyrex panels, I consider it to give you the best bang for your buck when it comes to food sensitivity testing.

Another newer way to test for food allergies is by simply analyzing your entire microbiome, then choosing your foods based on your unique bacterial profile in your gut. Currently, the best way to do this is via a Viome complete microbiome panel. Since Viome is a bacterial, not an antibody test, if your pocketbook permits, I recommend testing with both Cyrex and Viome, and then eliminating any foods that are ranked as a high priority to avoid based on both tests. More on Viome below…


How To Test For Micronutrient Deficiencies

Sometimes you need to take deep dive into the smaller variables that a basic blood test doesn’t look into, such as amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals, metabolites, enzymes, inflammatory markers and more. For this, you can use a special panel called an “ION Profile”, also known as a micronutrient blood test.

This test is a combination of advanced nutritional analyses that measure levels of organic acids, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Over time, nutritional deficiencies of these compounds can cause a variety of chronic health conditions, and if you struggle with things like poor sleep, less-than-stellar workouts, brain fog, appetite cravings, sore joints, or any other “mysterious” issues, this profile can help to elucidate and discover micronutrients and other small components that other basic blood test simply can’t discover.

The Micronutrient Blood Test ION Profile from Genova includes functional deficiency marker testing for:

-Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and Folic Acid

-Vitamins A, E, B-Carotene

-Coenzyme Q10

-Amino Acids

-Fatty Acids

-Organic Acids

-Lipid Peroxides

-Homocysteine


How To Test The Gut

There are approximately 40 trillion microorganisms living in your gut. They help you digest your food, produce beneficial and harmful chemicals, control infections from pathogens, regulate your immune system, and even control your emotions (ever have a “gut feeling”?). These microorganisms – which make up your gut microbiome – have been implicated in maintaining optimal health, as well as contributing to many chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, coronary artery disease, psoriasis, lupus, and autism. By taking care of your 40 trillion microbe friends, you can maximize your wellness and potentially prevent disease.

One way to actually figure out what’s going on with your gut bacteria is via a full sequencing of your gut microbiome using a service called Viome. Viome was born at the prestigious Los Alamos National Lab and originated from technology originally designed for national security. It is based on a complete sequencing of the gut microbiome based on a very small stool sample. Since every living organism produces RNA molecules from their DNA. By sequencing all of the RNA in your stool, Viome can identify and quantify all of the living microorganisms in your gut (bacteria, viruses, bacteriophages, archaea, fungi, yeast, parasites, and more) at the species and strain level.

While identifying the microorganisms in your gut is important, you can gain the most insight into your gut when you can also understand the function of those microorganisms (this is called “gut microbiome gene expression”). This is because the microbes in your gut produce thousands of chemicals, (called metabolites) that affect your overall wellness.  Some of these microbial metabolites can be beneficial to your health, such as B vitamins and short chain fatty acids, while others can be detrimental, such as Trimethylamine N-oxide, or “TMAO”, which causes coronary artery disease. By analyzing the genes that your microbes express, Viome can identify which metabolites they produce – in other words, they can determine the role of these metabolites in your body’s ecosystem. By following Viome’s diet and lifestyle recommendations, you are then able to fine-tune the function of your gut microbiome to minimize the production of harmful metabolites and maximize the production of beneficial ones.

As I discuss in great detail here, every person is biochemically unique. As a result, every person processes macronutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrates) differently than others do. Because of this, as part of the “poop test kits” that they send you in the mail, Viome also sends you a special “nutritional challenge” shake to drink, followed by a series of measurements that you take which analyze your body’s response to determine how quickly you regain your balance and how you metabolize different macronutrients.  When they combine the results of this nutritional challenge test with your poop test results, Viome can then provide your ideal macronutrient ratio and make dietary recommendations that are unique to you. When you sign up with Viome, you get an at-home kit delivered straight to your home, access to Viome’s artificial intelligence engine, and a personalized plan with diet and nutrition recommendations delivered via an app. You also get a full list of microbes in your gut, which not only include bacteria, but also viruses, yeast, fungi, bacteriophages, and all other living microorganisms.

In addition to a Viome test for your complete gut microbiome analysis, I’m also a fan of the Genova 3 Day Gut Panel, since it allows you to determine, (which combines DNA Analysis, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry), microscopy, an enzyme immunoassay and colorimetry to test for the presence of enzymes, specific compounds, antibodies, hormones and many more substances in your gut. When it comes to going beyond the bacteria that Viome analyzes and also testing for yeast, fungus, parasites, etc. I consider this to be the gold standard for gut testing. It is a home stool collection test kit that is mailed to you, with the only drawback to it being that you must store your precious poo in the refrigerator for three consecutive days as you gather all the stool for the test, which may be shocking to any dinner guests that you have if you are not careful.

For more information on Viome, check out the podcast I recently conducted with their founder Naveen Jain, fresh off the presses just a few days ago at the time this article is being released.


How To Test Your Genes

You’re no doubt familiar with 23andme, the genetic testing service that can analyze your saliva, then give you detailed information on your ancestry, and certain genetic variables that affect your health. Problem is, even though I’m a big fan of getting a 23andme test, the good folks at 23andme only test for a limited number of genetic factors, and can only legally release a limited amount of health information, which means that you must download your raw data from 23andme (it is very easy to do this) and then upload that data to other websites that can give you much more actionable information than 23andme can.

As you discover in this podcast, Ben Lynch’s online genetic analysis service called “Strategene”, which analyzes your raw genetic data from 23andme for a host of different so-called “dirty genes”, is just one example of the useful information you can glean once you upload your raw genetic data to a third party analysis website.

DNAFit is another good service to upload your genetic data to, especially if you’re an active individual who wants to know more about how to exercise and how to eat.  Using the power of genetic science, it is now possible to determine your response to a selection of key genetic markers associated with health fitness, nutrition and sporting performance. DNAFit provides in-depth analysis of up to 45 key genetic variants, allowing you to tailor your training and nutrition choices to play to your genetic advantage. The DNAFit Nutrigenetic report uses DNA information to provide information about individual response to carbohydrate and fats, detoxification (phase 1 and phase 2) ability, anti-oxidant capacity, omega-3 and vitamin B and D needs, salt, alcohol and caffeine sensitivity, lactose intolerance and celiac disease predisposition. The DNAFit Fitness report uses DNA information to provide information regarding power training vs. endurance genetics response, aerobic (VO2 Max) response, recovery profile and injury risk.

You can listen to an example of how to interpret a genetic test like DNAFit and how I personally walk people through the results of their genetic analyses (in this case, obstacle course racing and Crossfit beast Hunter McIntyre) in the podcast episode “The Genetics Of A Beast Freak Of Nature“.

While Strategene and DNAFit are two of my favorite third-party services to which you can upload your 23andme data, you can view a host of other useful websites for analyzing your genetic data at 23andyou.com. Finally, I’ll soon be releasing a mind-blowing podcast on a new genetic test out of Canada that blows the amount of data you get from 23andme or DNAFit out of the water. Click here to subscribe to my newsletter so you’re the first to find out when that podcast gets released.


How To Test Your Blood Glucose & Ketones

While a single blood test using an inexpensive blood glucose monitor from any drugstore or website such as Amazon can give you a static snapshot of your blood glucose levels, nothing beats a continuous blood glucose monitor for truly determining how your diet is affecting one of the most important parameters of your health and fitness: glycemic variability.

A continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM) is a system that does just what it sounds like: it monitors your blood sugar continuously, 24 hours a day. The data is transmitted from a sensor which is inserted right beneath your skin, and this is attached to a transmitter which sends the data to the receiver. You are then able to see your blood sugar at any point via a receiver or a phone app.

