Dr. Erik Korem on Adaptability, HRV, Sleep, and Stress As a Gateway to Growth

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the ďWellness MamaĒ podcast. Iím Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. Thatís wellnesse with an E on the end. And I personally really, really enjoyed recording this episode, which goes deep on topics like adaptability, HRV, sleep, and stress as a gateway to growth. And Iím here with Dr. Erik Korem, who has done many, many things, weíve talked about quite a few of them. But his mission is to help people pursue audacious goals, thrive in uncertainty, and live a healthy and fulfilled life. He considers himself a high-performance pioneer. He introduced sports science and athlete tracking technologies to collegiate and professional sports over a decade ago. And heís worked with the NFL, the NCAA, with gold medal Olympians, Nike, and the Department of Defense. So heís extremely qualified.

Heís now an expert in sleep and stress resilience. And heís the founder and CEO of something called AIM7, which Iím personally excited to start using, which is a wellness app that provides custom recommendations to improve the outcomes of workout programs by taking into account data in a completely new way. And in this episode, we go deep on a lot of things like everything from fitness and so many different aspects of that, why women are just as strong as men, pound for pound, in the lower body, how to best train for power, speed, balance, and adaptability. Why the best woman heís ever trainedÖor the best athletes heís ever trained were female sprinters. Why improving lean muscle mass reduces all cause mortality, and helps slow aging, and how to do it. A whole lot of new terms that I hadnít even heard of, including things like the DC potential of the brain, the five things that we should all be addressing for optimal adaptability, and so much more. I definitely took a lot of notes for this one. Check those all out at wellnessmama.fm in the podcast notes. I hope that you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed recording it. So letís join Erik. Erik, welcome, and thanks for being here.

Erik: Thank you for having me on. Iím excited to be here.

Katie: Well, Iím excited for this conversation. And thereís at least three directions I can already think of that I wanna go with this. But before we jump into the things that youíre an expert about, I have a note in my show notes that you train and compete in Jiu-Jitsu and that your wife beats you up regularly. And since a lot of listeners are women, I just have to hear a little bit more about this.

Erik: Yes. So we started Jiu-JitsuÖ My youngest son started Jiu-Jitsu when we were in Houston. And one of our other NFL players weíre working with, I was talking about, you know, martial arts for my son. He said, ďHey, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is great.Ē So he got in. My wife is a phenomenal athlete. She was an all-SCC softball player. And so, she was watching him train at 5. And I could just tell that she wanted to get in. And so I looked at her, I was like, ďHayle, do you wanna do this?Ē She said, ďYes.Ē So she just started doing it. And a few years later, I hopped in. So all of our kids minus the 20-month-old do it. My wife and I actually just competed in Master Worlds. And sheís a purple belt, but sheís knocking on brown, but she isÖ I knew I had to do this when we were in our closet. And she, like, did a fireÖ She, like, knelt down and threw me over her shoulder and I was, like, okay. And sheís, like, the sweetest, kindest person but it was, like, I need to, like, do this or Iím not gonna be able to defend myself against my wife.

Katie: Oh, thatís fun. And itís so funny you guys get to do it as a family activity too, and itís active, and right brain, left brain learning all kinds of skills. Thatís awesome.

Erik: Yeah, itís the ultimate thinking personís game. And my wife actually works on a number of MMA fighters. Sheís a physical therapist. And she hosted a night for women at our church. And now we got all these ladies at church that are now doing Jiu-Jitsu. Itís pretty cool.

Katie: Thatís awesome. For about almost a year now Iíve been training Jeet Kune Do, and Kali, and a bunch of other arts like that. And it was so challenging at first. And itís been fascinating to see my nervous system adapt and how at first, any punches coming my way, I would freak out. And now as the body learns muscle memory, and you start to just be able to respond without having that nervous system freak out and feel good for the movement side, and also the nervous system side, it seems to be really beneficial.

Erik: No question. Itís a great sport for aging people because you can scale it up and scale it down. And as we age, the thing that we donít do is we donít address power and speed. And those are things that you can continue to refine. So, I love it. Kudos to you.

Katie: Oh, Iím glad we got to start with that. And I love that you just brought up that we donít address power and speed as we start aging. I think thereís a lot of factors that come into play there but Iíve heard of those and Iíve also heard of the fact that we stop having new experiences, which actually slows down a lot of these pathways in the body. And I think that all kind of ties into that process. And maybe thatís a great segue into one of the things I did wanna talk about with you, which was adaptability, and especially those of us who are reaching our 30s and 40s, and hitting that aging a little bit. Like, letís talk about that. Maybe start by explaining how we donít really address the power and speed aspect and what that would look like to address and then we can segue into adaptability.

Erik: Sure. So, something really interesting is, thereís no such thing really as muscle memory. The muscle is like a dumb piece of meat. And so the central nervous system, which is your brain and spinal cord, has another branch called the peripheral nervous system, which goes out and innervates your muscles, right? And so, what you wanna do is you want to tap into high threshold motor units. And the only way to do that, and at least we wanna recruit more motor units, which means youíre recruiting more muscle is to do things that require a lot of strength or you add velocity to the equation. So power. And then if you lower the amount of force, you get into more speed things.

So, what would this look like? Like, for instance, medicine ball throws, you can throw a medicine ball, a 5 or 10-pound medicine ball at any age. But instead of like your workout, maybe or taking a part of your workout, instead of it just being this continuous water, this long HIIT session, do something thatís incredibly explosive, like a medicine ball throw, like 4 or 5 medicine ball throws and then rest for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Because the only way to tap into real high CNS recruitment activities is you have to rest completely or else the amount of power that you can produce goes down, down, down, down.

