The Long Game 84: Heart Rate Variability, Fun, Superstition, Strength
🧠 Impact of Covid on Early Child Cognitive Development, Airlines, Annual Review, Egypt, and Much More!
Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
In this episode, we explore:
Heart rate variability
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on early child cognitive development
Let’s dive in!
⌚ Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of your autonomic nervous system that can be extremely useful for evaluating your physical fitness and determining how ready your body is to perform. Generally speaking, higher HRV is a sign of better fitness.
After realizing that my HRV is lower than where I’d want to be, I did a bit of reading to see how I could improve it. As a general rule, you’d want your HRV to be as high as possible in the ranges below.
Here are a few things that could impact the HRV:
Activity: a good amount of exercise will positively impact your HRV, but I found out that when training intensely, the HRV is negatively impacted, at least at the beginning of a training phase. Focusing more on cardio training might also create a higher HRV baseline (that’s what I experienced: the months with more zone 2 running led to a higher HRV than the months with more strength training.)
Sleep: getting good sleep will positively impact your HRV. Especially not eating 3 hours before sleeping and getting 8 hours of sleep. Even *one* glass of alcohol will be significantly detrimental for your HRV, and the effect will persist for 2+ days…
Good nutrition: I’d be curious to see the correlation between appropriate glucose levels and HRV, which will definitely be possible on Vital in the future. In the meantime, eating clean and avoiding fried and ultra-processed foods will most likely help as well.
Breathing: there’s some pretty good evidence that breathing exercises can improve your HRV. That’s what Resonance is working on (I haven’t tried it yet.) The Wim Hof Method is also reported to improve HRV.
Stress: this is a huge one. You’ll see that your HRV tends to be lower during intense work periods. Meditation could have a stress-relieving effect and thus increase your HRV (on a different note, I noticed that meditation lower my glucose levels in about 10 min, quite a surprising and powerful effect 🧘♂️)
I hope to get my HRV in the 100ms range over the next couple of months.
Ps: when it comes to measuring your HRV, Oura, Whoop are good solutions, but the Apple Watch through Apple Health is not. You can use HRV4Training instead.
🧠 Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Child Cognitive Development
I try to stay away from the covid discussion as much as possible. Still, I thought this paper was important to share, especially for parents with young kids:
Since the first reports of novel coronavirus in the 2020, public health organizations have advocated preventative policies to limit virus, including stay-at-home orders that closed businesses, daycares, schools, playgrounds, and limited child learning and typical activities.
Fear of infection and possible employment loss has placed stress on parents; while parents who could work from home faced challenges in both working and providing full-time attentive childcare.
For pregnant individuals, fear of attending prenatal visits also increased maternal stress, anxiety, and depression.
Not surprising, there has been concern over how these factors, as well as missed educational opportunities and reduced interaction, stimulation, and creative play with other children might impact child neurodevelopment.
Leveraging a large on-going longitudinal study of child neurodevelopment, we examined general childhood cognitive scores in 2020 and 2021 vs. the preceding decade, 2011-2019.
We find that children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic. Moreover, we find that males and children in lower socioeconomic families have been most affected. Results highlight that even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness, the environmental changes associated COVID-19 pandemic is significantly and negatively affecting infant and child development.
While we’re talking about covid, I think it’s essential to understand that there is no going out of a covid world at this point. Variants will keep coming at us, and we need to make decisions that acknowledge this fact. We have vaccines and other medications being developed. We need to do everything to go back to living our lives and stopping the mental health and cognitive development burdens that this pandemic has caused.
Bill Ackman puts it well here: “We need to give the healthcare system the resources it needs, and we need to start living again. It appears that Omicron will ‘vaccinate’ everyone who isn’t already vaccinated. Let’s protect the vulnerable and continue to live our lives. The beginning of the end of living in fear of Covid is near.”
🧠 Better Thinking
🔮 In Defense of Superstition
Although I try to be as rational as I can, superstition and belief in miracles can have their place and even be beneficial psychologically. This article makes a great case:
The good news is that superstitious thought, or “magical thinking,” even as it misrepresents reality, has its advantages. It offers psychological benefits that logic and science can’t always provide: namely, a sense of control and a sense of meaning.
Consider one “law of magic” that people tend to put stock in: the idea that “luck is in your hands,” that you can affect your fate via superstitious rituals like knocking on wood or carrying a lucky charm. We often rely on such rituals when we are anxious or want to perform well, and though they may not directly have their intended magical effects, these rituals produce an illusion of control and enhance self-confidence, which in turn can improve our performance and thus indirectly affect our fate.
