Dr. Tommy Wood is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Washington and Chief Scientific Officer of Nourish Balance Thrive, an online-based company using advanced biochemical testing to optimize health in athletes and high performers. Based on their accumulated data, the team is now using machine learning to rapidly and reliably predict both common and complex health problems using, easy and cheap, available data.
Tommy has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, a medical degree from the University of Oxford, and a PhD in physiology and neuroscience from the University of Oslo. He is also a Director of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, President of Physicians for Ancestral Health, and on the scientific advisory board of Hintsa Performance.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Hi, guys. Welcome to another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves today, I’m delighted to be joined by a fellow, Tommy Wood. So and, Tommy is very accomplished. So he’s a medically trained doctor and he has a PhD in physiology and neuroscience. And he’s being post-doc work in Washington. And he’s also been affiliated with University of Cambridge and University of Oxford through his medical studies on studying biochemistry.
He’s currently the chief scientific officer of Nourish Bonds Thrive. Tommy is also the president of the Physicians for Ancestral Health. And I hope I haven’t forgotten there, Tommy, because you have done a lot. But I will let you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about how you’ve been brought in to kind of this emerging field of lifestyle functional medicine.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Sure. So the one thing that we were talking about- one of the ways that we are kind of connected, was through the British Society of last summits. And so I was one of the founding directors of that. And I’m still one of the directors. I’m the member at large or the Americas representative if you want to call it that. So, yeah. All of that’s absolutely correct. I lived and did most of my training in the U.K.
I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, then did my medical degree at Oxford. And I did two years of working as a junior doctor in London. So I did my F1 and F2 years as a guest optometrist. And when that was coming to an end, I was offered a PhD by somebody who I had done some undergraduate work a few years before then. And she’d moved to Oslo in Norway.
So this is something that I think you and I have in common, which is that when somebody gives you a good opportunity and it sounds interesting, you sort of pretty open to just going for it. So that’s what I did. I left the formal medical track in the UK, went to the PhD. And then during my PhD. I met my, now, wife who’s American. And I moved over here to Seattle in the U.S. So the state of Washington rather than the city of Washington. On opposite sides of the country. It’s okay. It’s really common to get those mixed up.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: The U.K. is a lot smaller, right?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So then, yeah. I worked here as a post-doc for a short period of time and most of my academic research is in neonatal brain injury or starting to be a sort of pediatric traumatic brain injury, which sort of interrelates with some of the other stuff I’ve been doing with athletes and in functional medicine. But in December I was just promoted to a research assistant professor. So I’m technically a professor of pediatrics now, which is sort of half of my job.
And again, maybe looking at researching brain injury and treatments for brain injury. And then the other side of that kind of also developed during my PhD, which was, you know, finally had a little bit of time to sit down at a computer, which you don’t as a junior doctor really. And looking at PubMed and starting to research some of things I was interested in. And I’d been a rower as an undergraduate and as a medical student. And then started coaching athletes and was just very interested in health and lifestyle and performance.
And so I started to blog about that. I started a podcast. I got introduced to a computer scientist named Chris Kelly, who was actually over here in the US already. He’s also a Brit, who’s living and working in California. And he’d started a company coaching athletes, basically reviving the health of athletes who had been broken by the standard advice of how to train and how to eat, which is very- I called it attritional. So it’s really great at producing people who then succeed at the Olympics or the world championships.
But about 99.9% of the people who try that completely fail and fall apart. So we’ve been finding ways to figure out what’s going on in these guys and then put their health back together. And that basically comes down to all the lifestyle, environmental things that I think we’re gonna talk about some more. So that’s been continuing throughout the last few years. So now that makes about 50% of my job. So I have two jobs- one academic, one working with athletes. And I also do some other consulting.
So I do similar work with Formula One drivers through a company called Hinsta. And it sort of allows me to do all the things I’m interested in. Both the basic research. I’m a scientist at heart. And then on the other side, I get to work directly with clients or athletes or a company called In-patients anymore, because I’m not technically working as a doctor, but I can still use all our medical knowledge and bring that together and sort of help them perform as well as possible for as long as possible. That’s usually is my goal.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Sounds very diversified, but also very interesting. You must be quite busy with all these things going on.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah! The problem with having two jobs that you work about 50 percent is, basically, that you end up with two jobs that you work about 90 percent. So that has been a struggle. My wife is another academic. She’s a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Washington as well. And she also does a whole host of things outside of her formal job. So one of the things that we’re constantly working together at is trying to improve our time management but then also making sure that we’re looking after ourselves because you can push really hard for a few years. But eventually, you know, you have to find something that’s more sustainable.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: It catches up with you eventually. It seems like you have academia flowing through your veins.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, both my parents are academics. So I feel like there is something that was always destined to happen, even though I never planned it that way.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I mean, respect to you for kind of taking the opportunity and the PhD at the time, because I know in medical training myself, we get told about kind of certain paths and kind of career goals- and it’s very traditional. And we’re not told to innovate and think outside the box and kind of, you know, mix our strengths and what we’re good at with what we’re interested in and then pursue that. That’s normally not the opportunity that’s available.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: It’s really funny because- yeah, you’re absolutely right. But when I was finishing up my foundation training and you have various mentors and colleagues and they’re asking about what you’re gonna do next. And I was like, “Oh, I’m going to move to Norway and do a PhD.” And everybody was like, “Oh, my God, that sounds amazing.” And because nobody ever thought about exactly those kinds of opportunities, like everybody wishes they could have done something like that, but it just was never there as an option.
So, yeah. I also know that there’s a huge number of junior doctors that are now kind of desperate to do something different or diversify. Or it’s not that they don’t want to be doctors or they don’t want to look after patients, but they’re sort of desperate for these new opportunities. And so to continue growing and learning, I think there’s this huge desire for this kind of thing. It just hasn’t really been made available to most people.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I think that’s what’s going to change in health. And looking at it myself, being in kind of an innovation program, it’s changing but changing slowly. But I guess being a doctor, yourself, obviously we go through such training and it’s almost like a conveyor belt, right?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Where you have to take the boxes, get through. And sometimes you think, “Wait. Could I be moving faster? Making more of an impact for people learning more?” Like I’m sure through lifestyle medicine, there’s a lot of things that I’ve learned which weren’t taught to me in medical school.
Dr. Tommy Wood: I mean, most of the things that end up being useful to you in the outside world are things that you have to learn as you go, as you know. Like you get dropped into a night shift on your first day as a junior doctor and literally nothing you learned in medical school is useful. So actually that the ability to innovate and figure things out on-the-go is actually something that the doctors are really good at. And I remember before I went to medical school, a mentor of mine, he was a professor of pediatrics, and he was helping me do practice interviews for medical school.