Thatís why I work for 14 years in professional track and Iíve coached a number of Olympic sprinters in the short sprints. And we would do, likeÖ Letís say you did an 80-meter sprint, you would rest for 10 minutes. People are like, ďWhat?Ē

But the only way that you can replicate these high outputs is complete rest. So you could do medicine ball throws. You could do a box jump onto a box, you know, jump onto the box, lightly step down with a box thatís at a reasonable height where youíre not tucking your knees to your chin. These are simple ways or you could literally just do bodyweight jumps. You know, stuff like that, and thereís a lot of ways you can progress and regress. But you could lift a weight for more power. You could do, for instance, like, letís say you do a trap bar deadlift. You could lift lighter weight with a very explosive effort. These are simple ways that you could do that. But those are things that we neglect. And so weíre not recruiting these high threshold motor units and, you know, weíve become less powerful.

And then also we donít prioritize balance and stability as we age. And, you know, something thatís really important is to prevent falling. Iím talking as we get in our 60s and 70s. You know, itís usually not the hip that goes, somebody trips and falls and breaks the hip. And so, power, speed, balance, those are things that we should continue to include, instead of just going as hard as we can for 45 minutes until we pass out.

Katie: Yeah, I love that. Iím so glad that weíve gotten into this topic because I think a lot of the workouts, especially as people get older, that are kind of marketed at them are more just consistent steady-state cardio or fitness classes that arenít incorporating a lot of the elements that youíre talking about. And I know for me, personally, the balance and stability, like, I feel like maybe the stability system changed after I had kids, and Iím working on trying to regain what I used to have for balance and stability and looking back as a high schooler, I could do backflips and it didnít scare me at all. And now Iím like, that feels terrifying. So Iím trying to learn.

Erik: Arenít you training for pole vault?

Katie: Yes. Yeah, Iím training for pole vaulting. Thatís definitely helping. I can get upside down without freaking out now.

Erik: Thatís a pretty bold venture. Congratulations for that. So, power will be really important. Polling is very important. Being able to jump and extend. Iím doing all these crazy motions on camera. But yeah, like, those things would be very important for you as youíre trying to throw yourself in the air with a stick and go over something and land on a mat.

Katie: And power and speed both become very important. Iím learning the physics of it and how much speed comes into play. And I love this becauseÖ And I love what you said about the rest being important because I feel like that doesnít get talked about enough, and itís very liberating, or at least it was for me to realize you donít actually have to do a huge amount of these things. Like small numbers of rapid speed or power activities with rest in between, you can get an extremely effective workout. And youíre not actually having to do that. Like, it doesnít feel like that much. And it feels so much more fun than just getting on a StairMaster for 30 minutes or something.

Erik: Yeah, and I know you want to talk about measuring stress later but misnomer is, and thereís actually some technologies out there that measure, you know, how much work you should do is that when you do these high central nervous system, fatiguing activities, it takes longer to recover. It can take up to 48 hours, sometimes 72 hours. So you may only do letís just say a pole vaulting. You may only do 20 repetitions with complete rest or you may do a session of power training. And you may not feel it afterwards but 24 hours later, you may feel the sense of like, Iím just like generally fatigued. Itís central nervous system fatigue and itís very different than fatigue at the local muscular level, which is mostly metabolic.

Katie: Yeah, that makes sense. Iíve definitely felt that and it makes me curious for someone who maybe has done just more of the, like, steady-state cardio type in the past. Itíd be a good just overview for a plan of how to incorporate these elements in the right timing so youíre not over-stressing your nervous system and youíre getting maximum benefit.

Erik: Great question. So, first of all, Iím making generalizations, if youíre going to get a recommendation, just make sure to talk to your doctor orthopedically to make sure youíre okay to do these things. But Iíve always implemented this when training athletes or anybody, minimum effective dose, maximum orthopedic soundness. What does that mean? You need the tiniest dose when you first do this to elicit a positive adaptation. Donít go in there and try to do 50 different reps of this. So, you may start with, okay, Iím gonna do a 12-inch box jump and Iím gonna dip and Iím gonna jump as explosive as I can, as high as I can near and gently land on the box. My first session Iím gonna do three sets of five and in between sets, Iím gonna do 90 seconds rest.

Thereís two ways that you can intensify this. You can intensify it by increasing time between sets because now youíre more rested. You can intensify it by increasing the box height. You could then say, ďOkay, now Iím really good at jumping and landing. Now Iím gonna start jumping and landing with my body, not on a box.Ē So now you maybe do like three sets of eight, same type of rest, then letís say after three or four weeks, youíve increased the volume, then now you wanna hold a light dumbbell between your legs, 5 to 10 pounds. So you see what Iím saying? So you jumped upÖ Like the landing was a very gentle landing, then you jumped up and landed, and now youíre learning how to absorb force, which is really important. Now youíre jumping and landing, youíre adding external weight. The key is to intensify is to, like I said, increase the restoration. You could add some more reps, but you really donít want the duration of the set to last longer than 10 seconds or itís not tapping into whatís called the phosphocreatine system, which is gonna allow you to do these explosive activities. So keep it short duration, long rest, and then intensify the exercise using different methods.

Katie: And then it sounds like also rest in days. So donít do these in consecutive days. Give at least one or two days, like the same types of things?

Erik: At least. So, if itís your first time to ever do this, do it once that week, and then the next week, do it twice, Monday, Friday, and then do that for three or four weeks. And they may go Monday, Wednesday. Thereís a lot of ways you can increase training responses through volume, which is the number of reps, rest. You can change between density, between days. So like going from one day, a week to two days a week to three days a week with 48 hours in between, but do the minimal amount and see how you feel, and then slowly creep it up.

Katie: Yeah, itís important. Iíve learned that the hard way a couple of times when I started lifting weights that were heavier. Itís like more is not better. And often undo the effects youíre trying to get when you push too hard. And Iím also curious, are there differences in this for men and women? Because I know, at least from what Iíve read in the past, men haveÖ Thereís just different ways the body reacts or seems to with men being more anabolic and women being more anti-catabolic if Iím remembering that correctly. But do women need to approach this differently or is it just more of, like kind of knowing your range of where youíre starting with so youíre not overtraining early?

