“I don’t think about what I get out of something, I think about what I put into it.”

According to John Goodenough, the father of the lithium-ion battery

I don’t think about what I get out of something, I think about what I put into it.

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Exoskeleton (wearable robot) with EMS (electrical muscle stimulation)

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Someday it will be common for senior citizens to compensate for lost strength and stability with an exoskeleton, or in other words, a wearable robot.

When people hear the word ‘exoskeleton’ they, unfortunately, think first of Iron Man, but instead our wearable robots will be inconspicuous, more like polio braces than a flying suit of armor.

I predict that these will also include electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to counter muscular atrophy. The more you use your exoskeleton, the stronger you’ll get, not the weaker you’ll get.

But for that to catch on, we’ll need to find a way to activate the muscles through clothing without directly contacting the skin with electrodes.

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The health benefits of fasting without feeling like you’re starving — the “fasting mimicking diet” from USC

Recently the media has been spreading the news about the USC “fasting mimicking diet” that seems to achieve the well-known health benefits of fasting while still letting you eat some food.

Here’s the science and an interview where the researcher warns about “attempting the fasting mimicking diet without first consulting a doctor and seeking their supervision throughout the process”.

The formula is to mimic fasting 5 days per month for 3 months, by on the first day eating 1090 calories as 10% protein, 56% fats, 34% carbs, and then on the next 4 days eating 725 calories as 9% protein, 44% fat, 47% carbs.

If we suppose that protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram, then on the first day 27 grams of protein, 68 grams of fat and 97 grams of carbs, and on the next 4 days 16 grams of protein, 35 grams of fat and 85 grams of carbs.

At risk for type 2 diabetes? Take a walk after meals

Summary: A leisurely stroll after a meal is often enough to prevent a dangerous spike in blood sugar.

According to Adam Khan in “The Moodraising Effect of Constitutionals

A walk taken regularly for the sake of one’s well-being is called a constitutional. […] Gandhi, Darwin, Emerson, and many creative (and long-lived) people throughout history took constitutionals often.

He recommends

Walk at a pace that’s easy and pleasant. Don’t make your constitutionals do double duty as an exercise program. A constitutional is closer to meditation, but it’s not a “discipline.” It’s more like a vacation, and that’s exactly the attitude to have.

and

Walk for longer than fifteen minutes. A half hour to an hour is good. You need to do it long enough to let your mind relax. This is a temporary vacation from our compulsion to do, and it needs to be long enough to have an effect.

It turns out that a constitutional is not just good for your brain, it’s also good for your blood sugar level after meals. According to Ingrid Spilde in “An easy walk lowers blood sugar level: A leisurely stroll after a meal gives a dramatic drop in dangerously high levels of blood sugar

“Just getting up and walking about is enough to prevent a rise in blood sugar considerably, in fact as much as medicines designed to curb high blood sugar levels,” says Professor Arne Torbjørn Høstmark.

and

An easy stroll giving a pulse just barely above the normal resting pulse rate prevented large increases in blood sugar levels. In fact, the effect appeared to be roughly equivalent to the results after the slightly more demanding cycling experiment.

One thing, however, that did make a difference was the duration. A 40-minute stroll lowered blood sugar much more than one lasting just 15 minutes.

That was confirmed in another study, this time with 11 women, all of them Pakistani immigrants. In Norway, they belong to a high-risk group for elevated blood sugar levels and diabetes 2.

This study also showed that a very easy walk lowered blood sugar levels significantly and that a 40-minute walk helped more than a 20-minute walk.

Increasing weakness with age is not a law of nature

According to Birgitte Svennevig in Surprising diversity in aging revealed in nature

There is no strong correlation between the patterns of ageing and the typical life spans of the species. Species can have increasing mortality and still live a long time, or have declining mortality and still live a short time.

“It makes no sense to consider ageing to be based on how old a species can become. Instead, it is more interesting to define ageing as being based on the shape of mortality trajectories: whether rates increase, decrease or remain constant with age”, says Owen Jones.

and

Not all species weaken and become more likely to die as they age. Some species get stronger and less likely to die with age, while others are not affected by age at all. Increasing weakness with age is not a law of nature.

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have studied ageing in 46 very different species including mammals, plants, fungi and algae, and they surprisingly find that there is a huge diversity in how different organisms age. Some become weaker with age – this applies to e.g. humans, other mammals, and birds; others become stronger with age – this applies to e.g. tortoises and certain trees, and others become neither weaker nor stronger – this applies to e.g. Hydra, a freshwater polyp.

and

In lab conditions, [a hydra] has such a low risk of dying at any time in its life that it is effectively immortal.

“Extrapolation from laboratory data show that even after 1400 years five per cent of a hydra population kept in these conditions would still be alive”, says Owen Jones.

Several animal and plant species show remarkably little change in mortality throughout their life course. For example, these include rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum), great tit (Parus major), hermit crab (Pagurus longicarpus), common lizard (Lacerta vivapara), collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis), viburnum plants (Viburnum furcatum ), oarweed (Laminaria digitata), red abalone (Haliotis rufescens), the plant armed saltbush (Atriplex acanthocarpa), red-legged frog (Rana aurora) and the coral red gorgonian (Paramuricea clavata).