The basic way any CGM system works is via a tiny sensor inserted under the skin of your abdomen or on the back or your arm that is typically worn for 7-14 days (in my opinion, if you are eating your normal diet, you eat the same things regularly, and you test for two weeks, you’ll know everything you need to know about your blood glucose and can likely stop testing at that point unless you’re wearing the CGM for medical reasons). This sensor will be reading glucose levels in the interstitial fluid below your skin’s surface and is attached to a transmitter which sends the glucose level data wirelessly to an insulin pump (if a diabetic is using the CGM) or other receiver or smartphone app. This means that at any given time during the day or night, you can look at your device and see how your blood glucose level is trending, and even receive instant notifications if it gets too high or too low. The two most popular CGM’s – both of which I’ve experimented with and found to work well, especially when covered in kinesiotape or some kind of ace bandage for high-intensity workouts, races, swimming, sauna etc. – are the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring System and the Freestyle Libre. Admittedly, because of my highly active lifestyle, I was nervous about using a continuous blood glucose monitor due to my fears that it would constantly become detached from my body, become water damaged, or that the extremely small needle that is inserted between the CGM and the skin would become bent. However, as long as I am careful to tape the CGM prior to intense physical activity, it seems to stay attached and continue to take good readings. I’d especially recommend the more expensive but far more accurate Dexcom G6 model, which also requires a physician’s prescription but is well worth it if you can get your hands on one.

In addition to blood glucose, it can be very insightful to measure your ketone levels, which are reflective of how efficiently you are burning fat, or how efficiently you are producing energy, even in the absence of high blood glucose levels. Assuming you do not possess genes that would make you respond deleteriously to a high-fat, low-carb diet, ketosis can be a powerful nutrition approach to use switch your metabolism to prioritizing the use of fat as a fuel, while also increasing cognitive and physical performance (incidentally, even if you’re not achieving ketosis via a high-fat, low-carb diet, you can still amp up ketone production by intermittent fasting or engaging in other forms of calorie or carbohydrate restriction). Many people just assume that if they are “low carb” or fasting they are in ketosis, but it can be useful, especially if you’re just getting used to a new diet or supplement and trying to determine whether or not it increases ketone production.

There are a host of methods to measure ketones, but my current tool of choice and the one that currently sits on my office desk is the Levl device for measuring ketones, which is based on a simple breath measurement that not only tells you ketones, but with pretty good precision fills you in on exactly how much fat you’re burning each day based on an algorithmic approximation from your breath ketone values. Just like a CGM beats constant finger needle pricks for blood glucose, the LEVL beats the pants off repeatedly conducting blood ketone evaluations.


How To Track Your Readiness For Stress

No one can perform at their best 24/7/365, because both mental and physical readiness varies from day to day. This means some days are perfect for challenging your body and mind, and other days should be focused on easy, restorative, relaxing activities. Ideally, this is something that should be quantified and tracked. As a very sleek and efficient way to test the body’s recovery status and overall wellness without the need for imprecise subjective evaluation, time-consuming questionnaires or extensive testing, and with the use of one simple piece of hardware – the Oura ring – I’m now using the Readiness score as one of the only key “daily metrics” I glance at (the other is sleep, and occasionally blood glucose and ketones during periods of trying new diets, foods or supplements). The Readiness score allows me to answer important questions, such as:

-Is my nervous system ready to take on the day?

-Should I take it easy today in my workouts or go all out?

-How much stress can I handle today?

-Should I get extra sleep tonight, or a nap today?

-Have recent lifestyle or environmental changes significantly affected me?

All of these questions can be quickly answered if I can simply wake up each day and glance at my Readiness score, which indicates how recovered I am and how well my body is responding to the demands of daily life. If daily stress load and recovery are in balance, then usually the Readiness is high. I use the same method with the clients and athletes I coach to give me intelligent data that educates me on exactly how to structure their training for the week – even occasionally pushing the athletes in training through low periods of Readiness followed by big bouts of recovery so that they can super-compensate and bounce back even stronger (a training method called “periodization”).

It’s true that the current state of your body and mind can give you subtle hints about your readiness. For example, are you relaxed or tense? Is your mind crystal clear or covered in fog? Do you feel healthy or a bit under the weather? But these are mainly subjective evaluations of your readiness. An objective evaluation is also important, which is why getting a personal Readiness score is something I very quickly do each morning by glancing at the smartphone app that connects to the Oura ring.

The Readiness score ranges from 0–100%, and is based on specific metrics tracked with the Oura ring, specifically:

Previous Night’s Sleep: How well you slept the night before has a big impact on your Readiness Score. A general rule of thumb is that the previous night’s “sleep score” should be above 85% or at the high end of your normal range if you’re planning to subject your body to stress or do something that calls for maximum physical or mental performance.

Sleep Balance: Sleep Balance is based on a longer-term view of your sleep patterns. The Oura ring compares the past two weeks of your sleep duration to your long-term sleep history and the amount of sleep time recommended for people in your age group.

Previous Day’s Activity: The Oura ring keeps track of your previous day’s load and guides you accordingly. This means your Readiness score may be slightly lower if you have trained intensively in the past 24 hours, although if your RHR (see below) is normal and your HRV (see below) is still high, your Readiness score may not be as low as you think.

Body Temperature: Knowing the variations in your night-time body temperature helps you to detect early signs of impending sickness or a need to rest, and for women, the specific stages of the menstrual cycle (for example, studies have shown that females should schedule the majority of their highest intensity training to correlate to the first half of the menstrual cycle.)

Resting Heart Rate (RHR): RHR is a reliable and scientifically proven measurement for establishing overall sleep quality, recovery and health. Usually, an RHR on the lower side indicates good fitness, but an exceptionally high or low resting heart rate can be a sign that you need more recovery. For more on RHR, check out this fascinating article on the big data that Fitbit just released on the link between RHR, exercise, longevity and much more. 

Recovery Index: The timing of your lowest RHR is also of significance and tells you how well your body is in recovering from the previous day’s load. Recovery Index is one indicator of this balance: it indicates how long it takes for your RHR to stabilize and reach its lowest point. An indicator of good readiness is if your lowest RHR happens earlier in the night (a rule of thumb is at least six hours prior to waking). For instance, eating a heavy meal, drinking alcohol, or exercising too close to bedtime can postpone the timing because they all speed up your metabolism and elevate your RHR, which in turn delays your recovery, increases your sleep needs and lowers your Readiness score.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV): Your HRV reflects the small time gap between your heartbeats, and in an ideal recovery scenario, this gap isn’t identical all the time and has mild beat-to-beat fluctuations. HRV is a measurement of the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Both researchers and practitioners consider HRV to be a good measure of your readiness status, as it can indicate stress and fatigue levels on your body. Generally speaking, when you’re fit, relaxed and recovered, your HRV is higher. When your body is recovering from stress or strenuous exercise, your HRV is lower. The Oura ring app shows your average HRV (from 5-minute samples measured during the whole night), and your nightly HRV curve.

All these variables are then tracked by the Oura ring and used to generate your daily Readiness Score. A general rule of thumb is that if your Readiness Score is above 85%, you’re ready to meet the day’s more stressful physical and mental challenges, and if it’s below 70%, you might want to consider concentrating more on recovery.


How To Track Your Sleep

What is the right amount of sleep for me?

How fast did I fall asleep?

Did I go through a normal series of sleep stages during the night?

How do I know if I’m sleeping well?

How do I measure sleep?

Until this new era of self-quantification came upon us, outside sleep laboratories, it was very difficult to answer questions like this and to track sleep objectively.

The problem with sleep monitoring is that traditionally, most people outside sleep clinics didn’t have tools with which to track sleep accurately. Without a measuring device, you cannot really know whether you have had enough deep or REM sleep. In addition, it can be tough to remember how well you slept, say, a couple weeks ago, or to generate realistic trends of how your sleep trends along with your diet, your supplements, and your exercise. This is important because, as you learned above, your “sleep history” can have a significant effect on your Readiness score. In addition, it’s easy to misinterpret sleep quality: having a feeling that you slept like a log doesn’t necessarily mean that your sleep was actually restorative, and training through a low Readiness score or a low sleep score can cause an impending injury or illness to rear its ugly head, even if you subjectively felt as though you were ready for stress. I’ve seen this happen over and over again in both myself and in clients and athletes I train who decided to simply listen to their body, vs. listening to the body but also using better self-quantification through science.