Erik: So many factors. But this is like the one piece of advice I could give to your audience. Every situation is complex, multi-dimensional, and relative. So, women are pound for pound just as strong as men in their lower body. Their upper body, if you were to do upper body explosive work, you know, things would change. Iíve trained femalesÖThe best athletes Iíve ever trained were female sprinters. Besides working in the NFL, Veronica Campbell Brown was an eight-time Olympic medalist, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and she could do things that you and I could only dream of.

So thereís stuff all along this spectrum. Your menstrual cycle can impact things. Women donít have as much testosterone as men. So that does impact anabolic processes. But I wouldnít discount that at all. I would just say it depends on your current state of fitness, your training history, orthopedic history, thereís so many factors but I wouldnít say, oh, black and white, men versus women, I think thatís too broad of a generalization.

Katie: Okay. And I wanted to, like, in a minute segue into other aspects of this and adaptability but before we move on, I also wanna just make sure we put a pin in that, for women especially because I think women are historically discouraged from activities like lifting really heavy weights, or sprinting, or like power-based activities, or at least men are more encouraged in those areas. But at least, like, I spent a lot of time in reading studies and it seems to be very, like, strong evidence that one of the best things you can do for your health as you get older is to maintain your lean muscle mass. And one of the best ways to do that is with those particular types of activities. So I would just love to hear your take on that and any other insight related to it.

Erik: You are hitting it on the head. Maintaining muscle mass is related to all-cause mortality. Itís gonna make you be more functional as you age. So whatís a great wayÖ Like, you donít have to go into the gym like, okay, you know, Wellness Mama said that I need to lift heavy weights. Iím just gonna go pick up the heaviest thing I can. Like, maybe youíre a parent, youíre picking up kids all day. You ever picked up a wheelbarrow before? You know, thereís things that you pick up that are heavy. And so I would start with very functional patterns. Like, I think a trap bar deadlift is one of the best safest things that you could do, work with a qualified professional.

But you know, a simple scale you can use is called an RPE scale itís a rate of perceived exertion. You donít have to know how much your maximum is and, oh, 60% of your max, or whatever. Like, RPE is a valid and reliable way to measure intensity of exercise. And you could be like, ďYou know what, Iím going to start an RPE of five to six. Iím gonna do several warmup sets and Iím gonna work with a qualified professional. Iím gonna learn how to trap bar deadlift.Ē Itís something thatís moderately heavy. And then over time, slowly, slowly adapting over three, four, or five months, you could start doing heavy doubles and triples or even singles with long rest because lifting something heavy is something youíre gonna do for the rest of your life. Maybe you have to move, you have to pick up a mattress, learning how to hinge with weight. Learning how to pull, really important now that weíre at our computers all day long, shoulders, you know, pecs get tight, shoulders rolled forward, really bad posture. So, I would encourage everybody to slowly work your way in that continuum.

And if youíre like, ďOh, Iím gonna get bulky,Ē that is a complete lie. If you wanna add muscle mass, do low to moderate intensity for high volume, and youíll start packing on the pounds. Lifting heavy weights does not mean that itís more of a motor unit recruitment. And unless youíre doing long essentrics, which means very, very slow lowering, youíre not gonna get a huge stimulus for muscle gain, like, for putting on muscle. Itís gonna be more of a neurological stimulus.

Katie: That makes sense. And yeah, I think thatís a really important point. I think of a lot more now is like, Iím not, I donít foresee myself entering like fitness competitions or bodybuilding competitions. My main goal is centered around, I wanna be able to keep up with my kids and all of their athletic endeavors right now. And I wanna be active with my grandkids and hopefully great-grandkids and be able to pick them up when Iím 90. Not that Iím trying toÖ Even though Iím actually currently trying to deadlift quite heavy, itís because itís gonna be functional for me later on, not because I plan to compete in it.

Erik: Yeah.

Katie: And Iím glad you dispelled that myth about women getting bulky because I will say, having now done this for a couple of years, it does not seem to be a thing you can accidentally do is get too much muscle as a female. Like, those women who get very muscular work very hard at it.

Erik: And sometimes theyíre using things.

Katie: Yeah. Yeah.

Erik: Iím being serious. Itís more common than you think. And so, like, you look at these body types, like, ďI donít wanna go in that direction,Ē 99% likelihood that you wonít. SoÖ

Katie: Yeah, and youíre certainly not gonna do it by accidentally lifting heavy one day in the gym. SoÖ

Erik: No.

Katie: Well, I think this also speaks to a level of adaptability, which I think is not talked about enough in fitness. And I know my background being in nutrition, I feel like itís also not talked about enough in nutrition, and people get kind of centered on these particular diets. And then they get really dogmatic about certain macros, or they only are gonna eat Whole 30, ketos, or theyíre only gonna eat low carb, or theyíre only gonna eat super high protein, or whatever it is. And for a couple of years now, Iíve been saying the goal actually, in my mind, should be to be metabolically flexible and adaptable to whatever inputs you put in your body.

To me, thatís a more accurate reflection of health than, like, my body functions great when I only eat in this very narrow range of foods with this very narrow range of macros and take 100 supplements but thatís not adaptable, nor is it sustainable for a lot of people. And I know you talk about adaptability a lot as well. So Iíd love to hear, just starting off kind of a broad overview of how you look at that, and then we can go into some different directions from there.

Erik: Yeah, that was a really great point you just made. But yeah, what adaptability is, is I got really curious when I was working with athletes is the best athletes could train really, really hard, and come back, quickly adapt and do the next training session, both psycho and physiological stress, physical psychological stress.

So what is adaptability? I think a simple way to think about it is like this, if Iím a bowl thatís in my hands, okay, and I fill that bowl, itís a small bowl, all the way up to the brim with all the mental and physical stress that I can handle, any little jostle or turn is going to cause that to spill out. Youíre gonna have maladaptation. Youíre going to get fatigued. Youíre not gonna be on your A-game. You may get sore. You may get tired. You may get grumpy. You may start feeling like, you know, like, the worldís kind of coming down on you.

