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Home » Transcript: Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer and You: Dr. Peter Attia (JBP Podcast)

Transcript: Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer and You: Dr. Peter Attia (JBP Podcast)

Here is the transcript of Jordan B Peterson Podcast titled ‘OBESITY, DIABETES, CANCER AND YOU’ with renowned physician Dr. Peter Attia.


JORDAN B PETERSON: Hello, everyone. Today, I’m speaking with physician, longevity expert, and now author, Dr. Peter Attia. We discuss his new book, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, and explore the immense benefits that can be gained from exercise in just three hours a week, how small imbalances in diet can cause major problems such as diabetes and obesity, the difference between lifespan and healthspan, the soured reasoning behind the American food pyramid, and the scientific side of alternative diets. No buzzwords. Looking forward to the discussion today.


Dr. Attia, in your book, you talk about lifespan in general, but you also concentrate on a concept called healthspan, termed healthspan, and you’re concentrating more on decades, let’s say, of healthy life rather than absolute length of life. Do you want to expand on the concept of healthspan and why you distinguish between that and longevity per se?

DR. PETER ATTIA: Yeah, longevity is really a function of lifespan and healthspan. So, lifespan is the easier of those two to understand because it’s binary. You’re either alive or you’re dead. And I think when most people think of longevity, they think of the elongation of lifespan, understandably. But, you know, that’s really only part of it.

The other part — the part that might actually be more important to most people when pressed on the issue, is healthspan, which is the quality of life. And the medical definition of healthspan is not a particularly helpful definition in my view. It’s effectively the period of time from which you are free of disability and disease. But I don’t really think that captures what healthspan is to most people.

And so I think healthspan is a broader concept. And it’s not binary. It is analog. But it really constitutes some measure of cognitive health, physical health, and emotional health. And at least two of those are intimately linked to age, which is to say they generally decline with age. But if we focus, I think, relentlessly on the pursuit of those things, we tend to get a better quality of life overall. And by the way, I think you get for free a lot of lifespan benefits.

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JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. So, well, it’s very important to get the definitions and the measurements right because systems optimize to maximize their score on what they’re measured by. And I suppose living to 140 wouldn’t be so good if you were senile for the last 70 years and institutionalized, for example. And so it sounds like when you talk about healthspan, you’re intermingling two, what would you say, two quality of life issues.

One would be the expansion of youth rather than longevity per se. And then something associated with that existential quality of life. So maybe we could start with, well, does that seem to capture the interaction? Those two things seem to capture what you’re talking about with regard to healthspan.

DR. PETER ATTIA: Yeah, I think so. I think that the cognitive and physical piece are the pieces that do decline with age. And we want to preserve those as long as possible. And we can be very specific about what those things are, by the way. We could drill into what is cognitive healthspan, what is physical healthspan.

And then that other one that is not so age dependent might be at least as important and probably, frankly, falls much more into your wheelhouse than mine. Professionally, at least. And that is about the quality of a person’s life and the quality of their relationships, their sense of purpose and things of that nature.


JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah, so a long while back, I was looking at interventions to improve people’s lives. And I knew at that point that cognitive decline was a major problem, especially in terms of productivity and general competence. And so it’s a pretty pronounced linear downhill trend on the fluid intelligence front from about the age of 25 forward. And that can decline precipitously in, say, late 70s, early 80s, especially with the onset of degenerative neurological diseases.

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And I was looking at the literature on cognitive remediation. This is back in the times of 10, 15 years ago, when there were a lot of online sites that purported to run you through cognitive exercises that could increase or maintain your IQ. There’s never been any evidence for that, by the way. It’s a pretty damn dismal literature.

But what I did find, and I think this is extremely solid, is that if you want to maintain your cognitive function, that both cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting seem to do a pretty damn good job. And maybe that’s because the brain is such an oxygen-demanding organ. And obviously, it’s energy-demanding and resource-demanding in other ways. And if you can keep yourself cardiovascularly fit, interestingly enough, that’s the best pathway to cognitive health.

Then I was looking on the psychological side, you know. And what I found was that there were interventions that help people get their story straight. Of course, psychotherapy is one of those. But there are written interventions. If people write about their past, about their past traumas, and if they write about their future plans, they reduce general uncertainty. That reduces their stress, and that seems to produce a relatively pronounced physiological benefit.

And so there’s an interesting interplay there that we can talk about more in terms of the emotional and the physical. It’s pretty funny that if you want to improve your cognitive function or maintain it, you should exercise rather than think, and that if you want to improve your physiology, you should straighten out your story and face your traumas rather than, say, exercise.

So what do you recommend in your book, in Outlive in particular, with regard to the expansion of healthspan? What do you think, and how do you practice this personally? What do you recommend to people?

DR. PETER ATTIA: So I think that exercise is empirically the most valuable tool we have for both the cognitive and physical components. So let’s start with the cognitive because I think here it was less intuitive. So about 10 years ago when I really went down this rabbit hole, I had one of my research analysts spend a lot of time going through the literature. So we created a framework where we were going to look at every single intervention and how it impacted executive function, processing speed, short-term memory, long-term memory. Those were the four metrics we cared about because as you point out, those are all bits of intelligence that decline with age.

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