Getting your sleep right is perhaps the best thing you can do for your health, but it’s hard to get quality sleep. Not only does it take a long time, but it’s easily disrupted because we’re so vulnerable while sleeping. If we could’ve evolved away from sleeping, we would have. Instead, most adults require 7-9 hours of quality sleep to maximize their health, especially mental health like mood and focus. This post focuses on routines for quality sleep because sleep depends on the circadian rhythm and, thus, reliable patterns.
Rule 1: I wake up at the same time each day (within an hour).
Including weekends. If I’m being honest, this rule doesn’t require any discipline most days. The benefit of prioritizing sleep quality is that I now wake up feeling refreshed and alert at about the same time each day. Sometimes I’ll sleep in for about 30 minutes if I had a hard day, but then I’m itching to get up. If that sounds annoyingly awesome, it is. But it all falls apart without the other rules.
Serotonin is a molecule that makes people feel satisfied with what they have. And it does much more than that. It interacts with many other systems throughout the body, which is highlighted by the fact that it acts as both a neurotransmitter (i.e., communicates locally in the synapses between nerve cells) and hormone (i.e., communicates distally by circulating in the blood). Its complex nature helps explain why habits that support its healthy functioning can have substantial downstream benefits.
Serotonin is primarily part of a reward system that includes dopamine and cortisol. I’m starting with serotonin because the healthy habits are easier to implement than for dopamine, which will be in later posts. Cortisol, while healthy in some cases, is an inhibitor for both serotonin and dopamine, so chronic stress can disrupt both systems. Stress will be discussed extensively in later posts, too.
To produce serotonin, the body needs tryptophan, an essential amino acid (meaning you have to get it from food). Most people get plenty of tryptophan if they get enough protein, but it is more abundant in meat and dairy than plant-based food. Oats are a good source in plant-based diets. In turn, serotonin is used to produce melatonin, which is important for healthy sleep.
Rule 1: I get at least 20 minutes of direct sunlight a day and avoid bright screens after dark.
As a former vegan, protein is an area where I’ve made many changes. Like dietary fat, we have to get sufficient protein from our diet to optimize health, and quality matters. I no longer believe that I can reach my best health potential without consuming animal products. Thus, high-quality and ethically-sourced protein is where I spend the most on investing in my health. If cost or animal ethics are a concern for you, I’ll also discuss some alternatives.
Rule 1: I eat about 100 grams of protein each day for maintenance or 140 grams for growth (for my current body weight, 140lbs or 63.5kg).
Muscle is critical for health. It allows you to engage in everyday activities without strain or injury. It protects your joints and gives you stability. It regulates various hormones throughout your body. It helps the body clear toxins that accumulate through normal functioning. It is generally protective for all body systems, and many age-related declines stem from lost muscle mass. However, muscle is also an energy-hungry tissue, and your body is constantly monitoring whether you’re consuming enough to maintain it.
Don’t worry, it’s not bad to eat carbs. But, critically look at the carbs you eat. Western cultures, and those that have adopted our food culture, have a surging epidemic of chronic illnesses. There’s good reason to think many of these chronic illnesses — Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s (sometimes called Type 3 diabetes) — start with hyperinsulinemia, a chronic elevation of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that tells your cells to grow by storing fat, making new proteins, and replicating. These are all necessary processes. However, when insulin is chronically elevated, cells are consistently in growth mode and rarely in repair mode. Repair mode allows you to burn fat, clean up misfolded proteins, and repair regularly occurring DNA damage. These are also necessary processes. Thus, it is healthy to cycle between growth and repair.
Being mindful of carbs in your diet can facilitate this cycle. Insulin is secreted in response to rising blood glucose levels, primarily caused by eating carbs. It shuttles glucose into the liver or muscle, or if those are full, stores excess as fat. Because every cell has an insulin receptor, it also signals to the whole body that there is enough energy for growth. Quickly increasing blood glucose by eating refined carbs or too many carbs causes a bigger insulin response. The problem with big insulin spikes is there’s too much insulin to clear quickly once the glucose is stored. Because it’s a growth hormone, it limits your access to draw energy from fat. As a result, your body is starving even though you just ate. It’s why you can feel hungrier or lethargic after eating hundreds of calories of junk food.
First, fat isn’t bad for our health. It’s calorically dense, but many people under-consume essential fats in our fat-phobic society. Fat is essential because we use fat to make a lot of the tissue in our body, like cell membranes and hormones. Without it, you’re stuck recycling old fat or downregulating the repair of cells. Extra fat can also be used as a fuel, which burns with less oxidative stress than carbohydrates. Don’t worry, I’m not demonizing carbs. Carbs are useful, especially because most vegetables are primarily carbs. But we also need to not demonize fat.
Rule 1: I eat a minimum of 90 grams of good quality fat per day (but usually more like 110-130g).
Quality fats are minimally processed, include omega 3 fatty acids, and can come from animals (mostly saturated) or oily plants (mostly unsaturated). A building is only as good as its materials, so I want to ensure I have quality fat sources for construction and repair processes that affect every cell in my body. In addition, fat helps us absorb the other nutrients in our food, especially from plants. As a former fat-phobic person, this meant learning to embrace skin-on chicken thighs and fatty fish, full-fat dairy, and red meat with visible fat.