†Now, imagine we can make this bowl really big, both arms hold this bowl, and we take that same amount of stress and we pour it in the bowl. I can move that bowl. I can run across my house and nothingís gonna spill out. What we want to do is increase your capacity to handle stress. And so I wanna tell you about a little research that we did and then I wanna talk about five pillars to this. But when I was at the University of Kentucky as the high-performance director for football, I did my doctoral research in how sleep impacts the brainís ability to adapt to stress. We can talk about that here in a second. But my doctoral student, Dr. Chris Morris, who now is the director of sports science there, we started looking at early daysÖ I pioneered the use of athlete wearable tracking technology over a decade ago. So, now that, you know, people got Oura Rings and all this kind of stuff, we were using that like way long time ago. And we started using some sophisticated technology, which help us understand how the body is adapting to stress, including heart rate variability and something called direct current potential of the brain.

And what we found was is this, okay, we wanted to seeÖ We have somebody thatís on a training program, a fitnessÖ Actually, these were football players. So they were training over an eight-week period of time, four times a week. We wrote these programs, the sophisticated periodized training programs. Half of our team decided to use some technology where we could measure stress, okay? And what we did was is we increased or decreased their level of training based on their state of adaptability or functional state, which means how much stress can I handle today?

When the autonomic nervous system is in a good spot, when the central nervous system is in a good spot, it means youíre more adaptable. So what we did was is some days when the body was less adaptable, we dialed it down. Some days, when it was more adaptable, we pushed the athlete 20% harder than we thought, you know, that was planned. And over an eight-week period of time, the people that used that methodology, itís called fluid planning or fluid periodization had anywhere between 150% and 500% more improvement than their counterparts training right next to them, scholarship football players. And so we really started digging into this idea of adaptability. The first thing we wanna do is you want to create the conditions for adaptability, where you can be presented with stress and your body can adapt, and you can move to a new state of adaptability.

And so that has to do with something called allostasis or maintaining stability through change. And thereís something called allostatic load, which is the cost of adaptation. So when weíre training an athlete, you wanna keep that allostatic load appropriate to where the body is. So, the five things that anybody can do, and weíll talk about how you can do this with exercise, but the five things that people should be addressing to create an environment or the conditions for adaptability is number one, sleep. Number two, exercise. Number three, nutrition. Number four, mental resilience. And then number five is their relationships or their association with their community.

And Iíll talk about that for a second. So in my research, we demonstrated that to put yourself in a state of adaptability, and athletes needed seven to nine hours of sleep a night to be at an optimal state of adaptation. We measured that through something called direct current potential of the brain. DC potential is basically like a huge part of a universal language that is most appropriate for studying the central nervous system, and whatís called the functional state. Most people havenít heard about it. Itís a slow cortical potential thatís a very constant physiological process. Itís an objective, measurable short and long-term stress. And itís in a frequency of like 0 to 0.5 hertz. So like youíve heard of delta or theta ways, you can measure DC potential. So itís a great way to measure the functional state of your brainís central nervous system.

So we found that when you slept between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, your brain was in an optimal state to take on stress. Thereís a lot that we could talk about sleep. But we talked about the conditions, you know, how to create the conditions for that. The second thing though is mental resilience, where is the ability to adapt to adversity well. And thereís a considerable element of resiliency in something called psychological flexibility. And my good friend, Dr. Peter Haberl, heís a senior sports psychologist for the U.S. OC, U.S. Olympic Committee. And he defines it as being able to be in contact with the present moment, so you know where your attention is, and where itís pointing at. And being open to your thoughts and feelings and taking committed actions based on your values. And when youíre psychologically flexible, you donít get overwhelmed by the moment. And as he says, attention is the currency of performance. And you can put your attention where you want it when it matters the most. And if your listeners are more interested in that, my podcast, he was on there, I think Episode 5, and he talked all about this.

The guyís a brilliant human being. Heís a former hockey player, national team, hockey player. Thereís an amazing look on this whole thing. And mindfulness meditation has been demonstrated to improve attentional focus. Thereís a really great review in the Frontiers of Neuroscience on this. But when you can have your attention where you want it and then youíre in contact with the present moment and you can, like, take in difficult situations, you can think about them, you can adjust to them, you can be open to your thoughts and feelings, youíre gonna be more resilient to mental stress.

The third thing is exercise. And I know a lot of people on here are physically active and they exercise, which does improve your resilience. It blunts stress reactivity. But the key thing with exercise is this, the exercise dose must be appropriate for you that day. And writing down a workout is a great thing. But like I talked about earlier, when we were training elite athletes, we found that we would come up with these amazing periodized plans for volume, intensity, density, speed, power, strength, work capacity, all these things were manipulated with these huge Excel spreadsheets. We found that about a third of our athletes would get better, about a third would stay the same, and about a third would get worse. And that really sucks. Itís when you go through all this and your athlete, like, doesnít perform better. And itís because they were using a static plan and not a fluid plan. And so, do you wear a wearable, Katie?

Katie: I do, I have an Oura Ring. And Iíve also done WHOOP in the past. Iíve pretty muchÖa Biostrap. Iíve tried pretty much all of them.

Erik: Yeah, so I got an Oura Ring on right now. A lot of great data. Like, from a scientific perspective, phenomenal. But, like, how do you actually use that to adjust your plan? Itís just data. And what we learned early on, when we first started pioneering the use of these devices is that data without insight is completely useless. Like, it may say, ďHey, you slept seven hours last night, but okay, what does that mean? Or your HRV went down. Well, how should I adjust my training?Ē And so, my company AIM7, thatís what we do. We actually have an app that actually sucks all this data in and provides these custom recommendations.