One thing he said to me, which really stuck with me, was that the training that doctors get means that they should be the ones that do the research and innovate because by the time you figured something out and how it works somebody else can do that, right? So most of the things that doctors do nowadays is very protocol-driven and it’s very systematized. And I understand why it’s done that way, because it means that we can get the best outcomes for the patients. But it also switches off that 90% of the stuff that a lot of the doctors are and should be good at. So giving them the capacity to use those skills, I think is really important.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Yeah, you’re not using it to improve the system. You’re either just becoming part of a system and being trained in that way. So you obviously mentioned kind of in university you acquired to health and fitness. Is that something that you’ve always been into? Because I mean, with Owaves, our target audience is students living healthier lives because it’s been linked to performance and good health metrics. So could you tell me more about that?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. Absolutely. So until I was about 16 or 17, my main interests were eating chocolate biscuits in front of a TV and not moving at all. I was not really interested in sports or anything like that when I was a kid. And actually, the way I came around to an interest in health and fitness was actually pretty much from the wrong direction. But it’s the one that most people, you know, particularly young men, kind of find themselves. So I was 17 or 18. My girlfriend broke up with me.
I thought, “Well, maybe if I get a six-pack, she’ll love me again.” Which isn’t true, guys. Anybody listening to that. And then I sort of really got into it. And it was a big deal to me. And I definitely had exercise addiction. I definitely had orthorexia. It affected large parts of my personal life because I was overdoing thing and over worrying about body image, the things that I ate, when and how much I could exercise. And, you know, it really takes more than a decade to come out the other side of that.
And it was, you know, that kind of big parts of it really helps me identify with the athletes that I’m working with because I know what sort of madness can drive them. And then the best ways to overcome that. So I think a lot of people in my kind of situation- I really got into it and I took it too far. And then it’s a process of learning both about the topic and about yourself to kind of find the best balance and what’s gonna be, again like I said, sustainable and provide the best health outcomes for as long as possible.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You realized pretty early on that you were living an unhealthy life and you kind of had this transition, but then you went all the way to the other side where you were quite extreme about this. Then with your kind of background of being such an academic, you’ve kind of gone forward whilst solidifying your research skills, but also being quite practical about it, coaching, being the vehicle of you, empowering people through this increased knowledge that you have.
So that’s interesting because you are a physician, like I’m a physician as well. But it always needs to exist. A doctor who possesses quite high-level knowledge. I can translate this to patients without having to go through these traditional routes of medicine. And I think that’s what you’re doing at the moment.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, there’s something about being able to convert what is an incredibly complex and almost like it’s almost made complex by people so that they can be experts in it. You know what I mean? Like everybody is like, “Oh, this is really complicated, but I’m an expert. So listen to me and do what I say.” And actually, I think when you really boil all this stuff down, the things that we need to do to be healthy and optimize performance, which those for most people, there’s a huge amount of overlap in terms of those things.
The principles are really simple. And I think a lot of people don’t try some of these things because they feel it’s so complicated or so contradictory. And there’s also this need for many people to be the expert that the people should listen to, and then they sort of make it complicated on purpose so that they’re the ones that you can follow. But in reality, if you really look at everything that exists and take things for I guess- I’m biased by an evolutionary or ancestral viewpoint, which is that I believe that we evolved in a certain set of conditions and that those conditions should inform the best ways that we can work to improve our health.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t incredible benefits to modern society and modern medicine. And often when I talk about this kind of stuff people are like, “Oh, but, you know, there are all these great things about modern medicine.” Yes, absolutely. I think the best approach is the combination of informing our environment based on the way that we evolved and adapted. And then on top of that, we get to use amazing things like antibiotics and surgery and vaccinations and all these things that have kept so many people alive for much longer over the last few hundred years.
So we can absolutely now start to use the best of both worlds.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So it’s about building the pillars of kind of wellness and staying well. And then augmenting that with kind of modern medicine. And I would agree. So how would you- so I almost feel like information needs to be disseminated more quickly to the public. For this week, for example, the study shows that cardiovascular disease risk is reduced significantly by male men who can kind of do 40 push-ups in 30 seconds.
Dr. Tommy Wood: I was going to cite that study! Had it in my notes in front of me.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Great. We think alike. I’m telling you I’m using years of leading light for me. Am I correct? So, yeah. So I mean, that comes out great. But by the time we find out in medical school, the doctors learn that. Like one doctor knew. I gave a talk on artificial intelligence. One doctor knew that the new Apple Watch can take an ECG, right?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Which is quite surprising. So information is happening so quickly. These changes? You know, these wellness markers. All this exists and by the time it is regulated, And, you know, people find doctors all the time to find out about it and tell patients, you know, how we get around that. How are you getting around that?
Dr. Tommy Wood: So I used to be. Yeah, and I still am very interested in the cutting edge. And I have so many friends and a team of people that I know, and work with, and collaborate with that basically helps me stay in touch with a lot of this knowledge. Because there are so many podcasts, there are so many papers, there are so many companies doing fabulous work. So I have several friends, you know, probably a dozen, many of whom are doctors, but in various fields.
And the people that I work with at Nourish Balance Thrive, we have a central repository, which is our slack channel where a lot of this stuff gets deposited. So a lot of this great information comes to me. I don’t have to go out in the world well to look for it. So, you know, creating a group of people who you know and trust and have these similar interests. You want different ideas. You want people to disagree with you. Super important. You want this stuff to kind of come to you.
So that’s one way that I navigate that. But equally, I used to be really worried about always being at the cutting edge. And the more time I’ve spent, again, reading papers, working directly with clients and the clients I work with- I get several hours with and I get to really understand what’s going on their environment with them. And that’s not something that doctors generally get to do within the traditional system. Again, it’s not their fault, there’s just no time with so many patients.
And what I’ve realized is that the most important things have not changed. And yes, if you want to work at the bleeding edge and get the last point, 5% of performance, that’s a certain subset of knowledge that you can go for. You can work there. But if you’re trying to make as many people as possible, as healthy as possible and say, you know, the students who are gonna be using your app, making sure that they’re as healthy as possible. The basics are always gonna be the same.
The things that are going to help them study the best, perform the best are always gonna be the same. So if you have this lens- and so my lens is the environment around the round the person and how that affects their physiology. What we’re finding in that field is now all my biases are being confirmed by the new studies just because of the particular lens that you take.
So that doesn’t necessarily need to be this continuous rush to always know the latest data. We knew that having a certain amount of cardiovascular fitness and maintaining muscle mass and strength as we age is one of the best ways to prevent chronic disease. This new paper is really nice because it absolutely quantifies it. You know, how strong do I need to be in order to minimize my risk of future cardiovascular disease? What if I could do 40 push-ups than I’m pretty close?