If you don’t know what your sleep quality is, you cannot act proactively. In the very worst case this can lead to a situation where you start to learn more about your sleep only after you’ve developed some sort of a sleeping disorder such as severe sleep apnea or insomnia, and need to consult a sleep clinic or find yourself addicted to sleep supplements or medications. Even if you do go to a professional sleep clinic or sleep lab, you’re usually only there for a night or two of sleep analysis, and the sleep tracking devices there can be quite uncomfortable to wear, thus giving you inaccurate data (go ahead: just try to get a normal night of sleep in a lab with a bunch of electrodes attached to your head).

It probably comes as no surprise to you that I also swear by the Oura ring as an my favorite accurate but unobtrusive sleep tracking device: it doesn’t disturb sleep, but with highly accurate sensors quietly measures body signals such as resting heart rate (RHR), heart rate variability (HRV), respiration rate, body temperature, and movement during sleep, along with tracking all your sleep cycles. You can then grab your sleep metrics in easy-to-read format and visualizations from the smartphone app, along with guidance on what the different metrics mean, and on ways to improve your sleep quality within time. Oura uses the following parameters to calculate your Sleep score:

Total Sleep: This contributor shows you the total amount of sleep you achieved the previous night, including light, REM and deep sleep. It’s important to realize that the total time you spent in bed does not necessarily equate with the amount of total sleep.

Efficiency: Put simply, efficiency means the percentage of time you spent sleeping while in bed. The longer the time sleeping, the more efficient your sleep was. In general, a sleep efficiency score of 85% or above shows that you fell asleep quickly enough (in less than 20 minutes) and didn’t wake up too often during the night.

Disturbances: Disturbances are the other side of the efficiency coin, and inform you as to the total time you spent awake. Disturbances such as wake-ups, get-ups and restless time during your sleep can have a big influence on your sleep quality, resulting in less restorative sleep. For example, this can be one of the primary reasons behind daytime sleepiness. Obviously, many things can cause your sleep to be interrupted, but variables such as stress, noise, sleep companions, light, room temperature, infections, drinking too much (alcohol or even water) so that you pee during the night, or later evening activities (exercise, screentime, heavy meals) are on the list of potential suspects.

REM Sleep: As you learned in this article on sleep, REM is short for rapid eye movement. This is the stage of your sleep that is associated with dreaming, but also with memory consolidation, learning and creativity. It ideally makes up about 20-25% of your total sleep time but tends to decrease with age.

Deep Sleep: Deep sleep, or NREM sleep, is considered the most restorative and rejuvenating stage of sleep. This is the stage where your muscle repair and growth takes place, your body is relaxed, blood pressure is lower, and it’s also harder to wake you up. The amount of deep sleep varies between nights and individuals, but on average, adults should spend 15-20% of their total sleep time in deep sleep. This percentage also tends to decrease with age. Basic, simple practices such as daily physical activity, and avoidance of practices such as heavy meals and alcohol before bedtime (or long naps and caffeine in the afternoon), can all increase your amount of deep sleep, as can following all the sleep hygiene tips you learned in my last big article on sleep, such as sleeping in a cool, dark room with limited sound interruptions.

Sleep Latency: This is the amount of time it takes for you to fall to sleep. Sleep latency is highly variable, but a rule of thumb is that it shouldn’t take you more than 15-20 minutes to fall asleep. There are many reasons that might lead to your sleep latency to decrease, including exposure to too much blue light at night, and a later dinner and/or alcohol too close to bedtime. Bear in mind that also dozing off in less than 5 minutes can often indicate that you are sleep deprived or that you haven’t slept enough the previous night.

Sleep Timing: As you also learned in my last big sleep article, every human has a biological clock aligned to day and night cycles. All of our essential biological processes such as body temperature, hormone releases and hunger operate on 24-hour cycles known as the circadian rhythms. As you also learned in that article, there are significant differences in our rhythms: some of us are more morning-oriented, some are evening people, and others are somewhere in-between. Regardless of the orientation, however, having a consistency in your rhythm and your sleep timing (e.g. I’m personally to bed approximately 10pm most nights and up approximately 6am most mornings) is important. In addition, having the midpoint of your sleep somewhere between midnight and 3am is preferred from a sleep quality point of view.

Collectively, each of the parameters above is used by the Oura ring to calculate your daily Sleep score. The score ranges from 0-100%, and as a rule of thumb: the higher it is, the better, more restorative sleep you have had.


Summary

If all this testing sounds a bit overwhelming, then please realize that the goal is not to spend each day hunched over a tube while spitting saliva, filling beakers full of blood in a laboratory or pooping into a tray every time you use the bathroom. In contrast, a simple and ideal self-quantification scenario would look like this:

-DNA test such as 23andme: once in a lifetime

-Comprehensive blood panel such as the Greenfield Longevity Panel for men or for women: once per year

-Microbiome test such as Viome: once per year or whenever the gut seems to significantly change in function or health.

-Food allergy test such as Cyrex: once per year or whenever the gut seems to significantly change in function or health.

-Hormone test such as DUTCH test: once per year or if feeling fatigued/run down with no explanation, particularly if low drive.

3 Day Gut test: once per year (or, similar to the Viome test, whenever symptoms arise)

Readiness and sleep tracking: daily

Ketones and glucose testing: optional, but to be performed ideally on a daily basis when adopting a new based diet or when attempting to evaluate which food groups cause glycemic variability or a rise/fall in ketones

Micronutrient test: optional, but to be performed if concerned about energy levels, health issues, or wanting to “dial in” supplementation and diet protocol even more thoroughly.

So now it’s time to start self-quantifying. Sure, you don’t have to buy a fancy $10,000 full-spectrum blood test from a Longevity Institute, but considering how inexpensive and accessible DNA testing is, it can be a perfect place to start. So invest in yourself. This week, consider ordering a DNA test. If you’ve already gotten one, open up your results, look at your disease risks, and see what proactive thing you can do for them. For example, if you have a higher than normal risk of prostate cancer, you can start getting more lycopene from a fresh tomato every day. Or if you have a high risk of type II diabetes, you can begin saving any carbohydrates that you eat for after an exercise session, when your when your blood sugar levels won’t be as prone to fluctuation. You get the idea. DNA testing is probably one of the less expensive and more informative tests that you learned about in this article.

Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about testing, tracking or self-quantification? Leave your comments below and I will reply!

 

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When it comes to testing your blood, I’m a fan of paying the closest attention to the biomarkers that have been proven to be associated with the aging process.

After all, if you can control for these blood values, you can be relatively confident that you’re going to maintain not just a reduced rate of biological aging, but also superior overall health.

In today’s article, you’ll learn the 11 best biomarkers to track for longevity as well as what you should do if your values are high or low. Please realize that (as you’ll shortly discover in detail) lab reference ranges are flawed and very non-specific to your physical activity levels and exercise goals, your current diet, your health history, and many other factors. I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this. These are just my own personal thoughts and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever.

And sure, there are many, many other parameters you could track in addition to what you’ll find in this article, but these particular markers are those I’ve chosen specifically for tracking your longevity. As usual, leave any questions, comments or feedback below the post, and stay tuned for a podcast soon during which I’ll detail all of this via audio too! You can subscribe to my podcast for free here.


When Normal Ain’t Normal

Before we jump into the exact biomarkers I recommend that you track, there’s one very important caveat: when a doctor or physician performs a test like a blood or saliva panel to look for health-related biomarkers, he or she compares your personal results to the results of the average population, which is known as a reference range or reference interval. This allows a physician to see how your test results compare to what’s considered normal. About 80% of doctors’ recommendations, diagnoses, and prescriptions are based on lab tests and their reference ranges.

But reference ranges may not be as normal as they are supposed to be. In this context, “normal” doesn’t necessarily mean “ordinary” or even “optimal.” “Normal” refers to how the values from an average population create a range or distribution of numbers on a graph.