Cheapest, fastest path to development is deworming, immunizing, antibiotics, clean water, …

According to Hans Gosling in one of the most famous TED talks

I would like to compare Uganda with South Korea with Brazil. You can see that the speed of development is very, very different, and the countries are moving more or less at the same rate as money and health, but it seems you can move much faster if you are healthy first than if you are wealthy first.

and

Health cannot be bought at the supermarket. You have to invest in health. You have to get kids into schooling. You have to train health staff. You have to educate the population.

According to Physorg.com, regarding the scientific study “Parasite prevalence and the worldwide distribution of cognitive ability” by Christopher Eppig, Corey L. Fincher and Randy Thornhill,

Researchers in the US have noted areas of the world with the lowest average intelligence quotient (IQ) also tend to have the highest rates of infectious diseases, and suggest the energy required to fight off the diseases may hinder brain development in children because both are metabolically costly processes.

and

Eppig points out the study does not suggest “that parasites are the only thing affecting the global diversity of intelligence,” but that it may be even more important than factors such as wealth and access to education. He said disease saps the body’s energy and in the early years of childhood a lot of energy is going into building the brain. “If you don’t have enough, you can’t do it properly.” If the results are right, the IQ of a nation will not be raised unless the burden of disease can be lifted, Eppig said.

An obvious example are the helminth infections that, according to WHO and UNICEF, affect at least 2 billion people, because

Studies have shown clearly the detrimental effects of infection on educational performance and school attendance, as well as the significant improvements in language and memory development that can be realized following treatment. Helminth infections are also associated with nutritional deficiencies, particularly of iron and vitamin A, with improvements in iron status and increases in vitamin A absorption after deworming.

It would be so cheap to stop wasting this human potential! The above study says

Deworming improves health, nutrition and physical development, makes pregnancy safer and improves birth outcomes. It is inexpensive, with a school-based deworming programme typically costing between US$ 0.25 and 0.50 per child per year.

By the way, did you know that pneumonia is the #1 killer of children worldwide, killing about 1.4 million children under age 5 each year? According to WHO fact sheet 331

Pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition and by addressing environmental factors. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, but around 30% of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need.

and

The cost of antibiotic treatment for all children with pneumonia in 42 of the world’s poorest countries is estimated at around US$ 600 million per year. Treating pneumonia in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – which account for 85% of deaths – would cost a third of this total, at around US$ 200 million. The price includes the antibiotics themselves, as well as the cost of training health workers, which strengthens the health systems as a whole.

According to Gourdas Choudhuri

The role of vaccines in preventing the disease cannot be overlooked. However, a vaccine may work well against some of these but not all. So it is difficult to have a complete vaccine for full protection.Some vaccines, like the Hib vaccine, are good and a must, which can be given routinely. The pneumococcal vaccine is another good vaccine. But the issue is whether the strains causing the disease, which are present in the community, are the same as those present in the vaccine, otherwise the vaccine will not work, and the money spent will not get the protection one is expecting. Pneumococcus, one of the germs that cause pneumonia in children, has many strains. The vaccine, which is currently available, has strains that are found chiefly in the western world, and its profile does not match with the strains found in our country. So a routine immunization with one vaccine may not work.

Humans spend US$ 2 trillion per year on the military. It would take a tiny sliver of that to crush helminths, pneumonia, and the rest. Humanity chooses to let its children be stunted and killed.

A question I’d love an answer to: If I wanted to tithe some portion of my income to defeating the parasites, viruses, and bacteria of children, which avenue of donation would save the most lives per dollar, and which would save the most cognitive potential?

Hormesis and antifragility: redundancy as an aggressive approach to life

Regularly shaking things up, subjecting a system to moderate stressors, is clearly necessary to keep it in fighting form for a day when it’s truly challenged. (The comfort zone feels OK for a while, but it’s deadly in the long-run.)

But Nassim Nicholas Taleb reminds in “Hormesis Is Redundancy” that staying in fighting form also brings competitive advantages every day. Being lean to the extreme isn’t optimal for a person or a company, you need to combine lean and mean. According to Taleb

Hormesis is when a bit of a harmful substance, or stressor, in the right dose or with the right intensity, stimulates the organism and makes it better, stronger, healthier, and prepared for a stronger dose the next exposure. That’s the reason we go to the gym, engage in intermittent fasting, or caloric deprivation, or overcompensate for challenges by getting tougher. […]

Now it turns out that the logics of redundancy and overcompensation are the same—as if nature had a simple elegant and uniform style in doing things. If I ingest, say, fifteen milligrams of a poisonous substance, my body will get stronger, preparing for twenty, or more. Stressing my bones (karate practice or carrying water on my head) will cause them to prepare for greater stress, by getting denser and tougher. A system that overcompensates is necessarily in overshooting mode, building extra capacity and strength, in anticipation for the possibility of a worse outcome, in response to information about the possibility of a hazard. This is a very sophisticated form of discovering probabilities via stressors. And of course such extra capacity or strength becomes useful—in itself—as opportunistic as it can be used to some benefit even in the absence of the hazard. Redundancy is an aggressive, not a defensive approach to life.

and

The word “fitness” in the common scientific discourse does not appear to be precise enough. I am unable to figure out if what is called “Darwinian fitness” is merely intrapolative adaptation to current environment, or if it contains an element of statistical extrapolation. In other words, there is a significant difference between robustness (is not harmed by stressor) and what I’ve called antifragility (i.e., gains from stressors).

