A growing trend in high-stress, demanding jobs is the “positive stress movement,” when people expose themselves to extreme temperatures, diets and exercise as a way to improve longevity. At Palo Alto Investors, though, the focus is on a far less radical approach to helping us perform better for longer.
Dr. Joon Yun is a physician and the president and managing partner of Palo Alto Investors, LLC. He also created and sponsored the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, launched in 2014, which provides a $1 million prize to anyone that cracks the code on stopping the aging process.
Yun said that aging is the root of virtually every other health problem the health care system is trying to solve these days, and it affects everyone.
“When we’re young, what we have is this incredible recovery function,” Yun said. “And we don’t realize what we have until we start losing it right around 40.”
As people age, it takes longer to recover completely from any illness, injury or condition, whether adjusting to a dark room or healing a broken bone. Yun compared this phenomenon to a Weeble-Wobble, where when people are young, it is easy for them to get back to that stable middle, but when they get older, it takes a while before they stop wobbling.
“So, the question is, what can we do to recover our ability to recover?” Yun said.
For one, Yun said the key is to focus just as much on stopping the aging process as the health care industry currently puts on treating debilitating diseases and conditions.
“The current health care system is doing a good job of increasing the quantity and quality of life, but we’re not actually solving aging, so we’re essentially creating an older population that needs more health care,” Yun said.
The best way to approach this is to find ways to sustain one’s functionality, Yun said. This largely means incorporating some variation into our routine to increase our tolerance buffer, including enjoying all of nature’s temperatures instead of maintaining a 70-degree thermostat all the time.
“The range of exposures out there actually helps maintain our resilience,” Yun said. “We’ve so narrowed our dynamic range that we’re losing our ability to tolerate the wide range of temperatures out there.”
This also applies to diet, as trying to follow a restrictive diet can lower the body’s tolerance for whatever is being restricted.
“Instead of just ‘eating a healthy diet,’ maybe we should be eating a range of diets,” Yun said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I try to eat at least one bag of Doritos a month because I don’t want to lose my ability to tolerate Doritos.”
Science will likely take a while to catch up to this concept, but Yun said people can make enjoyable, intuitive changes to their routine to improve in the meantime.
“The gateway to functional longevity is actually to have more fun,” Yun said.
To help the scientific community advance in this area as well, Yun created the Palo Alto Longevity Prize as a way of providing financial incentive to taking a new approach to longevity.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to see that there’s a much better model out there in the future when we’re so ensconced in the status quo point of view,” Yun said. “And prizes are a great way to shine the light on a better future.”
Solving aging will benefit all those involved, Yun said, which is why it is such a worthwhile investment to reach a solution as a community.
“Not dying is the best way to live longer,” Yun said. “If somebody cracks the aging code, we all win.”