When values are placed on a graph, the average value lies in the middle, and half the population’s values lie on the left side of the average (the lower half of the range) while the other half’s lie on the right (the higher side of the range). These values account for 95% of the population. Once 95% of the population is accounted for in a reference range, any remaining values are considered to be the tails of the curve on a graph, resulting in about 2.5% of the measured population falling outside of the reference range on either side.

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Here’s the first reason why reference ranges can be problematic: there’s no universal range for most lab tests.

Thus, different labs will have different ranges, so if you go to one lab for, say, a blood test, you might get normal results that suggest you’re perfectly healthy, but if you get the same test at a different lab, you might get abnormal results. Most labs don’t even carry out their own research to establish reference ranges but instead use those provided by test manufacturers.

In addition, when using these provided ranges, labs are supposed to perform 20 sample tests to verify that the manufacturers’ ranges are accurate, but most labs don’t even perform this step!

Granted, reference ranges can be useful since they give fixed values for biomarkers from relatively healthy populations, which gives healthcare providers a way to analyze your personal results, diagnose conditions, and prescribe treatments. Ranges also give you (the patient) a chance to see how your biomarkers measure up to those of tested populations.

But ranges don’t account for large population research, which often suggests completely different ranges for diagnosing disease and mortality risks. Reference ranges also don’t account for genetic individuality and differences in environment but instead act as a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach for diagnosing. The ranges are based on “healthy” populations, but these can be hard to define or find since a reference population may include people with undiagnosed diseases or conditions that affect their results for a given lab test.

And, as mentioned above, just because a certain range of values is considered to be normal doesn’t mean that those values are optimal – it just means those are the average values of the population that was tested.

The second reason why laboratory reference ranges need to be viewed with a wary eye is that they don’t necessarily reflect levels that would help you go from good to great but simply the levels that allow for the absence of disease.

For example, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is often not flagged as high until it reaches levels above 4.0, but many people – although they may not have full-blown hypothyroidism – can still feel sluggish or show signs of low metabolism or low thyroid activity with levels as low as 2.0.

The same can be said for testosterone. The low levels set by reference ranges you see on a lab test are often set so low that they just show a red flag if you have hypogonadism, but they aren’t necessarily set at levels that would allow for high drive, fast exercise recovery or increased physical performance. In these two scenarios, you may finish looking at your test and think your thyroid and testosterone are just fine when, in fact, they should actually be addressed if your goal is peak performance.

Another reason why reference ranges frequently don’t represent optimal ranges is that they are often applied to both men and women when, instead, men and women should ideally have separate ranges for many markers.

For example, aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) are liver enzymes that are used to measure liver function, liver damage, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. One reference range allows for AST to vary from 10 to 40 U/L (units per liter) and ALT to vary from 7 to 56 U/L for both men and women. But research indicates that while this may be a “normal” range, it’s far from ideal for either men or women. Several research reports on liver enzymes suggest that for men, ALT shouldn’t exceed 30 U/L, and for women, it shouldn’t exceed 19 U/L. One study performed to determine upper cut-off values for AST and ALT states that in men, ALT shouldn’t exceed 22.15 U/L and AST shouldn’t exceed 25.35 U/L, while in women, ALT shouldn’t exceed 22.40 and AST shouldn’t exceed 24.25. Dr. Bryan Walsh, a board-certified naturopathic physician and the man behind the Walsh Detox protocol, claims that ALT and AST shouldn’t be much higher than 20 and that their reference ranges in men and women should be different.

While the exact mechanism behind different ideal ranges for AST and ALT is largely unknown, another study suggests that hemoglobin may be responsible. High hemoglobin levels have been shown to be strongly associated with elevated ALT levels in men, and hemoglobin is typically lost through bleeding. Since men don’t have a monthly menstrual cycle by which they lose regular amounts of blood, they typically have higher hemoglobin levels than women, possibly resulting in higher levels of liver enzymes.

So if you order a blood test, and your results fall outside of the “normal” range, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sick or have a higher risk of getting sick. After all, reference ranges come with built-in bumpers on either side to allow for 5% of the population to have out-of-range biomarker values, and 5% can be an enormous number of people, including you.


The 11 Best Biomarkers To Track For Longevity

OK, let’s jump in. If you care at all about how well you’re doing in the longevity game, you’re curious how fast you’re aging, or you want to quantify the efficacy of your healthy eating and healthy living efforts, it’s worth paying attention to each of the following parameters.

The following list is by no means comprehensive but includes those that I consider to be the most important biomarkers to track.


1. RBC Magnesium

Accurately measuring magnesium levels can be difficult. Magnesium is found primarily within your cells (intracellular), so most blood tests for magnesium do not detect a significant deficiency because they measure what is outside the cells (extracellular).

Despite this fact, most physicians measure magnesium with a simple blood test, and many people are then informed that their levels are normal. But to get an accurate reading, you need to measure intracellular magnesium levels, which can be done by testing red blood cells.

Red blood cell (RBC) magnesium measurements can help predict important longevity markers such as insulin sensitivity and likelihood to be hospitalized. High levels of RBC magnesium can predict physical performance and potential for sarcopenia (muscle deterioration) as you age.

As mentioned above, an RBC magnesium test can provide an earlier indication of magnesium deficiency than a standard magnesium blood test. This is because when levels are low, the body will pull magnesium from the red blood cells to keep blood levels normal. In this case, a magnesium blood test may show normal levels while an RBC magnesium test will give a far more accurate result. The ideal range for RBC magnesium levels is 6.0 to 6.5 mg/dl (the normal reference range is 4.2 to 6.8 mg/dl).

While you can request an RBC magnesium test via a blood test during a visit to your doctor or healthcare provider, you can also order one yourself through an independent lab, such as DirectLabs, or get the test as part of the comprehensive blood panels I designed for men and women that are available through WellnessFX, which both include RBC magnesium measurements.

Finally, as an alternative to RBC magnesium testing, some physicians will test magnesium by scraping some cells from the tongue and smearing them onto a slide that is sent to a lab that can analyze the contents for magnesium. A lab called Intracellular Diagnostics offers this test, and it is just as accurate as an RBC magnesium test.


2. Estradiol

While you’ll learn about full hormone panels later in this article, some of the most important hormones to test for in both men and women are estrogens, particularly estradiol, the major female sex hormone.

Estrogens aid in regulating bone mass and strength by stimulating bone-forming osteoblasts and inhibiting bone-absorbing osteoclasts. This type of bone support is crucial for reducing age-related fractures and even maintaining healthy production of new blood cells as you age.

Bones also provide endocrine support since they are involved in maintaining calcium levels. Interestingly, when women are treated with exogenous estrogens, reductions in bone mass and increases in bone turnover can be reversed, suggesting that estrogens have a potent bone-protective effect.

Estrogens also protect against oxidative stress and participate in the antioxidant system by decreasing the expression of NADPH oxidase, an important source of superoxide radical and increasing the availability of nitric oxide, an antioxidant naturally produced in the body. In addition, estradiol stimulates the activity of antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione peroxidase, in mitochondria. Since mitochondrial respiration produces reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative damage, this activity of estradiol results in less oxidative stress from normal metabolic processes (this may contribute to the longer life expectancy of women compared to men). Estrogen can also stimulate muscle repair and regenerative processes, likely by acting as antioxidants and mitigating oxidative damage, leading to greater muscle strength and preventing fall-related fractures.

Ideal estradiol levels vary for men and women, ranging in men from about 10 to 82 pg/ml (one pg or picogram is one one-trillionth of a gram).

Levels in women vary depending on which point of their menstrual cycle they are in:

  • Less than 50 pg/ml during menstrual periods.
  • Up to 200 pg/ml during follicular development.
  • Up to 400 pg/ml just before ovulation.

In women, estradiol levels dip just before the release of the ovum and peak again during the luteal phase. If a woman is not pregnant, estradiol levels reach their lowest point at the end of the luteal phase.