Great. You know, now we have a number on it, but we already knew that something like that was going to be important. So most of the data, again, is coming out. It’s just giving us the evidence to support a general framework. But in reality, the framework could already have been there and you don’t need to worry about it. You are never going to know all the data and all the studies that come out. Like you’re gonna drive yourself crazy trying to figure that out.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I think that’s a difficulty because similar to you, so I’ve kind of followed a certain, you know, influences or kind of medical experts such as yourself on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep on top of the best research in the fields of. You know, digital health as well as lifestyle medicine and medicine. So that’s how I kind of filter out the noise. But you’re right. Every single day, you’re learning. And, you know, I had, obviously, had Josh Turknett on the podcast recently and I was asking about FMRIs.
So it’s a lot of information that sometimes comes out strong and then you get information that contradicts it. And then, you know, a lot of people, the general public says, “eggs were good for me then they end up bad for me and they are declared good for me again.” So what do actually follow? But I think the way you’ve said it, we know the basic principles. And for the 0.05 % of performance, we might need certain adjuncts but generally speaking, to stay healthy, the information is out there.
So it’s interesting. So, you believe in the coaching concept, obviously, and that’s something at Owaves we’re really pushing because we believe behavior changes through coaching. And everyone is different. Yeah. So you’re spending quite a lot of hours coaching these clients. A lot of them are athletes. Formula One drivers, I heard, which is pretty cool. I’m gonna say so. Do you see them change quite quickly or do you tweak little things? Are you measuring the blood biomarkers? How are you going about this?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, that really depends again on the test in front of you. And I’m lucky that most of the people I work with have a huge amount of interest in their health. And they also have a reasonable disposable income or have made a disposable income such that they can really dig into, you know, both paying for coaching from myself and the various people, who I work with. And behavior change is a huge part of that. And we have Dr. Simon Marshall is our absolute expert. He’s our performance psychologist.
He’s worked with Tour de France cyclists. And he used to be a professor of public health. And, you know, this is his area of expertise. So whenever we’re having some behavior change struggles, I’m just like, “I’ll speak to Simon! He’ll solve all your problems.” So then it’s nice because then I don’t have to do something that I am less good at and I can give the client the real expert on the topic. You should have him on your podcast.
So with the people we work with at Nourish Balance Thrive, they tend to be endurance athletes. It’s not exclusively. And we also have an increasing number of people just with chronic disease issues, chronic health issues. And they come to us and there’s usually, you know, you spend a lot of time taking a history. That’s something that is very important. Talk to us at a medical school and then we do some basic blood tests.
We have we’ve built a tool called the Blood Chemist calculator that has a number of predictive algorithms that allow us to extract a lot more data out of basic blood tests that maybe you could get otherwise. And then we have a whole host of other testing available to us. If we need it, we can do various stool tests, urine tests. We can look at all kinds of different hormones. We can get some metabolites mix. And a lot of that sort of just helps us figure out what we might need to do with this person.
So when you’re working with a highly motivated endurance athlete, they will literally take anything you give them and they will gobble up and they will take any supplement. They will do any protocol. They will change their training. You know, these guys are really agile and they’re really responsive when you’re on the other side working with somebody like a Formula One driver. These guys are so overwhelmed and they’re constantly moving and they’re constantly working on the car.
And that, you know, there are constantly people demanding their time. Change happens really slowly because it’s just only so much bandwidth that somebody like that has. So it really comes down to what’s the thing that I think is gonna make the biggest difference? How can I help the coach? So each driver has their own coach. So I mainly work directly with the coaches rather than the drivers because the coach basically runs everything for the driver.
How am I going to help that coach implement this one change that’s going to give them the biggest bang for the buck? So it really depends, again, on the person in front of you. What’s the bandwidth? What are they willing to do? What are they trying to achieve? And then making sure that they can implement whatever strategies we discuss to result in the best outcomes.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So it seems that time can be a big restrictive factor for people implementing change. And with the concept of Owaves, for example, screen time is a very new feature on the iPhone. You know, you realize how many hours you’re spending, which you could be doing more beneficial things. So same with Owaves, it kind of categorizes your stats of how you are spending your time, but you’re almost planning it and putting it at the moment. We are working on kind of taking that forward to make it more dynamic. With these algorithms, are you using machine learning to get new trends in this data that you have from all these kind of clients?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yes. There are a few ways that we’ve done this, and Chris, who I mentioned earlier, he’s a software engineer by training. I was brought over to the US from the UK to work in Silicon Valley. And we’ve both used the data that we have directly from our clients. So the first thing that we built was basically- well we ask the question. Can we predict the results of complex or expensive biochemical tests from subjective questions? So everybody comes to us. There are 50 odd questions.
They’re answered on a scale of one to five and it covers everything from your sleep, your digestion, your mood, your sex drive. All this kind of stuff. Your subject of quality of life. And then based on that, we could predict issues with certain hormones, certain gut infections, you know, low hemoglobin levels, which is obviously a big factor in terms of endurance performance. So just based on subjective questions within our population, is this the algorithm the cross-trained was able to predict a lot of these issues?
That’s the first thing that we did with the data that we have. And now we have this commercial tool that is mainly being used by other functional medicine practitioners. And if you want to get it, if you want to go down a rabbit hole, we could talk about whether the phrase, functional medicine is a useful phrase or not. It isn’t, but it’s what exists.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: In the UK, it’s a lot of stigma around that word. Less so in America. Lifestyle medicine is more the term being used here.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. The problem with lifestyle medicine is that- and I say this as somebody who is a part of a lifestyle medicine so I know it’s intricately woven into the vegan lifestyle, which again, is not something that’s necessarily going to be best for everybody or anybody potentially. So that’s the problem. Lifestyle medicine has kind of been co-opted by that one particular brand of thinking in terms of, you know, health.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Do you believe it should be personalized medicine almost because with genetics coming into it and as you said, microbiome testing and you know where we’re going with health. Do different ways work for different people or are you still quite the ancestral approach of health?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. So the ancestral approaches is definitely what’s worked the best.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Okay. How does that work? Tell me more about that.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. So wait, I’ll just finish qualifying that I guess.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Okay. Perfect.
Dr. Tommy Wood: We spent ages trying to come up with a phrase on our own. Like what would we call this so that we don’t have the stigma? And the problem with the word functional in for medicine is that usually means code for the doctor saying the patient’s making it up. So all of this is a functional problem or it’s super stentorian as in it’s in the brain. It’s like it’s just they’re crazy. That’s this kind of doctor code. So it is kind of difficult to then get that phrase, meaning something else into the world of medicine.
We came up with the phrase sustained health engineering. Because it’s really more of an engineering problem. It’s this is a complex system. It’s inputs and outputs. And there are dolls that you can tweak. And, you know, what your inputs are. You probably know what your output is. The problem with most health inputs or most health behaviors is that the feedback loop is really long. Like, I do all this stuff because I think it’s gonna make me live longer, but I’m not going to find out for 50 years.
