Our Wise Guide: A groundbreaking manifesto on living better and longer that challenges the conventional medical thinking on aging and reveals a new approach to preventing chronic disease and extending long-term health, from a visionary physician and leading longevity expert
Wouldn’t you like to live longer? And better? In this operating manual for longevity, Dr. Peter Attia draws on the latest science to deliver innovative nutritional interventions, techniques for optimizing exercise and sleep, and tools for addressing emotional and mental health.
For all its successes, mainstream medicine has failed to make much progress against the diseases of aging that kill most people: heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes. Too often, it intervenes with treatments too late to help, prolonging lifespan at the expense of healthspan, or quality of life. Dr. Attia believes we must replace this outdated framework with a personalized, proactive strategy for longevity, one where we take action now, rather than waiting.
This is not “biohacking,” it’s science: a well-founded strategic and tactical approach to extending lifespan while also improving our physical, cognitive, and emotional health. Dr. Attia’s aim is less to tell you what to do and more to help you learn how to think about long-term health, in order to create the best plan for you as an individual.
Outlive (2023) is a comprehensive guide to living a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling life. Drawing on cutting-edge science and practical advice, it empowers you to optimize your exercise, nutrition, sleep, and emotional health for maximum longevity.
About the author
Peter Attia is a renowned physician and longevity expert with a focus on the science of human optimization. Having received his MD from Stanford University, he went on to work at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the National Cancer Institute. He’s known for his popular podcast The Peter Attia Drive, where he delves into topics such as nutrition, exercise, and mental health.
Key idea 1
An athlete of life
You’ve probably heard of the many benefits of regular exercise. But did you know how important it is for living a long life? Well, it turns out that even a little bit of exercise can make a huge difference. Not only does exercise strengthen your heart and muscles – it improves circulation and benefits your brain by producing a molecule called BDNF – brain-derived neurotrophic factor – which helps with memory.
All in all, exercise is like this magical potion that can help you live longer, healthier lives, and it's not even about picking sides between cardio or weights – it's all about finding exercise habits that work for you individually.
Now, here's the amazing part – even just a little bit of regular exercise can make a huge difference and actually lengthen your life by several years, delay chronic diseases, and even slow down or reverse cognitive decline. Simply going from zero to 90 minutes a week can lower your risk of dying from any cause by 14 percent!
And of course, being super fit means you're much less likely to die than if you're a couch potato. Studies show that the fittest people have the lowest mortality rates. In fact, having a low level of cardiorespiratory fitness is more dangerous than smoking.
You might be thinking, “I’m old, how am I supposed to start lifting weights?” Well, it turns out strength training is really important for everyone, even the elderly and frail. It can improve mobility and physical function, which can help prevent falls and other health problems.
Here’s a fun way to think about staying active as you age: become an athlete of life! Imagine you're training for a centenarian decathlon, a list of ten physical tasks you want to be able to do when you’re 100 years old. These might be climbing stairs, getting up off the floor, or hiking a trail. This will help you set goals for your fitness journey and keep you motivated.
So, pick your ten events and start training for them. It’s all about being well-rounded and staying active in different ways. That way, you’ll be much more likely to be fit and healthy at 100 years old – and break the stereotype that old age has to be all about decline and misery.
Key idea 2
The three dimensions of fitness
So now that you know the importance of a lifelong love of exercise, let’s get into some specifics that you can apply to your training regimen. There are three key dimensions of fitness – aerobic endurance and efficiency, strength, and stability. It’s essential to train in all of these areas to maintain health and strength as you age.
Aerobic endurance and efficiency can be improved by training with zone 2 cardio, a specific intensity level that can be sustained for longer periods. This implies a moderate intensity level, usually requiring 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. In other words, at this pace, you should still just about be able to hold a conversation but definitely not sing a power ballad.
This type of training promotes using fat as fuel and is important for nonathletes, as it builds endurance and helps prevent chronic diseases. An example of zone 2 training is walking briskly for six to ten miles daily. To start, two 30-minute sessions per week can provide significant benefits. To make zone 2 training more enjoyable, try listening to podcasts or audiobooks during your workouts.