There are a few options for testing levels of estrogens and estradiol, but they’re not all created equal. Blood testing is the least effective method because it only provides a snapshot of what your hormones levels look like at the exact moment you had your blood drawn. Since your hormone levels change throughout the day based on your normal circadian rhythm, this doesn’t give you a full picture. A salivary panel, known as an adrenal stress index (ASI), can measure salivary levels of hormones with four to five salivary measurements performed throughout the day. This gives you a more accurate idea of how your hormones are fluctuating during a 24-hour period.

The gold standard for hormone testing is a urine test known as the DUTCH test, which tells you not only what your hormones are doing over a 24-hour cycle but also the upstream and downstream metabolites of those hormones. This allows you to know if you are deficient in certain hormones, if your hormones aren’t being metabolized properly or if they’re being metabolized too rapidly. You can order a DUTCH test here (search for DUTCH Cycle Mapping + DUTCH Complete-Precision Analytical Inc. Kit) and an adrenal stress index here.


3. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein

Over two dozen research studies have proven that baseline levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in healthy men and women are highly predictive of future risk of cardiovascular ailments, including heart attack, diabetes, stroke, sudden cardiac death, and peripheral arterial disease. It has also been shown that CRP levels predict repeat coronary events among patients who already suffer from heart disease and that the outcome of patients immediately after a heart attack is tightly linked to CRP levels.

Ultimately, individuals with excessive levels of CRP have a risk about two to three times higher than the risk of those with low, optimal levels.

In my opinion, a CRP test for inflammation, combined with a basic lipid panel, is the single best way to evaluate your risk for heart disease. By eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory herbs, spices, and nutrients (especially turmeric and fish oil) and avoiding overtraining and excessive stress and toxin exposure, I personally try to keep my CRP below 0.5 mg/L and prefer to have it below 0.2mg/L.

You can order a CRP test through your doctor or healthcare provider, through Amazon, or through an independent lab, such as DirectLabs, which offers tests that cover both CRP as well as lipids like HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.


4. Triglyceride-to-HDL Ratio

Otherwise known as the atherogenic index of plasma (yep, that’s a mouthful), a high triglyceride-to-HDL ratio (meaning a high number of triglycerides relative to your HDL cholesterol) is also one of the best indicators of your risk for heart disease.

This test has the added benefit of predicting lipoprotein particle size and insulin resistance, two other important markers for longevity.

For example, in one study in elderly women, the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio predicted all-cause mortality, meaning it predicted the risk of not only cardiovascular mortality but also the overall risk of dying from anything. There is, of course, a host of additional studies on this ratio, including a study that shows that triglyceride-to-HDL ratio predicts coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease mortality risk as well as or better than full-blown metabolic syndrome. A ratio of 2 or under is good for a triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, and most of my healthiest clients and myself aim for 1 or under. Above 4 is typically a very unfavorable scenario.

In a nutshell, consider the following three variables as the biggest issues to pay attention to for your overall lipid and cholesterol scenario:

  1. Trends: Triglycerides should ideally go down over time, while HDL should trend upwards.
  2. Total Cholesterol (more details below):HDL-C ratio – Lower is better and usually indicates fewer atherosclerotic LDL particles.
  3. Triglyceride:HDL-C ratio – Lower is better and usually indicates larger LDL and fewer particles. Ideally, this ratio should be close to 1 or lower.

If your triglycerides are high, implement the following strategies:

If your HDL is low, implement the following strategies:

  • Olive oil
  • Eggs
  • Low carb or ketogenic diet
  • Anthocyanin-rich foods (e.g. blueberries, blackberries, pomegranate, eggplant, red cabbage, and other darkly colored fruits and vegetables)
  • Low-to-moderate alcohol consumption
  • Coconut oil
  • Fatty fish
  • Aerobic exercise

HDL and triglyceride levels can be measured by your doctor, but you can also order panels yourself through LabCorp or DirectLabs, then compare the results of the HDL panel to the triglycerides panel to determine your ratio. HDL and triglycerides are also typically measured on a lipid panel, which you are about to discover.


5 & 6. Full Lipid Panel And Omega-3 Fatty Acids

An advanced cardiovascular and lipid panel goes beyond the typical cholesterol test to help uncover early risk factors for heart disease. Most people may not realize it, but a cholesterol test is important way before you feel old or sick. A basic lipid panel measures fats and fatty substances in the blood, such as LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, that indicate current and potential heart health, while a full lipid panel goes far beyond typical blood tests and includes a particle size measurement.

Particle size is crucial because research has shown that small, lower-density LDL cholesterol can be inflammatory and toxic to blood vessels and that a high level of lipoprotein(a) indicates the presence of the most dangerous blood lipids.

This Lp(a) is a specific type of small LDL cholesterol particle that inflames your blood and makes it “sticky,” and patients with Lp(a) are more prone to clotting. A comprehensive lipid panel can investigate the types of cholesterol particles in your blood and give you a far more accurate profile of your cardiovascular risk than standard cholesterol tests.

In most cases, a doctor or medical textbook will give you the usual, dyed-in-the-wool, one-size-fits-all advice for cholesterol ranges, such as the following:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 170 mg/dl for those under 20 years old, and less than 200 mg/dl for those 20 years or older.
  • HDL cholesterol: greater than 45 mg/dl for those under 20, and greater than 40 mg/dl for those 20 or older. In women aged 20 or older, values are greater than 50 mg/dl.
  • Triglycerides: less than 75 mg/dl for those 9 years or younger, less than 90 mg/dl for those 10 to 19, and less than 150 mg/dl for those 20 or older.
  • LDL-cholesterol: less than 110 mg/dl for those under 20, and less than 100 mg/dl for those 20 or older.
  • Cholesterol-to-HDL ratio: less than 5.0 mg/dl.
  • Non-HDL cholesterol: less than 120 mg/dl for those under 20, and less than 130 mg/dl for those 20 or older.

While these numbers are approximations of ranges for improving health or avoiding cardiovascular disease in a generalized population, the fact is that cholesterol values tend to highly fluctuate based on diet, exercise, genetics, and lifestyle. For example, Dave Feldman, of CholesterolCode.com, has developed a new paradigm for understanding cholesterol. Dave began demonstrating very large changes to his lipid markers through a series of self-experiments in which he changed only his dietary fat intake and kept every other lifestyle- and exercise-related factor constant.

His so-called Feldman Protocol has now been replicated by over 200 people who follow his work. The protocol involves eating a high-fat, low-carb diet with large quantities of fatty food for a few days, and the results from most people show, paradoxically, a corresponding drop in total and LDL cholesterol numbers.

Dave refers to this as an Inversion Pattern, and his lipid energy model suggests that high intake of dietary fat, especially when that fat is being used for energy by a very active person, can cause the production of LDL by the liver to go down because fewer lipoproteins are needed to transport fatty acids through the body and because triglycerides and fatty acids are being used so rapidly as a fuel.

In other words, lean, active people eating a high-fat diet may see their LDL decrease.

But this may not matter anyway because LDL can actually be a poor measurement of risk when compared to two other important lipid markers: HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. In studies that stratify all three, HDL and triglycerides appear as the clear risk indicators, with LDL becoming nearly irrelevant. When HDL is high and triglycerides are low, risk for cardiovascular disease is very low, regardless of LDL levels.

Ultimately, cholesterol can be confusing. If you want to become a cholesterol expert and understand forwards and backwards everything you need to know about lipids, I highly recommend my friend Dr. Peter Attia’s “Straight Dope On Cholesterol” series (see part 1 herepart 2 herepart 3 herepart 4 herepart 5 herepart 6 herepart 7 herepart 8 here, and part 9 here ) and his 5-part interview series (see part 1 herepart2part 3part4, and part 5) with Dr. Thomas Dayspring, both available at PeterAttiaMD.com. As discussed heavily in that series, particle count and size are particularly important, and your lipid panel should ideally be an NMR panel that can actually identify this (an NMR test is an FDA-cleared blood test that directly measures the amount of LDL circulating in the body, and directly counts the number of LDL particles a patient has using nuclear magnetic resonance technology). Ideally, total LDL particles should be less than 1000 nmol/L, total small LDL particles less than 600 nmol/L, LDL size greater than 21 nm, HDL size greater than 9 mmol/L and VLDL less than 0.1 nmol/L.