But what you wanna do is when the window of adaptability is open, HRV is good. Sleep was good. Subjective assessment of your current state, which most people donít do, which isÖ Have you ever used like a modified Hooper MacKinnon questionnaire, like on your mood, energy, sleep? Okay. Youíre waving your head no. So really quick, objective data is great. You need objective data, but you need to combine it with your subjective perception of your well-being. Research demonstrates that your perception of your well-being is directly correlated to physiologically how youíre adapting to stress. So for instance, if you apply the right math, and you were to say, letís say we were measuring, every day you fill out a little questionnaire, it says, I feel on a 1 to 10 my stress is this. And one day, your stress was like a two standard deviations above the mean. If we were to take cortisol sample, your stress would probably be really high. Or if you were to say youíre very sore, we could take blood biomarkers for creatine kinase, we used to do this, like, salivary testosterone, and all that stuff. And we found that if you just ask people and apply the right math, that you can know whatís happening biologically.

So in our app, we actually use objective measures and subjective and combine them. So when you know, like, the window is open for adaptability, maybe you only had a 45-minute session plan. If you have time, like, you could do two things, make it more intense, lift heavier, increase, you know, maybe your heart rate zone. Maybe youíre gonna push to Zone 4 or 5, or increase the duration. If the window was smaller, if you can go and train, but the cost of adaptability is gonna be really high and itís gonna push you down this curve, where if you keep trying to train more, youíre gonna become maladaptive and youíre gonna end up burning out. Youíre gonna get injured. You could have endocrine issues. You could have a whole host of issues.

So, this is something that has not been addressed for the regular consumer yet. So, you gotta create the conditions for adaptability with sleep, with psychological resilience, mental resilience, psychological flexibility, with exercise, in general, but then, like, tailoring the dose and then as you talked about nutrition, you know, I donít ascribe to a specific diet, more like an anti-inflammatory diet, you know, whole foods, variety of multicolored vegetables, and fish, and things like that. And then our relationship to people, thatís the fifth thing, our living in community. There was a really interesting paper that was published, Iím looking at my notes, by the British Psychological Society that pointed out that greater social connectedness during lockdown periods during COVID was associated with less worry and fatigue as well as lower levels of perceived stress. And so, like, by staying connected to a community and people, like, you create a buffer against poor mental and physical health outcomes. And it enables you to adapt to stress more. So, those are like the five big things but theyíre nested in that is like the daily approach to how much stress you take on.

Katie: I just took so many notes and I love those points that you brought up. Iíve seen in my own life how the mindset piece and the community piece, I think I ignored aspects of those for a long time. And I hyper-focused on nutrition and exercise, thinking that was gonna fix things. And it was amazing to witness firsthand how when I dialed in having strong relationships and community and that mental mindset resilience piece, the other ones got so much easier. And I was shocked how important those pieces were. So I love that you brought up both of those. And Iím really excited to hear more about your app as well because I actually, last year had a time when I was probably overtraining, but my Oura Ring said I was doing fine. I felt like I could push myself probably more than I should have. And then a couple of random things like I gave blood and drew labs in the same week. And so my blood volume was down, ended up going to the hospital with rhabdo. My creatine kinase was in the thousands.

Erik: Oh my gosh.

Katie: So I love that thereís now a resource that kind of takes those things into account. ButÖ

Erik: Holy cow, you got rhabdo?

Katie: Yeah.

Erik: Thatís scary.

Katie: Yeah. It was not the most fun experience. I donít recommend it.

Erik: How long did it take you to recover?

Katie: I was in pretty intense pain for a couple of weeks, and then I was, like, low energy for a while after that.

Erik: Golly, yeah, itís scary. Yeah, I could tell you a little more about AIM7. Do you wanna hear about that?

Katie: Absolutely.

Eric: So, like I said, like in 2011, I brought athlete wearable tracking technology to the United States. And I was at Florida State working with Jimbo Fisher. And we were looking for a way to, like, obviously win. And we were really injured. But we had great coaches, great players. For the first time ever, we quantified the game of football. Our athletes were wearing these GPS tracking devices. We can measure heart rate, all this amazing stuff. And we were able to use that to train better, to understand where our athletes were, to give them the appropriate dose of training. And we lowered our injury at 88% in one year, and we went on to win a championship.

The NFL flew in, theyíre like, ďErik, what are you doing? Like, this is interesting.Ē And it literally got adopted all over the place. And it opened up a billion-dollar market in the U.S. for sports wearables and data. So I got curious in 2019, I was working still in high performance. And Iím like, ďHuh, I wonder if the problems that we had, you know, just eight, nine years ago, if consumers are having these problems with their wearable devices. We got all this data from your Apple Watch, your Oura Ring but, like, what does it mean? So I started doing some research, and I found out the number one complaint about wearable tech users is their data is useless. And thatís why about a third of people that buy a wearable after six months stop wearing it. And so, I started surveying people. You know, Iím an academic. I got a doctoral degree. So Iím like, ďOkay, Iím gonna figure this thing out.Ē So I sent out surveys to several hundred people. Iím like, ďWhat do you want from your wearable?Ē People are like, ďI want more energy.Ē Like, interesting. Thatís why you have, you know, five-hour energy, Starbucks, all that stuff. So, ran a pilot with Apple Watch data, and some of those subjective measures I was telling you about. And not only can we predict peopleís energy level, but we could predict their energy and mood multiple days in advance using some very novel machine learning methods.

So a friend of mine was like, ďMan, youíve got to build this.Ē So he was, likeÖ He wrote me a check and was like, ďGet started.Ē I was like, ďOkay.Ē So I made this shift in 2020. So what AIM7 is, is weíre building a custom platform that unlocks wearable and in health data, to provide customized and predictive wellness recommendations. So, our way is, like, you know, when I was working with elite athletes, you had all these amazing people working around them, so managing if you had a group of world-class coaches and scientists focused only on you and your wellness goals. So we went out and got the best in the world, and weíre using technology to do that.