So that’s where some of the blood-based algorithms that we’ve been building and other people have been building can sort of help you maybe see more dynamic changes in your biochemistry and your physiology that are going to give you better idea of whether what you’re doing is working. That’s really important. But when it comes to some of the fancy stuff that’s available, I fully believe that fully sequencing, the gut microbiota, the gut microbiome.
You know, fully sequence whole-genome sequencing of the person, I think that going to be useful in the future. The problem is that right now they are not. It’s a huge amount of data that we do not know how to interpret. And people who tell you that they know how to interpret or that they know how you should eat based on genetics, basically lying or that massively over-interpreting the data they have. So I fully believe that’s going to be important in the future.
But right now, the things that I know work because I’ve seen it work. And based on the data that we have available is the environment and the phenotype, rather the gene inside the phenotype being the physiological output. And that could be your blood tests, your heart rate, your blood sugar, all these things that easily and cheaply measured. And I can also track over time and understand what it means when those things change, which is not the case for the gut microbiota that obviously your genetics don’t change.
I think epigenetics is going to be really important and there are some really cool companies doing that. But it’s gonna cost you 2,000 pounds to find out your epigenetic signature- or you know, $2,250. And that’s just not accessible to most people right now it’s too expensive. So that will become a thing in the future. But right now, there’s really cheap and easy data that we can use. And that’s what we tend to focus on. So the environment. And I’m sure you’ve heard this multiple times before.
You know, there were just four or five things that are basically going to drive most of your physiology and then you can even measure the outputs. And they are sleep and circadian rhythm management, movement, real food, the quality of your diet, and then having some kind of meaning or purpose or social connection. And that’s it. And if you can manage those and understand how they affect your physiology, then you can change things and you can see what the output of those are. And you can start to build something that, again, is going to result in sustained health.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I love how you put that because that’s how I think about health as well. Inputs, outputs. It’s like a system, you know, almost an engineering-
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, it’s like engineering.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Yeah. I prefer looking at it that way. And a lot of my colleagues and people I’ve worked with don’t see it that way. But essentially it is. And the five factors, that’s what we’re focusing on with Owaves as well because that’s where you have most control over. So with circadian rhythms? So circadian rhythms being our main kind of focal point for Owaves. What is your take on circadian science? Where do you think it’s at now? Do you feel we have specific times that which we’re primed for optimum performance, for example, reaction times, alertness, etc.?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yes. So I think again, the research is being done currently. So guys like Satchin Panda, he’s obviously the guy you think of first and he’s awesome. He’s a good friend of mine. He does incredible. And, you know, but again, I think this the stuff that he’s doing is kind of just really putting some flesh on what we might intuitively figure out to a certain extent. And that is it’s really important to get light during the daytime. It’s really important to get darkness during the nighttime.
And again, that just goes back to the environment that the body expects. And, you know, hundreds of genes change on an hourly basis. And again, they are largely driven by the timing of light exposure, particularly for things that run from the brain down. And then the timing of food exposure as well. Which, you know, the clocks in the liver are largely driven by food exposure. And so then you want to kind of combine those things. So the simplest way to think about that is, eat when it’s light and don’t eat when it’s dark.
And if you want one really simple rule that will allow you to get the most obvious circadian rhythm, then that’s probably the way to do it. There’s a lot of ways that you can kind of make it more complicated. But that’s the simplest way. So with circadian biology as the background, you can then start to fit all those other things that I’ve talked about, right? So we maybe talked a bit about food. And obviously quality is important.
But Panda has shown that the timing of the window and the length of the window, you know, even regardless of the quality of the food that’s gonna be really important. And then movement again, you know, perhaps if you’re trying to train your circadian rhythm, if you don’t have great light exposure, then one of the ways to tell your body that it’s daytime is to do some exercise.
So some kind of brief, you know, at least reasonably intense period of exercise early in the morning when it’s supposed to be light outside, that’s probably the best way to help time the clocks. But equally, there’s always gonna be a performance component. So if you are somebody who’s trying to lift as heavy as possible at the gym, the body is warmest and is primed for that usually in the sort of mid-afternoon.
So there’s always gonna be some kind of balance between what it is you’re trying to do, what it is, what you’ve got, what your goal is in terms of your performance or your health. And equally, I say that maybe you’ll be strongest in the afternoon. Equally, you can train the body. The most important thing in terms of its performance in a given sport or in a given event is that when you train is when you become best at it. So if you have a race coming up or you have a weightlifting competition coming up, you want to train at that time of day.
So if it’s gonna be at six o’clock in the morning, then you should be training at six o’clock in the morning because that’s when you perform at your best. So there are always ways. You know, there’s kind of what’s sort of theoretically optimal and what’s going to give you the best result based on what you’re trying to achieve. So you kind of have to integrate the two.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So for students, if they have an exam at 10 a.m., should they be studying at 10 a.m. or does that work?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Well, that’s a good start. But yes, there’s always gonna be a part of it. And like I’ve done it. I’ve done the all-nighters. I’ve done the putting things off until the last minute. I’ve done weeping at my desk before finals as an undergrad. Like, I completely agree. Well, what people normally doing. But, yes, if you know when your exam is going to be, that is the time when you should be, you know, prepared and ready to go. So you’re probably gonna want to make sure you got a good night’s sleep the night before.
Incredibly important for exam performance. And then also that maybe you’re awake two or three hours before then so that, you know, you have just like rolled out of bed and shown up. And if that becomes part of your routine, that’s what your body expects is what’s normal for you. And again, you know, that’s probably when you’re gonna be performing at your best anyway. Then that’s going to be really important to make sure you get the most out of yourself for the exam.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You went to University Oxford and University in Cambridge, which are the best universities in the world for me. So, I got an offer for medicine from the University of Cambridge. But when I went, so obviously, passed the interview, got my offer. My biggest thing that put me off was people were sacrificing their lifestyle in medicine because they’re just so intense for studying, right? So it’s a common theme I saw at the university. And that made me kind of, you know, declined my offer, actually. Is that something you saw?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, definitely. On the last day, when exam results traditionally used to come out in Cambridge- a Sunday in June and it’s called Suicide Sunday, literally. That’s why it’s called that.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Okay, is it?