In addition, the fatty acids present in your blood are worth examining because a higher proportion of omega-6 linoleic acid can result in lower longevity and predict earlier death and physical and cognitive decline. This is because linoleic acid can make red blood cells more susceptible to oxidative damage, which ages the cells and impairs their ability to deliver oxygen.

In contrast, the more omega-3 fatty acid in the red blood cells, the lower your risk for colon cancer (and the higher the omega-6, the higher the risk for colon cancer). Older individuals with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids decline physically more quickly than older adults with higher levels. A low omega-3 fatty acid count also predicts smaller brain volume and cognitive decline, even in older adults who don’t possess any other symptoms of dementia. The ideal dietary ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3 fatty acids is 4-to-1, although many anti-aging and functional medicine practitioners suggest consuming a 1-to-1 ratio or higher in favor of omega-3 (the average American eats a ratio ranging from 12:1 to 25:1 omega-6-to-omega-3!)

There is also an important caveat. The omega-6 fatty acid in plant and vegetable oils is linoleic acid, but the omega-6 fatty acid that you ultimately use in your body and that you get from animal foods is arachidonic acid. The omega-3 fatty acid that is found in plant and vegetable oils is alpha-linolenic acid, but the omega-3 fatty acids that you get from animal food that you ultimately use in your body are EPA and DHA.

Now here’s one thing that a lot of folks don’t realize: despite plenty of talk out there about the ideal omega-6-to-3 ratio, most of the ratio data is based on animal experiments in which the animals were only fed fats found in plant and vegetable oils, specifically the linoleic omega-6 fatty acid and the alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acid. The ratio mattered quite a bit in these animal experiments – the enzymes that convert the omega-6 into the forms we need are the same as the enzymes that convert the omega-3s. So if there is not a dietary balance between omega-6 and omega-3, the fats can compete for those enzyme systems and too much intake of one fat may hurt the conversion of the other (and vice versa) and result in an omega-6-to-3 imbalance. But it’s important to understand that unless you’re a vegan who is only getting oils from plants, this doesn’t matter because the type of arachidonic acid and DHA found in animal foods, particularly foods such as eggs, liver and fish (and, even if you are a vegan, algae) won’t compete for the enzyme system because it doesn’t need any conversion.

So, ultimately, you need to pay more careful attention to omega-6-to-3 ratios only if you are eating a vegan diet.

An Omega index test is offered by labs such as OmegaquantGreat PlainsQuest or WellnessFX. This test examines EPA and DHA in red blood cell membranes, then calculates an index. For example, if you have 64 fatty acids in a cell membrane and 3 are EPA and DHA, then you would have an Omega-3 Index of 4.6%. An index of 8% or higher is ideal. Most people’s index is around 6% or below and in the US, most people are at 4% or below – the highest risk zone. This translates to a 90% higher risk of sudden cardiac death!

Finally, your stearic-acid-to-oleic-acid ratio, also known as your saturation index, is another important marker to check. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, and oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat. A lower saturation index is linked to several aging-related diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and gallbladder cancer. When it comes to longevity, a higher amount of stearic acid is preferred. The normal index for both adults and children is 0.97 to 1.02.

These type of lipid panels can be ordered through your doctor or healthcare provider or through independent labs like DirectLabs and LabCorp.


7. Testosterone & Free Testosterone

Several reports published in the related medical literature have proven that low testosterone (low T) is associated with increased mortality.

They include a study that shows that low T levels are associated with increased mortality in male veterans.

Another study shows that low T is associated with increased mortality over a 20-year timespan, independent of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and prevalent cardiovascular disease (but attenuated by adjustment for IL-6 and C-reactive protein, making yet another case for keeping your inflammation low, especially if you have lower T). One report concludes that low T may be even more dangerous than previously thought and lead to a greater risk of death.

In that final report, men with low T had a 33% greater death risk over their next 18 years of life compared with men with higher T. The study tracked nearly 800 men, 50 to 91 years old, living in California. Their T levels were measured at the beginning of the study, and their health was then tracked over the next 20 years. In addition, low T can drastically affect the quality of your life as you age, as symptoms reported by these men included decreased drive, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, loss of strength, decrease in bone density and decreased muscle mass. These men tended to be overweight or obese and had higher risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Indeed, men with the lowest T, below 241 total serum level, were 40% more likely to die!

Once T is produced by the testes (in men) or the ovaries or adrenal gland (in women), it enters the bloodstream as free T, which is the bioavailable form of T that your body can use. Normally, about 98% of this free T is bound to either albumin or sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). While about 55% of albumin-bound T can be used, SHBG-bound T is not readily bioavailable.

When it comes to T deficiencies, it is important to understand that having high total T levels does not mean that you will also have high, bioavailable free T levels. Some men have total T levels ranging from 300 to 800 ng/dl, but their free T levels are often as low as 2, 3 and 4ng/dl (often less than 1% of total T!). This can occur because some of the 2% of your T that remains in a free form can be converted into hormones like estradiol and DHT.

While you do need some amounts of estradiol and DHT (DHT is especially important in the brain as it promotes neurogenesis), when too much of your free T is converted into these hormones, you can suffer from the low bioavailable T levels that are associated with the health issues outlined above and an increased risk of death. This excess conversion is often associated with deficiencies in minerals like lithium, magnesium, and manganese, so you should ensure that you include as dietary staples sources of these minerals, such as nuts, dairy, red meat and leafy greens for lithium; legumes, avocados and dairy for magnesium; and whole grains, nuts and leafy greens for manganese).

So what ratio of free T to total T should you aim for?

Ideally, you want at least 2% of your T to be free, and this usually means that as a ratio, your T levels should be at least 1-to-49 free-T-to-bound-T. In other words, if your total T is, say, 500 ng/dl, then your free T levels should be about 10.2 ng/dl. The upper accepted levels for free T peak at 27 ng/dl, but it is important to note that this upper limit is simply the result of available measurements that have been performed and does not come from any reference range for what the maximum amount of testosterone is that a healthy human can maintain. This is why it is important to also pay attention to qualitative variables like drive, recovery and erectile function.

For men, ideal levels of free T typically range from 4.6 to 22.4 ng/dl, and ideal levels of bioavailable T (which includes albumin-bound T and free T) range from 110 to 575 ng/dl. For women, ideal levels of free T range from 0.02 to 0.5 ng/dl, and ideal levels of bioavailable T range from 0.5 to 8.5 ng/dl. You can delve into even more resources on the link between T and overall health and longevity in a fascinating article by Dr. Jeffrey Dach.

If you are testing your testosterone levels, it can be insightful to also test DHEA. The largest amount of hormone produced by the adrenal glands is actually in the form of DHEA, which is a precursor to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Symptoms of DHEA deficiency usually include fatigue, tiredness, exhaustion, cognitive impairment, depression, decreased drive, and risk of recurrent infections.

Fortunately, DHEA is relatively easy to measure. But when DHEA is measured, the results should be correlated to age to be meaningful. Males around the age of twenty should have high levels of DHEA (around 1,200 ng/dL). By age ninety, the level is usually closer to 180 ng/dL. A thirty-year-old male with a DHEA level of 250 ng/dL would technically fall “within the normal range” of 180 to 1,200, but as you can imagine, this is a problem, since it’s nowhere near optimal levels and can actually indicate adrenal insufficiency and significant hormone imbalances.

Similarly to estradiol and estrogen testing, the best way to test testosterone levels is not via a blood test or salivary test (although salivary tests are more accurate than blood tests if performed 4 to 5 times throughout the day), but via a comprehensive DUTCH test.


8. IGF-1

In a recent interview with the blood-testing company WellnessFX, Dr. Rhonda Patrick said, regarding insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), that:

“…in some cases there may exist a trade-off or a ‘Faustian bargain’ between longevity and performance. Optimizing for IGF-1, otherwise known as insulin-like growth factor-1, is one such case where more performance driven goals like maximizing growth and maintaining muscle and neurons may, to some degree, come at odds with one’s desire for longevity.