And so, the first thing we do is these custom recommendations I was telling you about. So like, letís say you go in and youíre like, okay, like, go into the app and youíre like, ďToday, Iím gonna do cycling.Ē Itís gonna be like, ďHey, Katie, today, you can go this long and this hard.Ē So itís the brain on top of it. We layer on things like Peloton and all this different stuff. But then what we do after 30 days is we give people a deep dive on their data. Like, we analyze it and we look for something called limiting factors. So in sports, what we would do is like, youíd be me, letís say youíre like, ďErik, I wanna pole vault.Ē Iím like, ďOkay.Ē So you would come in, my team would get around you, and weíre like, ďAll right, weíre gonna take you through a movement screen. Weíre gonna measure your autonomic nervous system, all these different things. Weíre gonna look at your adaptability. Weíre gonna put you under stressful situations, blood draws.Ē And weíre like, ďOkay, here are her limiting factors.Ē Weíre gonna train her to her strengths and weíre gonna address these limiting factors. So we do that for people. And then what we do is after 30 days is we identify that and then we unlock all this content and features in the app to help you fix it. So we pick off where apps, where these wearables fail you.

So weíd work on these five things I just talked about. Itís like your personalized masterclass. So, weíre in private beta right now. You canít get us on the app store. You can sign up like on our website AIM, A-I-M-7, but thatís what weíre building. So I was like, ďMy mom deserves this.Ē You know what Iím saying? Like, anybody with a wearable deserves to have that type of treatment. And now that the world is so stressful with all the different things coming in, I think the timing was right. And Iím really glad I made the move. So kind of scary, but you know, youíre an entrepreneur.

Katie: Well, Iím excited for this personally, because I am a data nerd as well. And I am still stuck in the spreadsheet game with trying to interpret all the data. And Iíve run my own spreadsheets with analyzing everything from genes to the supplements Iím consuming to my current labs to exercise and try to, like, run through it. But I realize most people donít want to do that. So Iím really excited for things like this. And it will also make my life much simpler in trying to interpret it all.

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I do know one thing, like I paid attention to quite a bit with Oura Ring, and I would love your take on is HRV.

Erik: Yeah.

Katie: Just pay attention to that. If itís down one day, I wonít typically train as hard. And itís been really good to see like alcohol 100% tanks HRV. So I tend to avoid alcohol. Sleep definitely tends to improve it, when I take magnesium, itís often better. But I would love to hear your opinion on HRV, and also, if there are any reliable ways that seem to be helpful in improving it because it seems to be for people who are wearing these wearables now and are aware of their HRV, I think thatís top of mind quite a bit.

Erik: Yeah. What a great question. So the first question you need to answer is, why are we using HRV? We use HRV to measure the functional state of the autonomic nervous system or how much stress the autonomic nervous system can take on, and what thatÖ Remember we talked about the cost of adaptation or that allostatic load is. And so, research demonstrates that, like, when you encounter stress, physical, or psychological, it does not matter. The body does not differentiate. There is a predictable response and an acute activation of whatís called the sympathetic nervous system. People heard of fight or flight, right? And thatís a good thing because your body is trying to mobilize resources, specifically proteins to address a dominant need. It could be a hard workout. It could be a dispute at the office. It could be, you know, a whole bunch of stuff.

But your body has finite adaptive reserves, which means, like, you may go back to that bowl idea again, right, you only have so much stress that you can adapt to. And once you exceed that capacity to adapt to stress, you decompensate or you have maladaptation, which could be an injury. It could be depression. It could be a whole lot of things. So by monitoring the functional state of the body, you can understand where the bodyís at and how much stress it can handle. So, HRV actually was first used in the Russian space program, I donít know if you know that to understand physiological responses to flight. And Baevsky is his name, did some amazing stuff with this. And actually, if you Google if you go on NASA and lookup Baevsky Stress Index, you can find this. And I have a feeling youíre gonna go deep down the rabbit hole. I could send you some papers. I wanna give like some like myth-busters for you. Okay? High HRV isnít always good. Okay?

Shannon Collins looked at weightlifters and they did a 10-day detraining. So they didnít train for 10 days and then trained really hard. Okay? And what they found out was there was an increase in sympathetic tone, which is good. Okay? Thatís normal. So the initial response is you get an increase in sympathetic tone.

However, there was research with wrestlers, which found that when they got overtraining, if you wanna look at an overtrained population, look at wrestlers, okay, them and MMA fighters. They actually had an increased drift in parasympathetic tone. So an increase in HRV. Why would that be? When youíre in a parasympathetic dominant state, itís harder to activate the body. You need stimulatory things.

So hereís how we would use this with athletes. And having a minor like parasympathetic overdominance is okay, but if it goes extreme, thatís bad. So, a couple of things you wanna look at is letís look at the long-term picture of your HRV and where is it trending, up or down? Okay? If itís gradually trending up over time, thatís fine. When thereís acute spikes in HRV, up or down, that means your body is probably trying to adapt to some type of stress and you need to dial it back. So, when weíre working with athletes, if somebody has more of a parasympathetic dominance, this rest and digest it, we would do things that are more stimulatory in nature to get them going. So very aggressive warm-ups. So maybe they do some more high CNS activity, more cold exposure, things like that, contrast therapies. For people that are more sympathetic dominant, which is probably where most people are trending, we actually didÖ Chris I should say, Dr. Morris, when he was a graduate student, actually did a really cool research study with headspace. And we found that when you did mindfulness, people improved sympathetic tone. We actually had one athlete that could not gain weight. This is football. This is kind of important to have some muscle on you. And he was chronically sympathetic, started doing mindfulness, complete shift, put on weight. It was like a miracle.

Zone 2, cardio, any type of cardiovascular exercise in Zone 2, which is 60% to 75% of max heart rate has a very strong parasympathetic stimulus. So thereís nothing wrong with low and slow. I do it, you should be doing it, at least 120 minutes a week, increases cardiac output, has a strong impact on parasympathetic tone. Things like massage increase parasympathetic tone. You know, so those types of things can be, like, quick manipulations but, like, long-term, things like mindfulness, including rhythmic activities, if youíre always engaged, power speed, high-intensity interval training, youíre gonna have a really hard time getting your HRV up for most people.