Magical thinking indeed has a lot of downsides, but it would be wrong to think it doesn’t help us in some circumstances:
in one study led by the psychologist Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne, subjects were handed a golf ball, and half of them were told that the ball had been lucky so far. Those subjects with a “lucky” ball drained 35 percent more golf putts than those with a “regular” ball. In another scenario, subjects performed better on memory and word games when armed with a lucky charm. In a more real-world example of this effect, the anthropologist Richard Sosis of the University of Connecticut found that in Israel during the second intifada in the early 2000s, 36 percent of secular women in the town of Tzfat recited psalms in response to the violence. Compared with those who did not recite psalms, he found, those women benefited from reduced anxiety: they felt more comfortable entering crowds, going shopping and riding buses — a result, he concluded, of their increased sense of control.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🃏 The Importance of Fun
A couple of days ago, I heard Lex Fridman say “fun things go further.” He was talking about Dogecoin and why it might keep going up.
I think this idea is essential and often underrated. Fun can be a substantial comparative advantage, whether it’s about a product, a space, or a team.
Packy McCormick describes it perfectly in the context of web3:
Web3 is a vortex for talent, money, culture, and brainspace. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and explain it in the simplest terms. I think I have it, my tailwit explanation:
Web3 pushes out the Pareto Funtier.
This is also crucial in terms of how we think about the product we are building at Vital. One of the reasons we pivoted five months ago we because we believe that health optimization needs to be extremely fun to make its way to the mainstream. You won’t get millions of people doing stuff they don’t love and enjoy doing for a sustained period.
Finally, at the scale of a team, it’s also clear that selecting people who have a genuine passion for the product and a willingness to work hard will be key to creating the magic.
📚 What I Read
🧬 The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality
I’m still reading this book: it’s an excellent summary of everything related to genes and social inequality.
Genetic differences between people create differences between them in their likelihood of having speech and language problems. Genetic differences between people create differences between them in their likelihood of being homeless. The first sentence is not particularly controversial; the second one almost definitely is. But why?
❓ I Have A Few Questions
Questions without any answers have become one of my favorite types of content.
What do I desperately want to be true, so much that I think it’s true when it’s clearly not?
What has been true for decades that will stop working, but will drag along stubborn adherents because it had such a long track record of success?
🚫 The Phrase “No Evidence” Is A Red Flag For Bad Science Communication
An important point on science communication:
You can see the problem. Science communicators are using the same term - “no evidence” - to mean:
This thing is super plausible, and honestly very likely true, but we haven’t checked yet, so we can’t be sure.
We have hard-and-fast evidence that this is false, stop repeating this easily debunked lie.
This is utterly corrosive to anybody trusting science journalism.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
I’m going back in a Dan Carlin phase for the end of this year. Always a pleasure to listen to these very long episodes about forgotten parts of History.
Pavel Tsatsouline on the Science of Strength and the Art of Physical Performance
A masterclass on everything related to strength training. “Strength is the mother quality of all physical qualities."
🍭 Brain Food
🔁 Friendships and Reciprocity
I came across this recent research paper bringing some bad news! Here’s the abstract:
Persuasion is at the core of norm creation, emergence of collective action, and solutions to ‘tragedy of the commons’ problems. In this paper, we show that the directionality of friendship ties affect the extent to which individuals can influence the behavior of each other.
Moreover, we find that people are typically poor at perceiving the directionality of their friendship ties and that this can significantly limit their ability to engage in cooperative arrangements.
This could lead to failures in establishing compatible norms, acting together, finding compromise solutions, and persuading others to act. We then suggest strategies to overcome this limitation by using two topological characteristics of the perceived friendship network.
The findings of this paper have significant consequences for designing interventions that seek to harness social influence for collective action.
This article adds:
While 95 percent of participants thought their friendships were mutual, the study discovered that in about half of the cases, the friendship was unrequited.
“It turns out that we’re very bad at judging who our friends are,” says Dr. Erez Shmueli, one of the researchers.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🛫 How Airlines Quietly Became Banks
Just like Starbucks, airlines are actually banks in disguise.
🇪🇬 Why Egypt Is Building a New Capital City
Will this gigantic project work?
🔧 The Tool of the Week
🥇 The Ultimate Annual Review
This is the best template I found if you want to conduct an annual review for 2021 before setting up some resolutions and goals for 2022.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
"How are you complicit in creating the conditions you say you don’t want?"
— Jerry Colonna
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It seems to be that theme of resonance breathing (coherent breathing) will be the next hype. A lot of new apps this year.