My 3 Words: Rejuvenate

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “My Three Words for 2016.” I was gratified to see the responses the post triggered, which ranged from those of friends who said they “saw me” in the words to those of others who were inspired to write their own three words. I also received lots of questions about what each of the themes really means and how I was planning to “operationalize” them on a day-to-day basis.

In particular, the Rejuvenate theme really seemed to strike a chord, and I received many questions about what it means and what motivated me to start down this journey, as well requests for tips and tricks.

The notion of Rejuvenate is about renewal, about bringing fresh energy to everything I do. A key part is about physical renewal, but it’s also as much about seeking new life experiences as it is about re-energizing my curiosity and appetite to learn.

My initial impetus was a book called Younger Next Year. While the issues the book addresses seemed distant and hard for me to relate to personally, it triggered my curiosity. I started to delve into the science of aging and stumbled upon the concept of “Body Age,” which is a measure of one’s biological age on the basis of health and fitness levels (vs. one’s chronological age). While Body Age is a loose concept, and there is no definitive test for measuring it, it is a compelling way to synthesize a myriad of data (e.g., one’s body-fat percent, cholesterol level, blood-sugar level, and flexibility indicators) into a single metric. For me, being told that I was in my fifties instead of my forties was a tough pill to swallow. Coincidentally, around the same time, I was sitting reading a book about the Apollo mission to my five-year-old, and he turned around, looked at me, and said, “Dad, I will build a house on Neptune when I grow up. Will you come live with me?” My immediate response was “Of course I will, Adi”. I was blown away by the audacity of his dream, but also couldn’t help wondering whether I would healthy enough to travel to space by the time he realized his dream.

Soon after this moment, at a cocktail party, I met a behavioral scientist who suggested that I read a book called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky. The book discusses the connection between stress and metabolic diseases and how chronic stress can accelerate aging. As I read the book, however, I also realized that I was an “adrenaline junkie” who thrives on stress, and that rather than trying to eliminate stress, I need to learn how to manage and even channel it.

Thus began my quest to Rejuvenate. I needed to make dramatic changes, but did not have a clue as to where to begin. Discovering that I was an adrenaline junkie was great for justifying (to myself) my habit of snacking during meetings, but it wasn’t clear what I should do about it. And while Body Age is intuitive and has “shock value,” it’s hard to measure and isn’t actionable. Managing stress sounds cool, but where do I start?

I decided that the first step was a fundamental lifestyle change. I needed to lose weight, exercise regularly, and get in shape. In the past, I had tried various weight-loss programs, without much success. As I continued to experiment, I came to three conclusions:

  1. First, the key metric to focus on is body-fat percent. Reducing one’s body fat (as a percentage of one’s total weight) addresses most aspects of metabolic syndrome (e.g., high cholesterol and high blood pressure) and also increases one’s metabolic rate, making it easier to sustain weight loss. In order to reduce my body fat, I am focusing on the following:
  • A workout routine that is centered on weight lifting and high-intensity interval training (e.g., Tabata sets). I had never done any weight lifting, so this was somewhat intimidating. I also have a host of flexibility issues (e.g., hunched shoulders) and poor balance. It took a few months to get going, but I now find both the weight training and Tabata sets addictive. In fact, it’s hard to see myself going to back to an exercise routine that is centered around only forty-five minutes on a treadmill / elliptical machine.
  • Reducing carbs in my diet, especially processed carbs, and increasing both vegetables and proteins. Broadly, I follow a Paleo diet, with a few minor modifications: I restrict how much fruit (except berries) and nuts I eat, and I have added legumes. Cutting out bread and cheese was probably the hardest part, and it still is. While the science behind this (or any) diet is debatable, I find that it’s much easier to follow than a strict calorie-counting approach, and it addresses my carb addiction head on.

2. I also realized that I needed to find a few sports that I could enjoy and that would feed my inner adrenaline junkie. This was a rude awakening, especially since I have not played (or watched) any sports since middle school. I tried hiking and generally found it too slow for me. I tried skiing, which was terrifying at the beginning. I fell so many times that I lost count, but I can finally ski on intermediate slopes. I also went scuba-diving in Hawaii and decided it was high time I learned how to swim. In addition to giving me an adrenaline rush, these sports also motivate me to get into shape. And they are more healthy than sipping margaritas on vacation…..

3. Changing my lifestyle requires making active choices every single minute. In board and Monday partner meetings, I do push-ups instead of snacking. In other meetings, I stand up every fifteen minutes and, whenever possible, hold walking meetings. And if I have a few drinks late at night, I go to the gym after that, even if it means exercising at midnight. Your choices may be different, but you have to consciously make choices every day.

So far, I have lost forty-three pounds and have a plan to Rejuvenate my body. With much trepidation, I have set a target of getting to 15%–17% body fat by the end of the year (vs. 26% today). I have set a Q1 goal of getting to 180 pounds / 20% body fat and learning how to swim. I am also planning to run the San Francisco half marathon in the summer and work on ideas to push the envelope even further in the second half of 2016.

Still, this is just the first step. “Rejuvenate” can mean so much more! I want to rekindle my inner child and begin to dream about “building my house on Neptune”!

If you are starting your own rejuvenation, I would love to hear about it. And if you have advice for me, I would love to hear that too. I’m just getting started!