Katie: Got it. Thatís helpful, I think, especially for people who feel like theyíre just low to know probably, youíre not trying to drastically increase this, like, you wanna see that slow growth but it seems like thatís what we can know from data a little bit more, where Iíll be like if you see a big drop from a particular thing that you can correlate, that would be good to pay attention to, for instance, alcohol. If alcohol tanks your HRV every time, that seems like a reliable thing to pay attention to.

Erik: I think most people, thatís the case. Sugary beverages, like when they eat, like, foods with simple sugars at night or have a large meal, that can decrease HRV. Thatís a really interesting one. Like, itís really impacted when I eat my food. Although I do wanna say this, I intermittent fast, really good for blood sugar regulation, blood pressure, all these different things. But some people, what happens when youíre fasting, you get a dump of catecholamines, which makes you feel more mentally sharp. What is that? A sympathetic shift. Some people, they canít do it. And thatís okay. Some people that I really respect in the field are like, ďItís just not for me because I actually feel jittery.Ē And thatís a response. Your bodyís like, ďOh, we need energy,Ē it starts dumping all this in the bloodstream.

So you have to look at things but there are some heuristics or rules of thumb that everybody should apply. And you should take that and apply it to the most dominant stressors in your life, exercise, how much workload you take on, how much sleep youíre getting, things like that. And what I find is we build our app for people that donít have time. Most people arenít you. I would love to see your spreadsheets. You probably got some pretty gnarly, oh, what are they called? Oh, my gosh, macros in there. Do you have like macros built? Yes, youíre nodding. I love this.

And we had all these crazy dashboards for our coaches, right? So, like, when we started, we had all this stuff, and theyíre like, ďYeah, just tell me what to do.Ē Like, I donít have time for that. But if youíre really into it, you know, look at the long-term trends, look at little perturbations, big spikes, big drops, make sure that the way theÖ I like the way Oura Ring takes it, or you can do it right upon waking. You could do it with your Apple Watch with a three-minute breath session, right when you wake up in the morning. Thatís a really good time to measure it too. So it either needs to be a consistent sample during the evening, or during bed, or the last sleep cycle, not the last sleep cycle, last slow-wave sleep cycle, or right when you wake up.

Katie: Yeah, I definitely have some spreadsheets that are well over 500,000 lines of code and lots of macros and can decodeÖ

Erik: Code?

Katie: Yeah. Yeah, theyíre very complex, but I donít think theyíre actuallyÖ Like I said, Iíve waded through this data for a long time. And I donít think most people want to or need to do that. Iím just curious about it. And itís funny because youíre going through all the data points back to the simple things, which is often I feel like the case in life of the things that are recurring recommendations on this podcast, from, like, neuroscientists, from top doctors and researchers, which are, donít eat right before you go to bed. Donít drink alcohol right before you go to bed. If possible, get up pretty soon after the sun rises and get morning sunlight. Like, thatís a big one for hormones. It costs nothing. Itís simple to do. And it actually, you know, in all the data I track and hormone levels, that is a consistent one that seems to improve things.

And I feel like in a world of all these expensive bio hacks, itís funny because the more data I get into, the more it points back to the simple things that donít really cost anything, like hydrate, sleep well, get up with the sun and go outside, like, very basic things. But I feel like that is also a great segue into sleep, which is a pain point, obviously, for many, many parents. And youíve mentioned several times how that is one of these really big factors in a lot of areas of health and adaptability. And I think itís an area that statistically Americans especially struggle with. And thereís a lot of probably potential reasons for that. But talk to us about sleep and how we can really hone that in since it seems to be kind of the foundational one for some of these others feeling easier and better too.

Erik: Yeah, Iím so glad you brought up the sunlight. You know, sleep isÖ I think Thomas Dekker, who is a British dramatist is sleep is the golden chain that ties our health and human bodies together. I think that was like 1500 or 1600, something crazy like that. Itís so true. Like, you know, the simple stuff is whatÖ I was trying to focus on creating the conditions for sleep. Like, when you show somebody like their ordinary day and like, ďYou need to sleep more.Ē And, like,ĒOkay, thanks. Appreciate that. Like, what do I do?Ē Well, the first thing you do in the morning is probably gonna impact when you go to bed. And thereís a whole host of reasons.

But I can talk about, you know, the superÖ So you have something called the circadian pacemaker which sits above the roof of your mouth. Itís called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. And sleep is a circadian process, which is endogenous, which means itís internal. But there are environmental factors called zeitgebers or time givers, itís German, that can influence it and train it, so light, temperature, humidity, etc. So, when you see sun first thing in the morning, especially low on the horizon, it sends a signal to the circadian pacemaker, the SCN, that then sends a signal to every cell in the body through an increase in temperature, that itís time to wake up and be alert. That also increases cortisol, which is great. Itís gonna help you feel more energized. But it also helps about 12 to 16 hours later with melatonin secretion. Super interesting. I donít know if you saw this study by researchers at the University of Colorado and the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT that showed that going to bed earlier and waking up earlier by an hour can reduce risk of major depression by 23%. So they looked at people that were, like, and hereís how this ties back in, going to bed really late. So letís say theyíre going to bed at midnight or 1 a.m. and I only went to bed at midnight, 23% reduction.

And this was with over 800,000 people in the UK Biobank. They used genetic information from 23andMe, 85,000 of these people wearing sleep trackers. So they found that genetic early risers had a clear reduction in depression. So if you can, and you go to bed late, you need to shift it back, but why? What was the link? It was because if you go to bed earlier, you get up earlier, and you get sun exposure. The authorís discussed this in the paper. Why? Because of all the hormonal triggers and things that you just discussed. So if light is an alerting signal in the morning, wouldnít it also be alerting signal later in the day? So, when the sunís going down, itís also good to go outside and see some sun but you should go outside frequently during the day, like, every couple hours to anchor your circadian clock, to let your clock know, okay, this is where we are. You werenít meant to live inside all the time. And like really simple things.