Dr. Tommy Wood: And that kind of tells you something about the nature of the way those things run and how seriously people take it. And I completely understand why that environment doesn’t work for some people. And actually, I spent most of my time at Cambridge rowing.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Oh, good.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Much more time doing that than I did doing my work. And luckily, I managed to succeed at both. So. Yeah, I think having some other focus is really important when you’re trying to achieve academically. It can’t be the only thing or else you really will drive yourself crazy. But you know, that environment doesn’t work for everybody. The one upside of it, at least when you’re doing the undergraduate part at Cambridge, is that you only do three, eight-week terms.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I was one of the push-pull factors.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. So you kind of you crush yourself eight weeks, but then essentially you spend more time on holiday than you do at university. So but again, you know, it works really well for some people. It doesn’t work for others. So I can completely understand why that environment, you know, really, really turned you off.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Yeah, it was very intense. I mean, it was amazing university and it was just looking at six years of medicine because I’ve always been quite into kind of innovation and quite entrepreneurial in tech. So I knew I needed the flexibility early on to diversify. To be fair, when I started medical school, but I loved health. And what I really loved was this lifestyle aspect of, you know, understanding, sleep, endocrinology, exercise, nutrition. Like, I had a real passion for this, but unfortunately, medical school did not really quip you for that feel. So it was what you do outside-
Dr. Tommy Wood: They don’t teach you anything about that. Yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So I’m quite certain kind of human 2.0 combines now with where we’re going with machines, right? So with now, kind of, A.I. and kind of wearables in the cognitive space coming in, it’s an exciting time of how these things are going to combine because we have to remember so many, for example, phone numbers in the past. I was talking to Josh. But now we’ve got things like Siri, Alexa. So it’s almost we are in a different environment, like you talk about the environment being key.
Our environment is changing. How do we kind of adapt to that? So it’s interesting because you worked as part of a team at the Human and Machine Cognition-
Dr. Tommy Wood: Institute for Human Mission in Florida
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: That interests me.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yes. It’s just an incredible institute that was set up by my friend, Ken Ford, who I was very lucky to be introduced to. And he was George Bush’s science advisor. He’s been at like- wow, all the committees of all the science foundations. And he’s like one of US’s top scientists. And he’s actually an expert in artificial intelligence. And he has this idea for an industry where there’s basically a completely flat structure. He’s like, “I just want to find it interesting people.
And then whatever it is that they want to work on, that’s what we’re gonna work on.” And so it’s very different from a traditional academic structure. And I say this, I’m kind of peripherally involved. So I know him and some other people there. I’m on the other side of the country from this institute, so I don’t work there. So where it is kind of that the only turn off of the whole thing. I know several people who are also associate with institute who kind of like if it was, you know, on the West Coast somewhere then we’d love to physically work there.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Seems like my type of environment and hierarchical structure.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, there’s no hierarchy. Everybody is just called research scientists, regardless. You know, they may have come from another university where they were a professor or a chair of something or a director or something. But everyone is a research scientist. It’s just super-smart people doing interesting stuff. And they have this interesting combination of- so you do a lot of work with the military.
There is a lot of military funding. But trying to find out ways to better support the performance of Special Forces operators, particularly. But they also work with NASA. They work basically humans in extreme environments is one side of their interests and they obviously have sort of artificial intelligence machine learning and then they do a lot of space stuff, again. Kind of associated with the NASA Work.
Interested in space and its operation and, you know, detecting asteroids before they kill us all and all that kind of stuff. So that is like really incredible work. And it’s just awesome to be associated with people who are able to just work on whatever it is that they think is interesting. And have the kind of structures set to make it happen as quickly as possible because that’s not generally what happens in the traditional academic setting or the medical setting. They’re all very similar in that matter.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Yeah, very homogenous. It sounds very thrilling, actually. You know, work in knowing what’s happening on the cutting edge. But then in parallel, you also impact it. So because lifestyle and kind of sleep and nutrition, that’s quite applicable to the whole population, right? So keeping your hand in both I think that it is perfect. We talk about Owaves, you know, fulfills, you know what you’re kind of very interested about but then what’s impacting people at the same time. This brings me on to your routine. So at Owaves, we’re quite obsessed with mapping people’s O.
So the generic how they run their day, generally. So we’ve done quite a few celebrities and kind of what time they wake up, what time they sleep, exercise, and eat. The lot of it, right? So interesting for our listeners to find out how you run your day.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Sure. So I generally get up about 6. But somewhere between 6 and 7, 8 am. And this partly driven by any commitments that I or my wife have. She has to go to work or I have to going to work. But it’s also partly driven by our dogs. So when the dogs are ready to get up, then it’s time to get up. And then from there, I’ll let the dogs out. Go outside for a little bit. Not that long. Maybe just a few minutes, but some outside. And then I’ll make myself a cup of coffee.
That’s very, very important to me. I live in Seattle, which is not one of the Western societies, capitals of coffee. And then at that point, I’ll usually maybe start thinking about what work it is I’m going to do that day. Clearing some emails or, you know, often have calls, may have a podcast, and then I’ll usually have some breakfast somewhere between maybe 9 and 10 a.m. And then again, I can continue whatever work it is I have. So I work a lot from home. But I also have the lab that I go into where I do my research.
I usually have lunch as well. Again, maybe around 1 o’clock. If I’m at home or I can get home from the lab, I’ll usually- have I have a gym that I built in basically a big shed that’s in the garden or in the yard, depending on which country you’re in. And so I’ll usually train for about an hour or 90 minutes. Most days, five or six days a week, probably sometime between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and then around 6:00, 6:30, I’ll have dinner. I’ll cook dinner for me and my wife. Then depending on workload, either we will both sit down on our computers and do some work or, you know, when we can, we’ll try and spend the next couple of hours together.
And that maybe talking about something and maybe watching something on TV together. Just spending some time together trying to wind down. We usually try to be in bed at about 9:00 pm. I’ll read a book. I usually like to read fiction in bed because, you know, it’s sort of like moving away from spending a day talking or reading about science. And then I’m probably asleep between 9:30 and 10 pm.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: That sounds quite balanced routine. I like the fact that you read fiction before bed because you always assume such qualified people are probably, you know, reading about the end to all pathway or something about longevity.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Definitely. It’s really important to me. So whenever I often go on a podcast or something. It’s like, what’s your fate? What? You know what? Give us a book recommendation. And they want some, like, super fancy scientific work. And I’m usually like, I recommend the most recent fiction book I read, you know, for me that’s incredibly important. That’s a grounded ability to switch off and think about something else that’s very important. So I’ve read fiction before bed my entire life. And, you know, sometimes I’ll read a non-fiction book or a science book, but I’d much prefer to read something else.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So you have quite the routine. And it’s interesting because being a successful individual, I mean, you do have a good routine. It’s interesting that, you know, how in the current climate with being a 24-hour society and the gig economy routines always breaking down. So, you know, generations before us had very stringent, strict routines. But nowadays, if you look at the adolescent population, it’s very kind of dictated by what time someone’s posted or Instagram or, you know, Netflix.
