We believe that health is the capacity to do things that matter.
A healthy company has the capacity to operate, produce, and thereby sustain itself from the present into the future. Any company will fail without the raw capacity to execute these vital operative functions – despite good market conditions, eager investors, or promising R&D. In the context of human life, health is the capacity to do the things that matter to us.
What are the things that matter? For one, it’s all the things that we need to do to stay alive such as breathing, sensing, and protein recycling. For another, it’s all the things that give our life meaning such as connecting with others and striving toward our goals. Without the capacity to make good on our plans, none of us can flourish in the world. Health is therefore the precondition for enduring value in our lives. At Lifestacks, we believe that the good life is to sustain health and use it well.
The goals are minimizing damage and maximizing repair.
In thinking of health as capacity, we can understand aging as what happens when the systems that keep us healthy break down. At any given moment, our health is the net result of all the things that damage our bodies and all the things that repair our bodies. Naturally, our health fluctuates according to the choices we make and the environment we’re embedded in. Preserving our health over time means balancing degradation and repair. The twin goals of our health habits must therefore be to minimize damage and maximize repair.
First, healthy choices minimize wear and tear in the body. Damage is an unavoidable consequence of operating a physical system like the human body . It’s inherent to being alive. Yet the types and severity of damage that our bodies are exposed to vary depending on our circumstances and the choices we make. Dr. David Sinclair’s ‘Information Theory of Aging’ is a useful guide to why the notion of excessive damage is so central: as damage accumulates over time, our cells lose access to the information that guides both their internal functionality and their specialized contribution to the overall capacity of the organism . Moreover, this loss of information includes degradation in the repair processes themselves, creating a pernicious feedback loop that leads to further degradation . Minimizing damage is therefore a key aspect of staying healthy as long as possible.
Second, healthy choices maximize protection and repair in the body. Nutrients that participate in protection and restoration can be divided into essential and nonessential ones . Essential nutrients play irreplaceable roles in cellular structure and metabolism, and an insufficient supply of any of them will sooner or later lead to signs of deficiency . Food labels reflect this concept by providing percentages of recommended daily intakes for macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. These specific nutrients have been selected because their absence leads to acute signs of deficiency, such as a lack of Vitamin C causing scurvy .
At Lifestacks, we are interested in components that are essential but where reference ranges have not yet been established. These include nutrients that have not been on the public radar because deficiencies show up later in life and often more subtly than overt suboptimal functioning . The reason why insufficiencies of “longevity vitamins” usually present over time rather than immediately is that the body will utilize whatever supply it has for short-term needs while shunting long-term functionality . We should therefore aim to get an abundant supply of protective compounds in our diets and via supplementation so that we can meet our needs now and over the long run.
Nonessential nutrients are no less important for long-term health. They are considered nonessential only because the same benefits can be derived from many different compounds, so these nutrients can substitute for one another – unlike the essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients . Consider that an apple or banana provides benefits but is not essential, while the Vitamin C, Potassium, and Magnesium they provide are essential. Furthermore, the individual phytonutrients contained in these fruits are not essential but a complete lack of phytonutrients will lead to suboptimal health. But how do these nonessential nutrients help if they are not individually required for cellular structure and metabolism? In short, they fortify the health defense systems.
Health defense systems are the body’s mechanisms for resisting and responding to damage in order to preserve optimal functioning. Five health defense systems have been identified: the gut microbiome, the creation and trimming of blood vessels, the immune system, stem cells, and DNA repair mechanisms . It turns out that the diets of the longest-lived communities on Earth contain an abundance of food compounds that support our health defense systems . These diets vary in their specifics, but they share robust contributions to the body’s health defenses, which keeps these populations healthy and highly functional into old age.
Shoring up our defense systems also means using stress wisely as a signaling mechanism. Investing in defense systems is worthwhile in so far as there are threats to be defended against. By signaling to our bodies that times are tough, we can sustain more of the cellular maintenance, repair, and self-strengthening processes that keep us healthy . Inducing hormetic stress can come in many forms such as fasting, exercising, and heat or cold exposure, all of which influence our cells to become more robust . We’re strongest when we do not let our physical guard down and so it serves to employ a repertoire of intermittent, mild hormetic stressors.
The value of our health is in what we make of it.
It is common to speak of the fleetingness of human life. Life can feel impossibly short and it is true that even a life of 90 years is a blip in the history of the universe. On the flip side, however, our lives take place on a massive scale, in space and time. We are the products of trillions of cooperative cells and microbes, and our brains afford us billions of thoughts. So just as we reckon with our mortality, we should also recognize the opportunity we have as stewards of all of this time, energy, and experiential potential. Cultivating an abundance mentality regarding our lives can help us flourish in each moment we do have rather than be crippled by the finitude of our existence.
The value of our health is in what we make of it. Social isolation ranks among the highest risks for early mortality and has been shown to be even more harmful than smoking. Our habits of participating in the world must therefore minimize physical and psychological damage and maximize robustness via meaningful engagement with others and the cultivation of resilient attitudes. We face many challenges as humans, but we are blessed with a tendency to make meaning in the face of them. In light of our shared mortality, we can live our lives in ways that allow us to enrich and cherish the time we have. Let’s cultivate and spend our health wisely in the pursuit of just that.
 Schumacher, Björn, et al. “Age to Survive: DNA Damage and Aging.” Trends in Genetics, vol. 24, no. 2, 2008, pp. 77–85.
 Sinclair, David, and Matthew D. LaPlante. Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don't Have To. Harper Thorsons, 2021.