#206 – Exercising for longevity: strength, stability, zone 2, zone 5, and more

We can do zone 2 our entire lives; we can do it safely, and it just yields enormous dividends.” —Peter Attia

Read Time 25 minutes

In this special episode of The Drive, we have pulled together a variety of clips from previous podcasts about exercise to help listeners understand this topic more deeply, as well as to identify previous episodes which may be of interest. In this episode, Peter discusses his framework for exercise, what he’s really optimizing for, and how to train today to be prepared for a good life at age 100. He describes the importance of strength and stability, and why deadlifting is an important tool to consider for longevity. Additionally, he details why training in zone 2 and zone 5 is important, gives a primer on VO2 max, and describes the most effective ways to engage in those types of exercise. Finally, Peter reveals his current exercise routine.


We discuss:

  • What is Peter optimizing for with his exercise? [3:00]; (from AMA #12)
  • Preparing for a good life at age 100: Training for the “Centenarian Decathlon” [6:00]; (from AMA #5)
  • The importance of preserving strength and muscle mass as we age [21:45]; (from AMA #27)
  • The value of deadlifts for stability and longevity when done properly [27:30]; (from episode #103)
  • The importance of zone 2 aerobic training [35:45]; (from episode #103)
  • The most effective ways to engage in zone 2 exercise [40:00]; (from AMA #19)
  • Zone 5 training and VO2 max [44:15]; (from AMA #21)
  • A primer on VO2 max [52:00]; (from episode #151)
  • Stability—the cornerstone upon which all exercise and movement relies [1:03:00]; (from AMA #12)
  • Peter’s current exercise routine [1:07:45]; (from AMA #32)
  • More.

What is Peter optimizing for with his exercise? [3:00]

From episode #92 – AMA #12: Strategies for longevity (which don’t require a doctor); discussed from [30:30] – [33:45]

Peter is looking at exercise through the lens of longevity, not performance

  • The difference is important
  • If your goal was to break 2 hours and 40 minutes on the Chicago Marathon next year, the training required would be totally different from that needed to maximize longevity
    • Longevity is a very difficult performance goal
  • When you start to look into the far recesses of amazing physical performance, training would be very specific for that
    • This is not what Peter is discussing
    • Training for this type of performance is generally not collinear with longevity and at times they can be outright orthogonal 
      • So this is the difference between something being in-line with (collinear) or at-odds with (orthogonal)
  • Exceptional physical performances requires maximum cardiac output, just beneath VO2 max 
    • This level of performance and training puts an amazing strain on the body
    • While this is better than sitting on the couch all day, it is past the point of optimizing longevity returns
    • This comes at some longevity cost relative to training at a lower energy system

Why training for the “Centenarian Decathlon” is so important 

  • This podcast is geared toward this “Centenarian Decathlon”

This is the idea of being the most kick-ass 90-year old possible”‒ Peter Attia

  • This is based on 2 energy systems:
    • 1 – Strength and stability
    • 2 – Low-end aerobic energy system (which is zone 2, we’ll talk about that in a moment) which is punctuated with brief bursts of zone 5
    • These energy systems matter because this is generally where life takes place

Life is zone 1, zone 2, and zone 5”‒ Peter Attia

  • By training in zone 2 and zone 5 (with much more focus on zone 2), we’re preparing metabolically and structurally for longevity


Preparing for a good life at age 100: Training for the “Centenarian Decathlon” [6:00]

From episode #50 – AMA #5: calcium scores, centenarian Decathlon, exercise, muscle glycogen, keto, and more; discussed from [18:15] – [33:45]

What does Peter wish he incorporated into his exercise at age 25 to be in this race for the gold medal in the “Centenarian Decathlon”?

  • For most people, a system of the body is going to fail first
    • Some people die suddenly when their mind and body are fine; they are an exception to this discussion
    • For many people their mind fails first, cognition is taken from them and then eventually they die or their body breaks down
  • For most people, the decline of mind and body, and the burden of disease occurs as the body fails first
  • This prompted Peter to think about how to mitigate the decline / fail of the body
  • He engaged in backcasting (instead of forecasting), to think of what he wants to do when he is 100 and work backwards from that to determine what to do today at age 45 (or any age)
  • This led to the question‒ What do I have to physically be able to do to be satisfied with my life at 100 years old? 
  • He thought about how old his kids would be when he is 100, and how old will their kids be
    • He realized at this age, his grandkids will have kids
    • When Peter is 100, he will likely have great-grandchildren that are between the ages of 1-8

What will Peter want to be able to do at 100 to be happy?

  • He doesn’t want to be bedridden with disease
  • He wants to retain his cognitive faculties 
  • There are lots of physical activities he want to be able to do
    • Shoot a bow and arrow
    • Exercise (he enjoys it)
  • Activities of daily living are important
    • Things he would want to do with his great-grandkids when they are 1, 3, 4, 5, etc.
    • Be able to drop into a squat position and pick up a child that weighs 30 lbs
    • Be able to get up off the floor using a single point of support, such as just 1 arm
    • Be able to lift something that weighs 30 lbs over his head; this is about the weight of his carry-on suitcase
    • Be able to get out of a pool without a ladder
    • Be able to walk up 3 flights of stairs with 10 lbs of groceries in each hand
  • He made a list of 18 things‒ this became his centenarian decathlon (even though a decathlon is only 10 things)
  • He asked‒ What are physical tasks that will approximate the things he wants to be able to do for daily living at age 100? 

{end of show notes preview}

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  1. So useful to recent members to have you tie these concepts together! Can’t thank you enough for this effort, as well as your other Drive and AMA podcasts. Wish I were in my 4th or 5th decade of life, instead of nearly my 8th decade. But it’s never too late to work toward greater health!

  2. I’m a recent member within the last month or so. This compilation was EXCELLENT for me as I find it time-consuming to hunt for all the relevant content on exercising for longevity among 4 years of podcasts that I missed. However, I realize that the format may be less attractive to long-time members. Recommendation: continually do the demographic stats on the population spread of “newer” members and hit a “mash up” on topics occasionally and accordingly.
    P.S. I’m not sure you’re true Canadian. Having owned a home in Ontario for over 20 years, I’m attuned to the accent and, after having listened to several podcasts, I don’t recall you saying “eh?” once.

  3. Loved this episode!
    Would like another like it about Apo B, cholesterol, etc

  4. Another episode on glucose and metabolic disease would also be great.

  5. I loved this compilation episode — thank you for doing this! Very very helpful, would love to hear more episodes like this on nutrition and other topics.

  6. I’ve been listening to your podcasts since #3 with Dr Ron Krauss, I like this format and hope you continue it. To paraphrase something you said when discussing DNS … this is one of those things that is iterative …

  7. Peter – loved this format. As a long time member I thought it was a great refresher. I’d love to hear you do a deep dive, perhaps a full AMA on the Centenarian Olympics.

  8. I like it. Personally I don’t bother with the Qualy’s though I do understand the value and I do occasionally watch clips you post on social, but generally if I want to revisit a podcast I’ll go to the show notes.

    Question: can you share how you calculate an actual number for CV risk for your patients? My LDL (and ApoB, of course) is high, Lp(a) is high, and I’m debating starting a statin but my family doctor is telling me my CV risk is 1% (she doesn’t know what Lp(a) and Apo B is) and doesn’t want to check my cholesterol annually but I feel it makes sense but guidelines don’t recommend it so it’s a hard sell.

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