You know, the new show is being released. And we’re living in this kind of globalized world where, you know like we’re talking across from the UK to the states. But, you know, Australia. So people are almost shifting their routines to make other things work. Do think that’s going to have an impact on health, generally?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, don’t get me wrong. Like I said, I’ve done everything that people would normally do and for various different reasons either because I liked staying up late. And when I was doing my PhD, at least for the first year before I met my now, wife. And actually, it sort of created a routine that was helpful, at least for that period time. You know, I’d go to bed late and I go into the lab late and I work in the lab late. And everybody in Norway worked some like 8 am to 4 pm. And then I got my best work done was between 4:00 pm and maybe 8:00 pm because nobody was there to like-
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: No distractions.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah no one was there to bother me. And then at 8:00 pm, I go to the gym and then I go home. And actually, that was useful because I did a long-distance relationship thing. So just because of the way the call scheduled, you know, the times of day we could talk. That just ended up being really useful. So then I’d go to bed, you know, after midnight and I’d wake up after 10:00 am. And that was useful to me, but I also know that’s probably not going to be best in terms of my long term health.
And one thing that’s really important for me is my sleep. I can get by a couple of days with short sleep, but then I become a really useless human being. Sleep is something that I can no longer compromise on. So sometimes I will get up really early because I need to talk to Australia or Europe. Or I’ll stay up late for the same reason or there’s a deadline. Or something I have to hit and I stay up late or I get up early and that kind of stuff.
Being flexible and doing that occasionally is absolutely fine, but it’s the things that you do the majority of the time that is going to have the biggest impact on your health. So then when I can and things that a normal, 80%, 90% of the time that routine is really important. And when people are spending all this time waking up at different times, go to bed at different times, eating at different times, the data really is coming together to show that there’s a huge detrimental impact on your long term health.
You think about shift workers dramatically, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers. And all of that comes down to the timing of when things happen in the body and then when you expose it to the things it expects to be exposed to and those being out of sync. You know, a lot of stuff happens in negative physiological effects come from what happening. That sort of distinction between what the body expects and what you expose it to.
So, yeah. I really think everybody- you sleep when your dead and you can do whatever you like, whenever you like. That’s great. And if that’s what you wanna do, then more power to you. I’m not going to disagree with you with that. But if you want what’s going to produce the best long term health outcomes, then, you know, exposing the body to what it expects at the time that it expects it is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So a consistent template that you can being can be slightly flexible. But for example, I went from my night shift- long shifts that stressed a lot of cognitive load. But then you finish, right? You finish at 8:00 pm. You have to be back the following day like 7:00 am. So then you’re like, “Do I have a choice? Do I sleep? Do I shorten my sleep from like- So you’ve got seven hours to six hours? Or do I go hit the gym or do I prioritize my sleep? The gym? I’m going late to the gym so that could keep me up.
But it might not. It might make me more tired and switch off. It might help me relax. Or do I make time for a book? When time is restricted or you have less time, do you have kind of a hierarchy or what? Do you let your body kind of tell you what you need to do? Or do you have kind of a hierarchy of- like a diagram of A, is more important than B, which is more important C?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I guess, I am very good at kind of listening to my body as one of those ultimate clichés, isn’t it? But I’ve done everything correctly. I’ve done everything incorrectly, and I have a fairly good idea of how those things will affect me. So now, like my training and the days, I train is very intuitive, often honest, but I don’t really feel like it today. And then I just won’t let it bother me. I won’t sort of you know, a lot of people would then get pretty worried they didn’t train that day or.
And I see the same thing with eating. So sometimes you do something and you eat your food and then the next day I’m just not hungry anymore. So I don’t worry about I don’t eat as much. And it kind of takes some. You know? If you again, if you expose the bodies of the environment that it expects, largely this kind of stuff just happens. You know, you can’t micromanage all the macronutrients and Micronesians that go in your body. It’s physically impossible. You might think that you’re doing it because you’re not doing it like you might think, you know- how many calories are in a meal in front of you or how many calories you’re gonna extract from it.
You have no idea. You are within like 50 percent error, you know, by some accounts. Unless it’s super hyper-processed food, which you can absorb all of it. It’s like a real meal, like a salad and some steak and maybe a sweet potato. You have no idea how many calories are going to go into the body. So there’s no point in worrying about that. You just let the body figure it out and you have that meal that gets digested, what goes in? And then if it wasn’t enough, you want some more?
If it was too much. Then the next day you’ll be less hungry. So the body should be able to self-regulate. In that way, we kind of confuse it by the light cues at the wrong times of day. Meals at the wrong times of the day. All that kind of stuff. So the question was about hierarchy. And when you’re shifting your schedule, it’s probably important to do the thing at this time of day that you want to then do it next.
So it’s the same thing in terms of if you’re flying across multiple time zones and you’re gonna be jet-lagged, it’s probably best to not eat for a period of time before you leave on the flight. And then just have your first meal at breakfast time and you’re at your destination. And that’s going to help you set your liver clock much faster rather than if you’re eating at your place you’re going to be leaving, then you’re probably eating in the middle of the night at your destination. That’s going to slow down.
That’s going to worsen your jet lag. It is going to slow down the amount of time it takes you to adapt to your new time zone. So then if you’re coming off a night shift and it’s 8 pm and you can’t quite- you know, are you going to be at the gym at 8 pm in the next stretch of days, and you’re probably not. Are going to be having dinner? Yes, maybe. Or you’re going to be asleep? Then I’d prioritize the thing that you want to be doing at that time the next day or for the following week.
So that’s the easiest way to think about it. You know, what am I going to be doing at this time in three-days’ time? Okay. That’s probably what I should be doing now or at least trying to do it now because then that’s going to help you adapt much faster.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You think it’s worth working out on a weekly basis that, on average, I got this much sleep? So say one day you got 7? One day 8, very slightly? Or in terms of- you talked about tracking food, you know, got a variety of vegetables and fruits across a week? You think it’s more worthy tracking almost over a week and then over a day?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. I mean, if you’re gonna track anything over longer periods of time, it’s going to be much more important. And there’s like some great new tools for weight loss or fat loss, more importantly. The fat is what you want to lose. You don’t want to lose weight from other places. There’s no number on the scale but it records your rolling average for the last two weeks. So you can see the trend downwards. But like for some reason you haven’t opened your bibles that day yet and you weigh two pounds more and you get worried about it.
So it gives you general trends and that’s going to much more important. Just like the body integrates calorie requirements over several days or months. That’s where the hormones, leptin and insulin, and all those things are there for. So that’s how the body works. Integrating signals over longer periods of time. And so if you’re gonna be tracking or measuring some of those things, that’s going to be important. And for something like sleep, giving yourself the amount of time in bed that you need to get a reasonable sleep is one of the most important things.
