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Common Sense vs Snake Oil and Bad Science
Two Laws of Common Sense
The human desire for a cure in a bottle is timeless.
Snake oil salesmen have tricked the gullible into taking largely useless pill and potions for hundreds of years. In many ways, snake oil salesmen were the originators of the longevity business.
The appeal of snake oil is the same today as it was 200 years ago:
No effort required, just take a pill or an elixir.
Fantastic claims — gain muscle, lose weight instantly, cure blindness!
Larger-than-life sales personalities who “prove” the product’s effectiveness.
All for the low price of $39.95.
Who wouldn’t buy such a great miracle cure at such a low price?
Today’s snake oils are even more appealing than those of old.
We have special coffees, special animal desiccated products, special extracts, special everything. Our modern snake oils still come backed by fantastic personalities, but now they also come with breakthrough “science.” Although that “science” often ends refuted or at least questioned some time later.
The mortal enemy of snake oil is common sense. So, too, is common sense the enemy of bad science.
Dan John, a renown strength coach, has two of the most effective common sense rules about strength I’ve ever read. They apply even better to the longevity space:
Beware of anything that makes no sense.
Beware of any “professional” who doesn’t put advice into practice.
Common Sense Longevity in Practice
Our goal is to defy age at every age. Given that goal, common sense sense would tell us we need to fight the primary factors of decay that come with age:
Frailty and physical weakness.
Poor heart health.
Any longevity advice should, through common sense, directly address these four declines of aging.
Strength training fights frailty. Exercise, sleep, and mental tasks fight cognitive decline. Exercise, proper nutrition, and good sleep help heart health and avoid metabolic dysfunction. That’s whey exercise, sleep, nutrition, and mental power are the Highlander’s Majors.
The prescription of majoring in these majors stands up to the test of common sense. Scientific evidence would validate the Majors, but we don’t need to see the science. We all know that exercise benefits us. We all know we perform better when we sleep. We all know we feel worse and get overweight from bad diet. Common sense from life experience proves these things to us.
As a rule, any time science suggests you do something that doesn’t make common sense to fight aging, it’s worth questioning.
I’m skeptical of the benefits of caloric restriction.
It’s worth an important distinction. Caloric restriction to bring someone into a healthy bodyweight is a good common sense tactic. Healthy body composition is a goal in the Highlander Standard. The Three Strikes Diet, for most people on a normal unrestricted diet, will create a caloric deficit that will help move them toward a healthier body composition.
My skepticism is aimed at persistent and aggressive caloric restriction. The kind of caloric restriction where one might only eat every other day or eat less than 1,000 calories a day, etc.
Several studies have shown that this kind of persistent and aggressive caloric restriction has resulted in longer lives in animals. Some longevity influencers push diets with very low calorie and protein intakes. They eat special bars (see snake oil description) to replace meals. Those influencers at least look like they put their advice into practice. We just shouldn’t want to look like them!
Common sense should encourage us to question how calorie restriction helps stave off frailty and cognitive decline. Some studies mention these, but common sense would tell us the less access we have to protein during periods of strength-focused exercise, the less we will gain strength or muscle. Further, if we’re restricting meals, the fewer windows of muscle protein synthesis, the same.
The frailer you are now, the frailer you should expect to be as you age. The more strength and muscle you have now, the more you should expect to maintain as you age. That’s just common sense that no snake oil can solve.
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