The reason for this is that, aside from IGF-1’s more notorious role in building muscle, it has been shown to have some very interesting properties that haven’t entered mainstream dialogue as of yet: mice deprived of IGF-1 live longer…finding safe and effective ways to increase growth hormone and IGF-1 naturally, thereby, improving muscle and brain function while simultaneously preventing their atrophy seems like a no-brainer, who doesn’t want to be more fit and smarter – for longer?

Or is it longer? Mice, worms, and flies that are genetically engineered to be deficient in either growth hormone or IGF-1 live almost 50% longer than controls, which is a huge increase in lifespan. The converse has also shown to be also true: Overexpressing growth hormone by 100 to 1,000-fold in mice causes a 50% shorter lifespan, mainly due to kidney and liver dysfunction. The same results have been demonstrated in lower invertebrate species such as worms and flies, suggesting that this mechanism is evolutionarily conserved.

Okay, admission here: either eliminating growth hormone or blasting it 1000-fold in mice is rather extreme… If you’re not quite convinced that the aging component to all of this is something that might also be relevant to humans consider this: polymorphisms (variations) in the gene that encodes for the IGF-1 receptor, which leads to decreased IGF-1 levels, have been associated with the longer lifespan found in centenarians.”

Ultimately, while the anecdote above sums things up pretty thoroughly, recommended levels of IGF can vary widely, but in an eye-opening hormone replacement therapy podcast interview I conducted with anti-aging physician Dr. Richard Gaines, he recommended a sweet spot of IGF-1 values between approximately 80 and 150 ng/ml. You can order an IGF-1 blood test online through LabCorp or Lab Tests Online.


9. Insulin

Low fasting insulin can be a crucial marker for longevity and indicates an important variable called glycemic variability, which is how often your blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day.

For example, high fasting insulin levels are associated with a greater risk of cancer mortality.

In addition, cancer patients who eat the highest amount of insulin-producing foods experience worsened cancer and increased overall mortality. Furthermore, high insulin levels can predict cancer mortality, even when controlling for variables such as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. In older adults with type 2 diabetes, the level of insulin use also predicts mortality.

The trick is not to eliminate insulin altogether, but to keep insulin levels within certain limits. My friend Dr. Joseph Mercola recommends “a normal fasting blood insulin level…below 5 [uIU/ml], but ideally… below 3.” You can order a blood insulin test through your doctor or healthcare provider or online through LabCorp or DirectLabs.


10. Complete Blood Count with Differential

A complete blood count with differential, also known as a CBC, is often used as a broad screening test to determine an individual’s general health status. It can be used to screen for a wide range of conditions and diseases and to help diagnose various conditions, such as anemia, infection, inflammation, bleeding disorder, or leukemia.

The CBC is a panel of tests that evaluate the three types of cells that circulate in the blood, including:

-The evaluation of white blood cells, the cells that are part of the body’s defense system against infections and cancer and also play a role in allergies and inflammation. White blood cell (WBC) count is a count of the total number of white blood cells in a person’s blood sample and identifies and counts the number of the various types of white blood cells present (the five types include neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils).

-The evaluation of red blood cells, the cells that transport oxygen throughout the body. Red blood cell (RBC) count is a count of the actual number of red blood cells in a person’s blood sample. Other factors in this part of the panel include hemoglobin, MCV, MCH, MCHC, RDW, MPV, and PDW. Hemoglobin measures the total amount of the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood, which generally reflects the number of red blood cells in the blood. Hematocrit measures the percentage of a person’s total blood volume that consists of red blood cells. Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is a measurement of the average size of a single red blood cell. Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) is a calculation of the average amount of hemoglobin inside a single red blood cell. Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) is a calculation of the average concentration of hemoglobin inside a single red blood cell. Red cell distribution width (RDW) is a calculation of the variation in the size of RBCs. The mean platelet volume (MPV) is a calculation of the average size of platelets. Platelet distribution width (PDW) reflects how uniform platelets are in size.

In the article “Which observations from the complete blood cell count predict mortality for hospitalized patients?”, it is reported that the most impressive predictors of mortality to be derived from a CBC are burr cells, nucleated red blood cells (NRBCs) and absolute lymphocytosis (an increase in the number of lymphocytes in the blood). In the analysis, the first two (burr cells and NRBCs) were associated with mortality rates 8 to 10 times higher than that of the average admitted patient. There are anecdotal reports in the literature of burr cells being associated with “ominous prognosis” and more robust statistical analyses showing NRBCs to be associated with increased mortality. Lymphocytosis has also been reported as a mortality risk in patients, especially those with trauma and emergency medical conditions. The analysis shows that all three of these findings are strong, independent predictors of mortality.

In addition, one study reports that men and women with above-normal WBC counts could face an increased risk of death at an earlier age, particularly from cardiovascular disease. People with normal WBC counts may not be out of danger since individuals on the high end of the normal range are also at increased risk of illness and death. Basically, the risk of cardiovascular mortality increases progressively with increasing WBC counts, and the increased risk of mortality associated with high WBC counts is maintained over 40 years of follow-up!

For WBC counts, a healthy blood functional range is between 5 and 8 cells per liter. Higher often indicates a possible infection and lower often indicates a depressed or suppressed immune system. As mentioned above, consistently high WBC counts translate to an increased risk of death at an earlier age, particularly from cardiovascular disease.

  • Neutrophils – 40-60%. 25-40%. Higher = viruses, autoimmunity, or detoxification challenges.
  • Monocytes – 0-7%. Higher = liver dysfunction, prostate problems, or recovering from infection (or Epstein Barr virus).
  • Eosinophils – 0-3%. Higher = food sensitivities, environmental allergies, or parasites.
  • Basophils – 0-1%. Higher = histamine intolerance.

You can order a CBC through your doctor or medical provider or order it online through LabCorp or DirectLabs.


11. Iron

Iron is certainly an important nutrient for almost all life. It forms hemoglobin, making it necessary for the effective transportation of oxygen in blood. It comprises proteins throughout the body and regulates cell growth and differentiation. It even helps maintain brain function, metabolism, endocrine function, and immune function and plays a role in the production of ATP, your body’s primary energy source.

But while iron seems to be the darling of many in the health and medical industries and iron deficiencies are frequently tested for, iron toxicity is rarely addressed.

As a result of many people being convinced that iron is a panacea, it can be found in everything from multivitamins to fortified, whole-grain breakfast cereals. Problem is, if you consume too much iron, you can develop iron overload. There’s even a disease called hemochromatosis, which is characterized by an accumulation of dangerously harmful levels of iron. This can be an especially concerning issue for men, who don’t bleed as regularly as women, and for sedentary individuals, who don’t turn over as many red blood cells and as much iron as active individuals, particularly endurance athletes.

Basically, as your cells produce energy through normal metabolism, they produce low, manageable levels of a toxic byproduct of oxygen called superoxide. As superoxide is produced, enzymes convert it into hydrogen peroxide, which is then converted into water and oxygen. But when iron interacts with superoxide or hydrogen peroxide, it leads to a chemical reaction that produces a free radical known as a hydroxyl radical.

Hydroxyl radicals can be extremely harmful to your cells, and if you are consuming excess iron or have excess iron in your bloodstream, you can produce high levels of these radicals, leading to age-related chronic conditions such as can cancer, heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Think of this like “rusting” your body.

There are two biomarkers you can track that will reveal if you have excess iron, the first being a protein called ferritin.

When your iron levels are sufficient, the protein hepcidin is secreted by the liver and signals to the cells in your gastrointestinal tract to block the absorption of iron. It also signals your body’s other cells to bind their iron to ferritin, which acts as an iron storage mechanism. If your ferritin levels are high, then you may have too much iron in your body and can run the risk of oxidative damage to your cells and mitochondria. People with hereditary hemochromatosis have a genetic inability (based on their “HFE” gene) to effectively use hepcidin to regulate iron levels, so they are highly susceptible to iron overload.