So micromanaging the amount of sleep that you got every night or worrying about it. And there are now a number of ways that you can track your sleep. I do it. Then you get to a point where you’re like, “Oh, my God, I got 10 minutes of deep sleep last night.” That means I’m going to be terrible. I’m going to perform horribly today. And then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because you got worried about the data that you measure on yourself. So make sure that anything that you’re tracking is not- it’s the same with heart rate variability. Ahh, my heart variability sucks today.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I’ve been using that.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Therefore I’m going to suck today. So the Oura ring is a fabulous tool. But you really need to know how to use it. And how that data is going to affect you cognitively. So like heart variability, doesn’t tell you anything about how you’re going to perform in the gym that day. It gives you some rough idea of how a given workout or training session is going to affect you. So if you’re heart rate variability is low, you may crush it in the gym, but is going to take you longer to recover from it.
So the problem is that people think that the heart rate variability is going to tell them about performance, but it doesn’t really. It doesn’t correlate with performance well at all, but it can tell you over time if you have signs of overtraining, you’re pushing too hard or you need more time to recover. So, again, it’s just knowing what the data means and how to use it. And what I see currently is that people measure all this stuff, but then it becomes a point of worry, which then you’re a self-fulfilling prophecy and then they end up feeling worse and performing worse.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Yeah, because you’re like, I’m not hitting that hard, why is my heart rate variability in so low? And it was high last week, but yeah. Then you think, okay, I won’t go for that workout when the workout would probably benefit. Just because you might be stressed which is affected your HIV, but then you need to. So you have to be quite dynamic. Where do you lie on the continuum of kind of optimizing human performance? Performing well today now, and longevity- because a lot of arguments with inflammation, you know, being kind of a hallmark of longevity.
But then sometimes to perform, you need to be, you know, stressing your body in the right ways. You think that the trade-off are most consistently the principles that help you perform better and live longer?
Dr. Tommy Wood: So if you stick to the general principles, they will do both. However, you have to accept that if you want to- so sports performance is a really good example and you can think about most professional athletes. So Tour de France cyclist are nice. Basically, there were these emaciated skeletons that strapped to a bike and they can go uphill super, super fast like- it’s incredible. I probably wouldn’t even make it up the hill. You know, that they’re heading up at it 20 miles an hour.
They are incredibly fit, but they are not healthy, right? That is not a state of health. So, yes, if there is a certain thing that you need to perform at, and sports is a good example. There is always going to be a tradeoff. And yes to the exercise that you’re doing is probably going to be better for you than doing nothing less than the average population that is doing nothing. So it’s not that. You know it’s definitely a U-shaped curve. But you just need to acknowledge that’s a tradeoff that you’re making. If you want to perform a given sport or the sport is the way that you socialize.
And we know social connection is super important, then that’s fine. You just need to know there’s a tradeoff. However, if your performance is to perform well, your job with your family, you know, live a healthy life as long as possible, then you do need stresses. You need to introduce these things that create adaptation and exercise is another great one. But there’s a certain amount that is going to give you that adaptation. And then any more than that is going to be diminishing returns, and a lot more is going to potentially be detrimental.
So if we’re talking about exercise and people then say, “Okay, so what’s the optimal amount of exercise to do if you just want longevity and health as long as possible?” It’s about 30 to 45 minutes every day of moderates to vigorous physical activity. So that’s basically anything from brisk walking to weight training to going for a jog or a bike. And 30 to 45 minutes a day is pretty much as you need. Beyond that, there are diminishing returns. And then along a lot way beyond that, there are potential detrimental effects.
And then mixing it up. So you want to do some aerobics stuff, right? You need some aerobic capacity. You need some strength. You won’t be able to do your 40 pushups yet. And so, you know, a 50/50 mix, if people need something prescriptive it’s usually going to be about right.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So you have to kind of obviously achieve that balance. But so if your body is telling you, you’re quite tired and you’ve been doing 45 minutes a day because tiredness can be caused by work as well and studying. Is it worth still getting in the gym and getting that done or shortening your workout and being adaptive or just following through with you?
Dr. Tommy Wood: It probably depends on where you are in terms of the habits that you’re trying to build. So if you’re somebody who, movement or exercise or training. Or whatever you wanna call it, is built into your routine every day or every week, every month. It sort of just a part of the background. Then, you know, if you just don’t feel like working out that day, don’t do it and don’t beat yourself up about it. But if you’re somebody who’s trying to build these habits, then getting out and just doing something.
Doing some movement that then helps you build that as part of your routine. That’s going to be much. That’s gonna be much more important. So it kind of just depends on where you are in that system. And if you’re trying to build a habit, making it a regular part of your structured day is gonna be really important. So then, you know, just making sure you get out and do something may be enough to help ground that habit and help you build it rather than say that the advance trainer who’s been doing this forever, who just feels pretty beat down and just wants to spend the night on the sofa.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So are you a fan of talking about stresses, temperature? So heat and extreme cold conditions, do you think that there has not been any evidence to show that improves performance or helps recovery yet?
Dr. Tommy Wood: And again, it depends on what you want and what you want to achieve. So heat, I think is really important. And heat stresses have certainly been shown to improve cardiovascular performance. Maybe even increased muscle growth. If you expose your body to a heat stress like a sauna after a training session, and then there’s also the benefits of sweating, there’s a lot of science, again, coming out of Finland. So it’s kind of- does it only work for Finns?
But, you know, if you sauna for more than 20 minutes and this is a dry sauna, so you get the cardiovascular stress- you’re sweating. So you’re maybe eliminating certain things that the body doesn’t excrete as well through the urine through the stool. You excrete better through sweat. So maybe you’re reducing certain burdens eggs. You’re sweating things out. You know, and that certainly seems to be protective in terms of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Again, in Fin’s.
But hope you know, I come from- at least me personally, I am of a northern European heritage. I’m half Icelandic. So I figure the genetics are going to be fairly similar-quite similar. So I could probably apply that to myself. And so heat can be really important. Cold can also be really important. Again, cold showers, cold baths. They can increase vagal tone. So we know that’s going to be potentially important in terms of dumping down inflammation. Maybe in terms of improving heart variability, heart rate variability, overall resilience.
There’s also potential benefit in terms of Fat Browning and then maybe an increase in metabolic rate if you’re trying to improve body composition. If you are an athlete and you’re trying to perform multiple times within a short period of time. So good examples of something like a CrossFit athlete who has to do multiple events over multiple days or any athlete does multiple events over multiple days- an icebox is great. Because immediately dumping down the inflammation, you recover much faster.
However, if you are trying to produce a training adaptation, then icebox after training session actually minimizes inflammation. And like you said, that can be beneficial and it will minimize, you know, reduce the training effect that you get. So there’s some evidence to suggest that after, say, heavyweight training if you then immediately go in the ice bath, you won’t get as much of a beneficial long term effect. So, again, using the stresses, depending on the outcome and depending on when you want to apply them and what you want to achieve from the hot and cold are both very important, just like not eating- is another important stress.