Next up are VO₂ max workouts – these are training sessions designed to increase the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use during exercise. This sort of exercise typically involves high-intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT. What exactly is that? In HIT, you alternate between periods of high-intensity exercise and rest. What’s more, HIT is associated with longevity and functional capacity. To get started, try supplementing zone 2 work with one or two VO₂ max workouts per week, consisting of intervals lasting three to eight minutes at maximum sustainable pace, followed by easy exercise.
It’s important not to forget about strength when it comes to exercise – it’s crucial for protecting against physical frailty and injury in old age. Muscle mass and bone density decline over time, so it's essential to incorporate heavy resistance training to improve muscle fibers and maintain bone health. Exercises like rucking – hiking with a loaded backpack – or carrying heavy metal weights can help strengthen the body.
Last but not least, grip strength is a vital aspect of overall strength and is also linked to longevity. To improve grip strength, try exercises like farmer's carries and dead-hanging from a pull-up bar. Also, focus on eccentric strength and pulling motions, as well as hip-hinging movements like single-leg step-ups and split-stance Romanian deadlifts. That might sound like a lot to take in, so definitely learn these exercises from a knowledgeable trainer or use instructional videos as a resource.
By incorporating these training methods and focusing on aerobic endurance, strength, and stability, you can set yourself up for a fulfilling and active life as you age.
Key idea 3
Revamping your diet
Now that you have your exercise regimen cut out for you, let’s shift gears and take a look at all things diet. A big problem Americans face these days is what’s known as the Standard American Diet, or SAD. It’s loaded with sugar, refined carbs, and processed oils, which can lead to overeating and poor health. To break free from the SAD trap, you can try caloric restriction, dietary restriction, or time restriction. Remember, each approach has its pros and cons, so choose what fits your lifestyle best.
Caloric restriction is the most flexible option but requires tracking everything you eat and resisting the urge to cheat. Dietary restriction involves cutting specific foods but only works if it leads to a caloric deficit. Time restriction, like intermittent fasting, can backfire if you overeat or don't get enough protein.
Let’s flip this around for a minute and switch focus to what you should be eating. First up is protein – it's essential for building and maintaining muscle, especially as we age. Aim for at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight daily, or 2.2 grams per kilo. Spread your protein intake throughout the day, and choose high-quality sources like whey protein isolate over soy protein isolate. Eating enough protein can also help you feel full, so you'll consume fewer calories overall. Remember, protein helps you feel full and maintain muscle mass, especially as you age. And animal sources of protein are more effective than plant sources, so keep that in mind.
Next up are fats. Not all fats are created equal! We need a mix of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, with a focus on omega-3s for heart and brain health. Opt for extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and nuts, while cutting back on butter, lard, and omega-6-rich oils like corn, soybean, and sunflower.
Time-restricted eating, or fasting, can be helpful, but it's not for everyone. There are short-term eating windows, alternate-day fasting, and longer-term fasting. Intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating are popular weight-loss methods, but their effectiveness and potential downsides are debatable. Fasting triggers physiological and cellular mechanisms like insulin level drops and cellular repair gene activation. Still, prolonged fasting can lead to muscle loss. Having said all that, fasting can work for weight loss, but it must be approached with caution and precision. It’s probably best to consult your doctor before beginning a fasting regimen.
Lastly, let's talk about adopting what Attia calls a Nutrition 3.0 mindset. It's all about finding the right balance that works for you. Don't overthink it – focus on reducing overall energy intake, getting enough protein, and finding the right mix of fats. Also, remember that exercise and spending time outdoors are just as important for your health. Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so it's up to you to find your own balance.
Key idea 4
The power of sleep
Armed with the essentials for exercise and nutrition, it's time to delve into the profound impact sleep has on your health and well-being. Attia’s eyes were opened to the significance of sleep for both physical and cognitive health after flirting with death – having gone without sleep for 60 hours, he found himself dozing off at the wheel and narrowly avoiding a serious car accident. This harrowing experience should serve as a powerful reminder for everyone to reevaluate their relationship with sleep and prioritize it as a vital component of a healthy lifestyle.
Anecdotes aside, there are plenty of studies showing the negative effects of lack of sleep – indeed, it’s been linked to an increased risk of things like heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, and even workplace accidents. It's not just about feeling tired – it’s about your overall health. For example, one study showed that sleeping less than seven hours a night can increase your risk of dying prematurely by 12 percent. The statistics don’t lie – sleep-deprived drivers cause around 20 percent of all car accidents, and sleep deprivation also leads to more workplace accidents and medical errors.
