Health and Success: Tips From the Titans

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Tools of Titans" by Timothy Ferriss. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are healthier people more successful? What health habits do successful people practice?

Health and success go hand in hand. In his book Tools of Titans, entrepreneur and lifestyle guru Tim Ferris details the health practices of “titans”—highly successful people who are at the top of their game.

The titans gave a broad set of advice for health. We’ve cataloged the breadth of ideas here.

General Health Principles

When it comes to health and success, you should change the phrase “diet and exercise” to “eat and train.” The former is aesthetic and doesn’t have a clear goal; the other is functional and has a clear goal.

Work on the deficiencies you’re most embarrassed by. This is true in athletics and beyond. All the flexible yoga practitioners should lift some weights, and all the huge weightlifters should do yoga.

Flexibility is a passive trait. Mobility is an active trait, requiring strength through the entire range of motion.

How to find a good doctor:

  • Ask your doctor “what does cholesterol do?” This identifies doctors who simply follow heuristics vs. those who truly understand something.
  • Look at how long they spend on your first visit. The longer, the more they probably care about you.

Be around people who can push you.

  • 80-year-old Don Wildman goes helicopter snowboarding and surrounds himself with younger guys to raise his energy.

Exercises recommended

Here are exercises mentioned throughout the book:

  • QL walk
    • Warmup for quads and glutes
  • Jefferson Curl
    • Do this at the beginning of a workout for mobility
    • Start with 15 pounds
  • Ag walks with rear support
    • Highlights problems with shoulder flexibility or strength
  • Pike pulses
    • Do 15 to 20 pulses
  • Cast wall walk
  • Cossack squat warmup for ankle mobility
  • How to deadlift for maximum strength gain
    • Deadlift to your knees, then drop the bar
    • Do 2 to 3 sets of 2 to 3 reps each
    • Follow each set with plyometrics (sprint 10-20 meters, 6 to 8 box jumps)
    • Do 5 minutes of rest
    • Do it twice weekly
  • Grease the groove
    • For pull-ups, do half your max reps in sets throughout the day, with at least 15 minutes between sets. The rest allows for creating phosphate hypercompensation.

Interesting Health Practices to Consider

Many of the titans experiment with medical and health practices outside the mainstream. Here’s a collection of them.

Medicine

  • Stem-cell banking: Save your extracted teeth, which contain mesenchymal stem cells that can be used to regenerate tissue like bone, cartilage, and motor neurons. The science isn’t completely there, so this is more of a bet for the future.
  • Metformin: While this is used typically as a diabetes drug, some studies show it may be protective against cancer. It disrupts the liver’s ability to make glucose and downregulates signaling associated with cancer proliferation. The effects may mimic calorie restriction and fasting, which have shown benefits against cancer.
  • Blood tests
    • The Lp(a) particle is the most atherogenic particle, and 10% of people inherit elevated levels. This is the most common risk for hereditary atherosclerosis.
    • Oral glucose tolerance test—hyperinsulinemia predicts metabolic problems.
    • HbA1c—measures your overall insulin production and is a marker of diabetes. Magnesium can drop this value
  • Lithium: A drug for bipolar disorder, lithium in small doses seems to decrease suicide rates and improve mood and brain health.
  • Acarbose
    • Lowers blood glucose levels when taken with food. Also an anti-diabetic drug

Health

  • Hyperthermic conditioning: Heat exposure, like from a sauna, increases growth hormone levels and endurance.
    • Two 15-minute dry-heat sessions at 100°C, separated by 30 minutes of cooling, increases Growth Hormone 5-fold and lasts for a couple of hours.
  • Ketosis: The result of a very strict keto diet where blood levels of ketones rise. Tim Ferriss feels more mental clarity at 1 mmol beta-hydroxybutyrate. Ketones have also shown anti-catabolic and anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Therapeutic fasts: Fasting 1 to 3 times per year can starve precancerous cells, slow rapidly dividing cells, and make cancer selectively vulnerable to chemo.
    • 5-day fasts 2 to 3 times a year can reboot the immune system via stem cells
    • Physician Dominic D’Agostino suggests in the extreme that in late-stage cancer he would skip chemo and use a ketogenic diet as the base therapy.