For a good interview with Taleb about antifragility, see here. (Scroll down for a transcript.)

Aside: According to John Skoyles

Tim Noakes has shown that the limits upon exercise are set in our brains. The brain creates a kind of “flight protection envelope” for our bodies that determines what we can safely do. But there is a considerable margin of safety (as in the design of flight protection envelopes for pilots and aircraft). Noakes calls it a “central governor“.

Auto-Tune for seniors — unmet market need for everyday electronic voice correction

By now we’re all used to hearing the voices of Western pop musicians made more tuneful with electronic pitch correction.

This same technology, combined with micro-loudspeakers, should be able to assist the elderly, too. Akin to a hearing aid, it would be a speaking aid.

According to John Morenski, answering “Why do elderly people’s voice change into a ‘old persons voice’?“,

The vocal cords in men thin and atrophy with age, resulting in a higher pitched conversational voice. … Some of the changes can result from … attempts to compensate for these changes. Men may develop the “gravelly” voice in an attempt to lower the pitch.

The in-ear feedback could be combined with hearing aids. The actual voice could be masked from others (so that they don’t hear a double voice) with active noise control.

The same system minus the amplified voice correction, and with the hearing aids replaced with simple noise reducing earbuds, would also be useful immediately for mobile telephony. In a busy air terminal or shopping mall, you could speak as loud as you like without disturbing others, and without you or those you’re talking with being disturbed by the ambient noise. And the voice correction might still be useful, even if not required, to make you more easily understood by others on the call, such as by raising the pitch enough to circumvent the low-pass filter.

Even simple volume correction could improve communication quality for those who, perhaps from shyness, tend to speak too softly, and those who, perhaps from hearing loss, tend to speak too loudly.

Longer term, adding more intelligence to the voice correction, I would personally like a speaking aid that would compensate for my often lazy, mumbling enunciation, speaking too much from my throat. Think how much easier it would be to listen to Henry Kissinger if he were using such a device!

A speaking aid could correct for damaged voices (whether throat cancer or just a bad cold), speech impediments, foreign accents, hormone problems, and lazy speech habits like mine. Global call centers could use it to affect different accents, as could actors and those who want to sound posh.

Because of the active noise control, it could even filter out some words entirely, such as, ‘ummm”, “you know”, “like”, and obscenities. Because of the delay, this pruning wouldn’t be audible via the in-ear feedback.

Finally, intelligent hearing aids, phones, cell phones, etc. could build in voice correction to help you understand better what’s being said. For example, if your hearing is only good in a narrow range of frequencies, then why not adjust all of the voices you’re hearing into that range? It might sound odd at first, but you’d get used to it quickly. A global call center could automatically correct the incoming accent into the accent most familiar to the service rep.

Sit me deadly

According to Owen, Bauman, and Brown

Research on physical activity and health has pointed clearly to increasing the time that adults spend doing moderate to vigorous intensity activities: 30 minutes a day is generally recommended. However, recent evidence underlines the importance of also focusing on sedentary behaviours—the high volumes of time that adults spend sitting in their remaining “non-exercise” waking hours. We provide a brief overview of recent evidence for the distinct relationships between ‘too much sitting’ and biomarkers of metabolic health and, thus, with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other prevalent chronic health problems. Particular concerns for this new field include the challenges of changing sedentary behaviours in the context of ubiquitous environmental and social drivers of sitting time; examining the effects of interventions for reducing or breaking-up sitting time and identifying the most relevant implications for clinical and public health practice.

Sitting is Killing You

According to Maria Cheng

While health officials have issued guidelines recommending minimum amounts of physical activity, they haven’t suggested people try to limit how much time they spend in a seated position.

“After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals,” Ekblom-Bak said. She explained that genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down.

and

Still, in a study published last year that tracked more than 17,000 Canadians for about a dozen years, researchers found people who sat more had a higher death risk, independently of whether or not they exercised.

and

“People should keep exercising because that has a lot of benefits,” Ekblom-Bak said. “But when they’re in the office, they should try to interrupt sitting as often as possible,” she said. “Don’t just send your colleague an e-mail. Walk over and talk to him. Standing up.”

The last comment seems like from another century though. Yes, it would be convenient if all my colleagues were within walking distance, or even within driving distance, but it’s not going to happen. Plus it misses a main purpose of email, which is to communicate in a way that can be queued and does not interrupt concentration.

See also “Amount of time spent on a project isn’t what counts — it’s the amount of uninterrupted time“.

Don't take a seat