But let’s switch gears and get back to the positives. Studies have shown that we need about seven and a half to eight and a half hours of sleep each night. With good sleep, your physical and cognitive performance can improve, including things like athletic performance and memory consolidation. Also, sleep helps to keep your metabolism in check and reduces the risk of chronic health problems such as metabolic dysfunction, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Many people search for that magic pill to put them to sleep, but the reality is, many sleep aids out there don’t actually improve sleep quality. In fact, some can even harm your sleep, like Ambien or Valium. So, what can you do to improve your sleep naturally?
First, it's essential to evaluate your sleep habits. Use sleep trackers or take sleep questionnaires like the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index to figure out how you're doing. Don’t forget, everyone’s different – some of us are morning people, while others are night owls. So, try to work with your natural rhythm.
Now onto some more concrete tips. It’s definitely a good idea to cut down on blue light exposure before bed, maybe by swapping out those LED bulbs for warmer ones. Keep your bedroom cool, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius – and make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Try to avoid screens an hour before bedtime – that late-night social media scroll isn't helping.
Be mindful of what you consume, too. Keep caffeine and alcohol in check, as they can mess with your sleep. And finally, don't forget to manage stress – meditation can be a game-changer for winding down.
Even superstar athletes like LeBron James prioritize sleep for peak performance. He reportedly sleeps about 12 hours a day with a special mattress and pillows! So, take a page out of LeBron's playbook and create a sleep routine that works for you. Stick to it, and you'll be on your way to better sleep and improved overall well-being.
Key idea 5
Embracing emotional health
You’ve reached the final component of longevity – emotional health. When you think about being healthy, you probably focus on your physical well-being, but your emotional health is just as important, if not more so. After all, what good is living a long life if you’re not happy or fulfilled?
For example, someone struggling with depression might not see the point of getting a cancer screening or monitoring their blood sugar levels. On the other hand, someone who’s physically fit might not realize how emotional issues can impact their overall health. So, if you're dealing with emotional or mental health struggles, don't hesitate to seek professional help. It's crucial to address these issues to maintain good physical health.
Dealing with emotional health can be tricky. Unlike physical health, it's hard to recognize and diagnose. That’s why you need a proactive and individualized approach. Look out for signs of emotional health issues, seek help early, and commit to daily practices that promote long-term emotional well-being.
There are a number of tools to monitor and maintain emotional equilibrium. Medications, meditation, and psychedelics can help, but they're not quick fixes. They should be seen as part of real psychotherapy, like dialectical behavior therapy or DBT. This is a proven method that helps regulate emotions and tolerate emotional stressors. DBT is built on four pillars: emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and self-management, all linked to mindfulness. It's important to remember, though, that change takes time and effort. Practicing daily and working through issues in therapy is key to achieving true recovery.
Another thing to consider is self-reflection. Many people struggle with self-hatred and the need for external validation. It's essential to work on your relationship with yourself and recognize how your past experiences shape your present behavior. Take childhood trauma, for instance. It can show up in various forms, like addiction, codependency, and attachment disorders. It’s important to address such issues, but this can be a real challenge. So what can you do? Look out for signs of emotional health issues, seek help early, and commit to daily self-reflection or meditation. And remember, healing takes time, so be patient with yourself during the process.
Lastly, let's go back to longevity. To stay “young” and healthy, focus on looking toward the future and pursuing your dreams and aspirations. Find activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, like spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, or journaling.
Remember, emotional health is just as important as physical health. Take care of yourself and don't be afraid to seek help if needed. With time, patience, and the right tools, you can make progress toward a happier and healthier life.
Exercise, a balanced diet, quality sleep, and emotional health are crucial components of living a longer, healthier life. Exercise improves your circulation and brain function, while a well-rounded diet, including protein, healthy fats, and caloric restriction, can help you maintain muscle mass and overall health. Prioritizing your sleep and creating a consistent routine promotes physical and cognitive performance. Your emotional health is just as vital, and addressing issues like depression or trauma can contribute to your overall well-being. By focusing on all these areas, you can work toward a fulfilling, active, and healthy life.