General Wellness

  • Hyperventilation increases strength.
    • Do pushups a few reps short of failure. Record the number.
    • Rest 30 minutes.
    • Do 40 repetitions of inhaling to the fullest capacity, then exhaling completely. You should start tingling.
    • On the last exhale, do another set of pushups while holding your breath. Your pushup count should increase dramatically.
  • Hugs
    • Wim Hof hugs with his left arm over the person’s shoulder, which is distinctive and meant to provide a “heart to heart.”
  • Find a fun exercise you enjoy. There are much more fun ways of moving your body than treadmills.
  • Gotu kola cream: Used for loose skin or stretch marks.
  • Stretching: Finish static stretching with a voluntary contraction to lower injury.
  • Mobility
    • Squat all the way to the ground with your feet and knees together. This shows weaknesses in the range of motion of hips and ankles.
  • Activate muscle tendons to increase strength.
    • For example, to activate hamstrings, rub the back of your leg right above the knee and below your butt for 8-10 seconds.
  • Improve endurance with breathing
    • Decide beforehand that you’re going to rest from one set to another for a certain number of breaths. This will slow your breathing.
  • Flotation/sensory deprivation tanks
    • Tim Ferriss reports that 2 weeks of twice a week floating feels like a month of daily meditation.
  • Wear zero drop shoes, where your toes and heel are an equal distance from ground. This avoids shortening your Achilles tendon
    • Vans or Chuck Taylors are common examples.
  • Avoiding jet lag: Exercising for 5-10 minutes when you land seems to reset your clock.
  • Tetris as emotional therapy: Games like Tetris or Bejeweled occupy your visual center. This limits endless cycling over whatever you’re obsessing about.
    • It’s been shown to help with PTSD, addiction, and insomnia.
  • Chilipad for sleeping: If you tend to get hot while sleeping, a Chilipad is a sheet you put under your bed sheets that circulates cool water and cools your body.
  • Beverages for falling asleep:
    • Honey + apple cider vinegar
    • Yogi soothing caramel bedtime tea
  • Mindfulness
    • Meditating won’t dull your edge—it helps you focus on the few things that matter, rather than every opportunity that pops up.
    • It helps you recover from distraction. The reward for meditating is getting 30% to 50% more done in a day with 50% less stress.
    • Practice getting just one mindful breath a day.

Psychedelics

Many titans suggested psychedelics had a profound effect on their approach to life.

  • Tim Ferriss says he removed decades-old anger and resentment after 48 hours of psychedelic experiences.
  • In a trial at a large company, Jim Fadiman told people to come in with problems they’d been struggling with for months. After a few hours on psychedelics, they were told to work on the problems. 44 of 48 problems had some sort of solution.
  • The most profound positive effects come from “transcendental experiences,” or the feeling that you are connected to other things and living systems. This causes a realization that your ego is not a big part of you.
  • Psychedelic experiences are thought to be authentic expressions of your psyche, not artificial products.
  • You don’t need to be on psychedelics all the time to get the effects. After an experience, the feeling you have is something like being back in the prison of your everyday struggles, but seeing that the door was locked from the inside..

Specific psychedelics:

  • Microdoses of LSD or psilocybin may help people with depression feel better enough that they do something about what’s wrong.
  • Ibogaine seems to affect almost every neurotransmitter class, including opioid, NMDA, serotonin, sigma, nicotinic receptors.

Tips on doing psychedelics:

  • Be around a sitter who has a lot of experience. Great sitters don’t have an agenda and don’t want you to experience a certain thing.
  • Avoid thinking destructive ideas during the experience.
  • If you get an answer during a session, do homework after the experience and make changes to your life. Don’t rely on doing the psychedelic again soon after.
  • After a psychedelic experience, you’re more suggestible, and you develop habits, bad or good. It’s useful to have a period of reflection and integration afterward.
Health and Success: Tips From the Titans

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  • The habits and beliefs of 101 people at the top of their game
  • Tim Ferriss' list of 17 questions you should ask yourself to challenge your thinking
  • How emulating the habits of successful people you look up to can make you successful as well

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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