Like, Iím sure people have talked about sleep hygiene before making sure that, you know, I always say sleep, make your room like a cave, cold, dark, and quiet. Temperature 69 to 72 degrees. You know, itís no more than 72 degrees, more in the upper 60s. Cold temperatures help usher your body into sleep. Donít stop drinking a lot of fluids, like, maybe an hour or two before you go to bed. So you donít have to wake up. You know, frequent urination. If you find yourself urinating a lot at night, it could be that you donít have enough electrolytes. So adding things like magnesium and a zero-calorie electrolyte solution may be helpful or some extra salt. The light in your room, you know, no light at all, like, pitch dark. If youíre in a hotel, roll up a towel, put it under the door. And then noise is really important. Like, you want it quiet. Now if youíre in a city, you can use a white noise maker.

You know, the last thing is phones. And a lot of people were like, ďOh, the blue light, the blue light.Ē Well, not really. Blue light is actually good earlier in the day. You donít wanna cut out any spectrum of light. It actually helps with alerting. But there was some research I readÖ I could find the article later but it wasnít the blue light that kept people up when they looked at cell phones. It was the emotional stimulation. So youíre looking at your cell phone late at night, youíre laying in bed, and guess what, you read an article that stimulates you, maybe it makes you mad, or maybe it gives you an overwhelming sense of grief, or even joy and you get excited. Well, you donít want that right before you go to bed. Like, save the joy for tomorrow. Like, you wanna transition slowly and so you really have to consider your environmental factors and behavior.

Katie: So many great tips. I definitely took notes on those and I learned myself that even if Iím not doing blue light, if Iím listening to anything thatís mentally stimulating for me personally, like, it could be scientific studies, it could be a podcast, it could be reading a book thatís interesting, my brain is just on. And then I donít sleep for a couple of hours. So Iíve had to learn to do other things like meditation, or drawing, or art, or things that are less mental focus, just because thatís how my brain works. And I think those kinds of tips can be really, really helpful when you learn how to just figure out what your own rhythm is gonna be. And to your point earlier, like, thereís such individuality in this. Like, there are those commonalities, of course of, like, if you can wake up a little earlier and get sunlight throughout the day, and hydrate, those are all very common things. But the specifics in each of those are so personal. And thatís why theÖ

Erik: No question.

Katie: Each of us kind of being our own study of one and constantly experimenting and then finding the things that are working best for us.

Erik: No, youíre exactly right. You are. I would love to hang out with you because, like, youíre a pole vaulter now, you have spreadsheets on all your data. Like, it would be really fun to, like, kind of peek behind the curtain but weíre probably very similar. My mindís always going. My wife is very different. Like, weíll be laying in bed. Sheís super smart. She has a doctorate degree at physical therapy. But Iím like, ďHey, what are you thinking about?Ē Sheís like, ďNothing.Ē And Iím like, my brainís always going. And so I need to be very aware of the mental stimulation I get at night or itís gonna be really hard to fall asleep.

Katie: Well, I feel like I canít believe weíre already at the end of an hour, and I would hope youíll agree to another episode at some point because I feel like thereís more to talk about.

Erik: Iíd love to come on.

Katie: But a few questions I wanna ask you before we wrap up, the first being, if is thereís a book or a number of books that have profoundly impacted your life, and if so, what they are and why?

Erik: Yeah, the number one book would probably be the Bible for me. Itís just taught me to forgive, to be compassionate, to love and serve others. Thatís probably the number one. You know, thereís a book called ďInsanely Simple.Ē Itís by the guy that did all the marketing for Apple. And it really impacted the way I look at things, of how I translate information. As Iím building, like, this app, as Iím communicating with people, like, the simpler the better. And itís about Steve Jobsí obsession with simplicity. Let me think of one more.

You want a nonfiction thatís kind of a story? Tori Murden McClure, ďA Pearl in the Storm.Ē It is about the first person to ever solo row across the Atlantic. And I had her on my podcast. She is, I mean, brilliant. She also cross-country skied to the Geographic South Pole. It is a brilliant piece of literature. Itís one of Oprahís favorite books. I mean, itís sitting right here next to me. Highly recommend that book. If youíre looking for something thatís adventurous because Iím supporting a group of four veterans right now that are doing a Talisker Whiskey Challenge, which is a 3,000 nautical mile row across the ocean. And I was looking for information on people that have done this, and I found her, read her book, I was like, ďOh my gosh, sheís gotta come on the podcast.Ē And then I connected her with these guys. And it was, like, highly recommend it. Youíre gonna thank me for that one.

Katie: Thatís a new one. Iím excited to pick that up. I just put it in my Amazon cart. And ironically, I walked across the country from California to DC, ďDo you see when I was in college?Ē So I have aÖ

Erik: You walked?

Katie: Walked. Yeah, it took three months with a group of students.

Erik: Oh my gosh.

Katie: So yeah, I love people who take on hard things like that. Our family motto is ďYou were made to do hard things.Ē And I love hearing those kind of stories. I look forward to readingÖ

Erik: ďGrowth Mindset.Ē

Katie: Yes. And Carol Dweck is another great book.

Erik: Yes.

Katie: Well, before, we will have to plan out round two already. But any parting advice related to this episode that you wanna leave with our audience today?

Erik: Yeah, you can do hard things. I mean, Iím gonna just echo what you say but you gotta create the conditions for that. You know, prioritize sleep, exercise, mental health, nutrition, community aspects, and tailor the amount of stress based off of how adaptable you are that day. If you can do that, you can expand your capacity, take on more, pursue audacious goals, thrive on uncertainty, go through hard things, you know, and you can adapt and thrive. Stress is not the enemy. It can actually be your ally. So, there you go.

Katie: I love it. Well, I look forward to a round two. This has been so much fun. I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for your time today.

Erik: Thank you. Have a good one.

Katie: And thanks, as always, all of you for joining us and sharing your most valuable assets, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. Weíre both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the ďWellness MamaĒ podcast.

If youíre enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.



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