I’m kicking off the nutrition category with something that is relatively easy to apply. It’s relatively easy because it doesn’t require you to change your diet, nor does it take any time (it can actually save you time). Time-restricted eating, also called intermittent fasting, means having set hours in the day when you eat and when you don’t. Though you can find a lot of variations, for recovery, I like the daily version, in which you eat within a set time window. Restricting your eating window is good for daily cycling between growth and rest processes, confronting disruptive eating habits, and ensuring that you are using both glucose and fat energy for a healthy metabolism.
I started time-restricted eating because I’ve always struggled with my weight. Not that I thought I was fat, but a large part of my day was spent thinking about food and struggling to not overeat. What should I eat today? Is it too soon to eat? Am I tired because I need to eat? If I eat a handful of crackers, will that make me more or less hungry? On and on and on, resulting in yo-yo dieting that made me think more about the weight I was gaining or losing.
Nearly every topic in wellness is controversial. In part, this is due to individual differences and preferences, but it’s also a result of talking about behaviors without understanding how they work. To better understand the mechanisms of wellness, I began collecting information in June 2020 (nothing like a pandemic to spark an interest in health). I can’t believe I knew so little. This series has three goals:
- To synthesize information about wellness and health around mechanisms and goals
- To give my grad students a starting point for discovery when I ask them how they are taking care of their wellness
- To share curated wellness and health information with anyone else who is interested
The thread that ties together all of the posts in this series is healthspan. Healthspan generally refers to the time during lifespan before people start experiencing an age-related decline. As we age, we tend to get less mobile, more forgetful, and less resilient to stressors, like illness. My goal is to extend my healthspan, and I’ve been trying new things to apply what I’ve learned.
As a result, I have higher and more consistent energy, better focus, less pain that had started creeping into daily tasks, better sleep, fewer risk factors for chronic diseases, better mood, and I generally enjoy life more. Enough people have noticed these things that I wanted to write down what I’m doing so that I can share it.
To examine the interaction of perceived control and testosterone on persistence in the face of defeat.
Perceived Control and Motivation
The amount of control people think they have over something can greatly affect how they experience failure or defeat. For example, if someone is convinced that they can solve a problem, then they are likely to persist in trying to solve the problem, even if they fail at first (see Self-Efficacy and Academic Motivation). Perceived control is interesting because it does not always reflect actual control. It can be manipulated so that people experience high levels of perceived control in situations that are obviously out of their control. People continue to gamble though the house always wins.
This study examined the role of perceived control on persistence in a competition against an opponent that became increasingly difficult to beat. Consistent with the literature, those with high perceived control persisted in the competition longer than those with low perceived control. However, the study also examined the interaction of exogenous testosterone on this effect. Participants (all men) who received exogenous testosterone, regardless of whether they had low or high perceived control, persisted in the competition as long as those who had high perceived control and received a placebo. The results suggest that testosterone increases persistence in the face of defeat, even with low perceived control.
To reflect on three decades of evolving research about fixed vs. growth mindsets, applications and misapplications in education, and interventions that encourage students to challenge themselves.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets
Carol Dweck describes fixed vs. growth mindsets as a theory of people’s beliefs about human attributes and how those beliefs affect motivation and achievement. Education researchers primarily use this theory to explain learners’ responses to setbacks, challenges, and failures while developing new knowledge and skills. In a fixed mindset, people believe that abilities are unchanging, and your initial proficiency in an area corresponds to your inherent ability in that area. Thus, when faced with setbacks, they believe that they are not suited to the task. Conversely in a growth mindset, people believe that abilities are malleable, and that you can improve your proficiency in an area regardless of your starting point. Thus, they view challenges as opportunities to develop and improve skills, including skills for which they have a natural proficiency.
Mindsets apply to people’s beliefs about human attributes outside of educational settings. Mindsets include people’s beliefs about skill in professional settings and their personalities. Whether you believe a leader is born or made depends on your mindset. In correlational work exploring the relationship between mindset and achievement, people with a growth mindset tend to achieve more in school and throughout their lives.
To review two decades of research on refutation text research in science education to determine factors that make them more or less effective.
Refutation texts are a direct-instruction approach to addressing misconceptions. They are popular in science education because, as people interact with the physical world, they develop misconceptions about how it works. When they are faced with facts that contradict this prior knowledge, they can take one of three paths according to Posner et al.’s (1982) model of conceptual change:
- The least useful path: ignore the new information because it doesn’t fit in existing knowledge structures, and thus, doesn’t make sense (this is not an entirely voluntary process)
- The most common path: develop a separate knowledge structure disconnected from the existing knowledge structure for the new information (and perhaps not realize that they are in conflict)
- The most useful but least common path: reorganize existing knowledge structures to incorporate new information (i.e., conceptual change)
Achieving conceptual change is hard work, and that’s why misconceptions are so difficult to remedy. The need to reorganize prior knowledge structures is why direct-instruction approaches, which are inherently not responsive to individual students’ prior knowledge, are often not productive. For an example, see my article summary on erroneous examples. However, refutation texts have consistently been more effective at addressing misconceptions in science education compared to expository texts, which give correct explanations only. This paper discusses how.