Eternal youth triumphs immortality, with the latter being a stodgy subset of the former. Everyone wants to stay young, healthy, and fit forever. Since childhood, I have been deeply intrigued by the lure of immortality. Back then, I firmly believed in the existence of amrit, a heavenly mystical elixir of immortality in Hindu mythology. If only I could get a few drops of this amrit! As I grew up, I learned that immortality is not just a far-fetched dream but could be a reality within the next fifty years, or maybe much earlier. Till we get there, all we can do is focus on our health, body, and our lifestyle: a step towards eternal youth.
A big revelation hit me as I approached my thirties. Most of us abuse our bodies considerably. And if we focus on the various signals sent out by our over-abused internal system, we can easily solve a lot of health issues with just small lifestyle changes. Usually, the results of this abuse aren’t visible easily, especially when we are young. Our super-efficient metabolism keeps taking this abuse well, without any complaints. Our internal metabolic engine slows down as we age, but our eating habits do not change. Our gut strongly influences how we live and age, and it keeps giving us vital clues on what’s going wrong. This was my biggest revelation – our gut and its microbiome control our entire life from birth.
The story that led me to this revelation took form in my late twenties. In school, I was one of those slim, lanky kids. After high school, I realized I needed to start working out to increase my muscle mass. Since childhood, I have been actively into sports but had poor muscle tone and form. So even on an irregular basis, going to a gym helped me a lot. Though I took three full daily meals, I started taking protein supplements to augment my protein intake. But as I inched towards my thirties, I started noticing considerable changes in my body, and it all started from my gut.
Before I hit my thirties, I never felt uneasiness after a heavy dinner. Watching TV adverts of various ayurvedic and allopathic remedies to tackle the belly bloat post a heavy meal, I often wondered why someone would need antacid tablets after a meal. Our metabolic processes are supercharged when we are young, and we feel invincible. So we keep dumping food day in and day out, trusting our loyal & hardworking digestive system to handle everything without a complaint.
But after my 30th birthday, I started noticing the nearly-silent whispers of rebellion from my gut. After a heavy meal, especially post-dinner, I would detect the murmurs of discomfort and uneasiness. “It is normal son, take a Hajmola or Pudin Hara (antacid) after dinner. You’ll feel better,” said my mom casually. And that’s when it clicked to me that this is what bloating feels like. And why my grandparents regularly took an antacid after every meal. They were suffering from chronic acidity. (Of course, later I realized that instead of taking something like Eno or antacid tablets, there is an effectively simple solution to relieve acidity – reduce your food portions considerably, specially for dinner and increase the intake of raw greens.)
This was the time when I was working more than 14 hours a day for my startup Axero Solutions. Back then, I was working from my tiny apartment, which barely had any natural light. Even during the daytime, the lights were on. I used those omnipresent white tube lights that I later realized were a wrong choice, especially after sunset (later I will share more details on harmful effects of blue light). The rigors of running a business, countless hours of back-to-back programming, and lack of any exercise took an enormous toll on my body. Months kept going by, and I couldn’t even notice the season changes since I didn’t go out much. This indoor living continued for a year and eventually manifested in the form of an auto-immune disorder.
After a year, I had uveitis, inflammation in one eye. It felt just like conjunctivitis, and I had to see a doctor since it never went away even after a month. After a visit to the doctor, I got to know I have an auto-immune disorder – rheumatoid arthritis, also known as the developed-world disease – it happens mostly in developed areas of the world where humans have created a sterile environment around themselves (like your own home) and continuously stay in such environments without access to germs/bacteria from outside. Auto-immune diseases trigger when your immune cells start attacking your body tissues, such as lower spine joints (as was my case), causing them to fuse. Because of this fusion, I started having lower back pains and a stiff body every morning after I got up. And sometimes it also comes out in the eyes as uveitis. When the first episode happened, I got treated with steroids. Doctors said there is no cure for auto-immune disorders, and one can only treat the symptoms. But when the second episode happened, after 1.5 years, I had no choice but to take matters into my own hand. I consulted different doctors, and some suggested heavy steroid injections for months. Still, I wanted to go deeper and understand what was happening with my body. I was disappointed as none of the doctors could give me a convincing explanation.
I decided to investigate and study more about our gut, digestive system, metabolism, and its effects on our body as we age. I was shocked to learn how casually most Indians, people around me, treated this condition. Post 30, our bodies stop being super-efficient as our metabolism slows down. But we don’t reduce our food portions or calorie intake, and this causes an overworked digestive system. Instead of popping up pills, I realized that the simplest option is to slow down our food intake. I read about intermittent fasting and how it helps reverse aging. I got hooked! On my 30th birthday, I decided to gift myself ten years of time by the time I turned 40 because I realized time is the most crucial thing in life. I had a full ten years ahead of me to get fitter, know more about how our internal system works, and start practicing intermittent fasting.
As calorie restriction, exercising, and high-interval training were the lowest hanging fruits, I decided to kickstart my reverse-aging process combining sports-based HIIT as well as regular lifting weights three times a week at a minimum. I have been into sports since my school days. I used to play badminton, volleyball, and football quite actively. I was a brown belt in Judo and had won some state medals while in school. Even during college, I used to play badminton but not that frequently. But as I worked more on my startup, sports got less focus. In my early thirties, I realized I had nearly zero sports-related activities. The only all-weather pool that we used to frequent had shut down. Both my wife and I started searching for a good sports complex, but soon we realized there was nothing nearby. Gurgaon had poor sports facilities. But we didn’t give up. Gurgaon had a multitude of condos that had good clubs with sports facilities. The idea of changing our home and living in a condominium society with good sports facilities appealed to us. The next option was to start searching for a condo that had an all-weather pool and an indoor badminton court because both of us loved playing badminton as a sport. Luckily, within a few months, we found an apartment complex with amazing sports facilities and one of the best indoor badminton courts. So we went ahead, closed the deal, and started utilizing the facilities from day one!
I have been suffering from the Restless Leg Syndrome for years, and all the research on food control helped me find a solution: reducing salt intake. Most Indian diet is heavy on salts, sugar, and fried oil. Reducing my salt intake helped me control my Restless Leg Syndrome, and I was surprised by the fast results. Intermittent fasting had its own learning curve, and it was a bit hard initially. Still, I hit a gap of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast.
The most significant success was calorie restriction. From the usual 2000-2200 calories I used to take daily, I gradually reduced it to 1800 calories a day. By the time I turned 37, I had 1600 calories a day. This helped with all my stomach acidity-related issues. The key was a light dinner (mostly salads and portion control). To summarise, I was taking the following steps in my mid-thirties:
- Calorie restriction: 1600 calories per day
- Reduction of salt and sugar: I heavily reduced my salt intake, switched to brown sugar, and reduced my sugar intake.
- HIIT: I started playing badminton actively and gym three times a week. I actively practiced Taekwondo (I got a Black Belt after four years of practice), and the sparring and related exercises kept me in decent shape.
All this helped a lot keeping me fit and healthy. But apparently, it was not enough. When I turned 38, I felt good, but I noticed an increased greying of hair and some tiredness during the day. I realized my lifestyle had merely slowed down the aging process, but I was still aging nonetheless. I had to do something radical to stop or reverse my aging. Until now, I realized that whatever I had learned about healthy living was not even the tip of the educational iceberg of healthy living. All it needed was a deeper dive. And that’s when I turned towards biohacking.