A typical reference range used by most laboratories for ferritin ranges from 200 to 300 ng/mL for women and men respectively, but the actual ideal levels for adult men and non-menstruating women are between 30 and 60 ng/mL, and you don’t want to be below 20 ng/mL or above 80 ng/mL.

If you’re a woman and are still menstruating, you are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency than iron overload, so if you experience fatigue, paleness, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, dry or damaged hair and skin, restless legs or mouth swelling during your period, you likely need to consume more iron. If you have no symptoms, and your biomarker levels are within the ideal range, then your iron levels are probably being sufficiently regulated by your menstrual cycle. If you’re a man, you’ll likely only experience issues with low ferritin or low iron if you’re a heavily training athlete or you’re not eating any red meat.

Another biomarker to track for iron is gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT).

GGT is a liver enzyme involved in the metabolism of the antioxidant glutathione, as well as the transport of amino acids and peptides. Originally tracked to determine the extent of alcoholism and liver damage, GGT is also highly interactive with iron and can be used to track levels of excess free iron (unbound iron in your blood). In fact, GGT was recently shown by experts in the health insurance field to be the single most predictive measure of early death by any cause. If you have both high ferritin and high GGT, you have a significantly increased risk of chronic disease because it means that you have both excess free iron (indicated by GGT) and excess stored iron (indicated by ferritin) that keeps those free levels elevated.

Similarly to ferritin, the reference ranges that are considered “normal” in men and women are not the ideal levels. In men, “normal” GGT levels are allowed to range all the way up to 70 U/L (units per liter), but ideal levels are less than 16 U/L. For women, normal levels range up to 45 U/L, while ideal levels are less than 9 U/L.

You can request ferritin and GGT tests through your doctor or order them online via LabCorp or DirectLabs. Conveniently, to reduce excess iron levels, all you need to do is give blood two or three times per year, reduce your intake of red meat, or take up some form of frequent cardiovascular exercise, or all three. Men and postmenopausal women are particularly at risk for developing iron overload since they don’t lose a significant amount of blood once per month, so if you fall into one of those two categories, then consider giving blood a few times per year. If you can’t give the liter of blood that’s normally drawn, then you can have 2 to 6 ounces of blood drawn once every few weeks.


Summary

So there you have it.

Sure, you should certainly pay attention to qualitative, objective variables such as love, life, relationships, healthy food, fasting, grip strength and more. But you should also use modern science to track important internal variables and the biomarkers you have just discovered in this new anti-aging panel.

If all this testing sounds a bit overwhelming, then please realize that the goal is not to spend each day hunched over a tube while spitting saliva, filling beakers full of blood in a laboratory or pooping into a tray every time you use the bathroom.

In contrast, a simple and ideal yearly self-quantification scenario would look like this:

  • DNA test such as 23andMe: once in a lifetime
  • Comprehensive blood test such as Greenfield Longevity Panel for men or women: once per year
  • Gut microbiome test (e.g. Viome or Onegevity code: BEN20 will save you $20) or stool panel (e.g. Genova Diagnostics 3 Day Panel): once per year or whenever the gut seems to significantly change in function or health.
  • DUTCH test: once per year or if feeling fatigued/run down with no explanation, particularly if low drive.
  • Food allergy test such as Cyrex: once per year or whenever the gut seems to significantly change in function or health.
  • Readiness and sleep tracking via something like the Oura ring: daily
  • Ketones (use code: KION to save $25) and glucose testing (see my article on this here): optional, but to be performed ideally on a daily basis when adopting a new diet or when attempting to evaluate which food groups cause glycemic variability or a rise/fall in ketones
  • Micronutrient test such as Genova ion panel with 40 amino acids: optional, but to be performed if concerned about energy levels, health issues, or wanting to “dial in” supplementation and diet protocol even more thoroughly.

The only blood test not included above but that I still highly recommend if your goal is to track your biological aging process is a telomere analysis. You can learn more about that test, and telomeres in general, in this comprehensive podcast with Dr. Bill Andrews here.

Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about self-quantification, longevity, or anything else you’ve discovered in this article? Leave your comments below and I will reply!

 

Here are two little-known but potent ways to kill fat cells and to lose fat fast.

By Ben Greenfield, Get-Fit GuyMay 30, 2017

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Think about the last piece of fat loss advice you received. Let me guess? It went something like this:

“Move more.”

“Eat less.”

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“Try this pill.”

“Read this diet book.”

And sure: fat loss and the attainment of a sexy, lean body begins with getting off your butt, moving more, working out, and slowly lowering the doughnut from your gaping maw.

But when it comes to losing fat fast, staying shredded, rippedm and toned year round, and getting to the body weight you want—without two-a-day workouts and being hungry all the time—there are potent strategies that fly under the radar: strategies that go beyond fat loss.

For example, let’s take the flawed concept that, no matter what, you’ll always be stuck with the number of fat cells you’ve built earlier in your life. This commonly accepted dogma in the fitness and diet industry dictates that if you’ve ever had excess weight or bits of undesirable adipose tissue on your waist, hips, and butt, then the fat cells in those areas will never actually disappear, but will instead simply shrink. Those fat cells will then hide, waiting in the wings for the next time you mess up and eat a few too many bites of steak or an extra scoop of ice cream—at which point those food calories are doomed to wind up getting shoved directly into the eagerly waiting fat cells—resulting in a constant uphill battle against the bulge.

But this simply isn’t true. I realized this when I interviewed Dr. Cate Shanahan on my podcast. Dr. Shanahan explained that if you banish just one particularly notorious biological variable that is present in most people eating a standard Western diet, then you can actually induce fat cells to not only die, but to get transformed into other physiologically useful tissues, such as muscle cells, stem cells and neural cells. So what is this variable?

It’s not excess calories. It’s not chocolate. It’s not, to the chagrin of diet book authors worldwide, gluten. It’s not a low-carb, high-fat or a high-carb, low-fat diet.

It’s inflammation.

That’s right: inflammation—particularly from exposure to a toxin-laden environment, consumption of heated and rancid vegetable oils, and a stressful lifestyle combined with not enough sleep – can make fat cells resistant to dying and resistant to getting converted into other tissues, particularly because excess inflammation creates excess insulin, and insulin is the hormone responsible for shoveling calories into fat tissue. So to achieve lasting fat loss, the solution is simple: shut down inflammation.

My fellow Quick And Dirty Tips podcast “The Nutrition Diva” has in the past delved into some of the most potent dietary strategies to decrease inflammation, so be sure to check out her many episodes on the topic. Other practical methods and useful resources for lowering inflammation, lowering insulin, and killing fat cells or converting fat cells, include:

-Avoidance of any oils exposed to high amounts of heat, pressure or other forms of oxidation, including rancid forms of canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and most packaged foods that produce a crunchy sensation, including so-called “healthy” trail mixes coated in oil and “healthy” nut butters and off-the-shelf snacks (hint: doughnuts, potato chips and french fries are the three most notorious food-based culprits that maintain the body in a constant state of inflammation)

-Paying attention to the results from a 2010 research study at the University of Sao Paolo, which reported on something called the “Inflammation Factor Rating”, which accurately predicts food inflammatory responses in human subjects. Charts that list both the inflammatory and the anti-inflammatory potential of just about any food can be found at “InflammationFactor.com”. For example, suggestions from that website include limiting coffee, alcohol, high fructose corn syrup and wheat, and instead eat choosing foods such as kale, raw seeds and nuts, coconut and avocado.

-The fact that during your deep sleep stages, particularly between 2 am and 6 am, your body’s core temperature drops, nervous system repair and recovery takes place, and cellular inflammation is “cleaned up”, so if you struggle through the day with appetite cravings and resistance to weight loss, inflammation related to poor sleep is usually to blame.

-Identify and decrease exposure to over-processed and refined foods, chemical additives, antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, chlorinated water, artificial sweeteners or anything else that might be considered “unnatural” enough to churn up high amounts of inflammation. For more on how to do that, ready my article on “How To Detox Your Home”. So what are some other potent ways to kill fat cells?