Exercise is another important stress. And the problem is that we live in an environment where the temperature is always controlled. We can eat whenever we want and we don’t have to move. So these are what we call environmental mismatches. That mismatch between what the body expects and what we deliver to it. So building these stresses, short term stresses into our daily routine then allows us to, again, exposing the body to the environment that it expects.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You mentioned fasting. How often did you have a fasting protocol that you follow?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. So I don’t do- I have done some extended fast. The longest one I did was three days and I am very interested in the long term effects of prolonged fasting; however, I am young enough that I am going to wait for some more robust data and healthy humans before I really worry about it. Because if you think about things like, so when people talk about fasting, they talk about autophagy. Which is basically clearing out the junk in your cells or the proteins that have become oxidized or damaged in some way.
And you do that because you’re basically restricting any nutrients. So the cell says, “Okay, well, I’ll start. You know, I need some energy, so I’ll start by just burning up the junk.” That’s kind of the simple way to look at it. But in muscle tissue, particularly, and in some other tissues, the fastest way to initiate autophagy is to do aerobic exercise. So if you’re somebody who’s doing frequent aerobic exercise, are there additional benefits on top of that by doing prolonged fasting? And the answer is, we just don’t know. So I’m sticking to what I know and what I enjoy.
And I know that I’m stimulating some of these pathways with the exercise I do. But if somebody turns up one day and says, “You know what, to be a healthy person as long as possible, you should not eat for a week, once a quarter, or every season.” All right, great. I’ll do it. And but that being said, it’s very important to, again, eat around the time it’s light and then have a period where you don’t eat. So I generally eat all my food in an 8 to 10-hour window every day. So I make sure there’s a period of time overnight where I’m not eating because I think that’s something that we could easily do. It doesn’t require anybody fasting for long periods of time.
But we know that’s associated with better health outcomes.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You see a difference in people who start eating- I’ve seen the studies. Because obviously, you’ve coached a lot of people and you’ve seen kind of examples. Haven’t you seen quite dramatic changes in people who kind of changed from an erratic eating pattern to an 8 or 10-hour window?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. You’ll most rapidly see improvements in something like blood sugar control. That really seems to happen quite quickly. Weight loss, you know, despite not really thinking about caloric intake because you will automatically restrict your calories if you restrict your feeding with it just because you can’t eat as much.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: That much in that much time. Just eating.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, exactly. It makes it hard. Actually, I did this recently. So I broke some of the rules recently because I was at the beginning of the year, I was bitten by a snake in Costa Rica and I spent two weeks away.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: What was that like?
Dr. Tommy Wood: A bit miserable, actually. Yeah. So this is the initial- we’ve really gone off-topic now, but the initial wasn’t so bad. But then I got a really bad infection. I had needed multiple days of antibiotics. I had an abscess that needed to be drained. So they basically put a big hole in my leg. And so the upshot, the reason why I mentioned that is because I lost a lot of weight. And so then to gain it back, I basically broke all the rules and I ate continuously all day of every second that I was awake and it came back really quickly like, it does work.
But obviously, if you’re trying to work the other way here fasting is important. And it’s usually because the calories that you eat- and this is something, again, the Panda has shown, which is that the calories that you eat late at night tend to be alcohol and ice cream or, you know, in that kind of realm. So you automatically improve the quality of your diet as well as the number, you know, reducing the number of calories that you’re using. So weight management can concerningly be beneficial there.
But you can see pretty quick changes in terms of blood sugar control, which is a nice kind of metric for overall metabolic health. And you take any supplements toward your recommended supplements. I take a good multi-vitamin, which I think there’s a lot of questions in terms of where the multi-vitamins are worth taking and I think a good motivation is definitely worth taking. Just because there’s a lot of stuff missing from food. And also, if you kind of really look at the nutrient status and long term health outcomes, that’s certainly going to be beneficial. So I take a multivitamin.
I take creatine. I usually have a protein shake after the gym. And that’s about it. I sometimes will take Icelandic fish oil or a couple of a supplement. Yeah, there’s nothing else I’d take regularly. Most of the things that are out there I have taken for a period of time. But again, when you’re thinking about the feedback loop, if I start taking a supplement now and I think it’s gonna help me live longer and healthier, I’m going to have to take that thing for the next thing 50 years. Am I really invested in doing that? And again, most of these things haven’t been shown that’s gonna be likely so I don’t. Vitamin D.
So again, if we talk about athletic performance, creatine, vitamin D are good- I don’t take it vitamin D, but I try and get as much sunlight as possible as I can in Seattle. And actually, the sun has many benefits above and beyond your vitamin D level. But that’s a very important athletic performance.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Similar to red light therapy?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yes, similar. So it definitely seems to improve immune function. It definitely improves blood pressure because it produces nitrous oxide under the skin. And also so there was a study just done in India, I believe, where they took men who were deficient in vitamin D. And then they either gave them a vitamin D supplement or they told them to get out in the sun more and vitamin D levels went up about the same in both groups. But the opposite changes were seen in the lipids.
So the lipid profile in terms of like what we might believe is better at metabolic health improved overall only in the sunlight exposed people, but not in the vitamin D people. So again, that doesn’t tell you all of the things that are happening, but it tells you that the vitamin D level wasn’t the important factor, that it was the sun exposure in terms of some of those things. So sun is more important than vitamin D. But beyond that, you know, there are various things that that you can use it at different times to improve cognitive performance or athletic performance. But in terms of the stuff that’s- you know, those kinds of basics, those are the things that I stick to.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Great. And final question, what motivates you? What’s that single factor? What do you live for? What’s that kind of factor that keeps you, you know, pushing these boundaries? You know, you are doing so many great academic- and gaining great academic qualifications and, you know, the research you’re part of, what’s motivating factor?
Dr. Tommy Wood: That’s a really good question. So in the past, again, I kind of told you a little bit about my unhealthy habits.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I was similar to be fair. I think there’s something intrinsic which reverses that switch. And then you’re like, “Okay, yeah. I mean, I was quite academic and then I was like, neglecting a part of my life. And then I realized, wait, this is not life.”
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So in the past, I was usually driven by acceptance. Like I wanted people to like me. And this was kind of stemmed from the fat kid, who was bullied at school. So you know, the pleasure, the desire to please people was what drove me for a long period of time, like a sort of fear of rejection. I think I’m over most of that now. And in reality, I’m basically just driven by what I find really interesting. And that kind of that’s enough for most things. And then the connections with people. Working with people that I enjoy working with- that’s really important to me.
And, you know, often the thing that we produce is secondary to me, like having those good working relationships and us, you know, building something good together. And that’s one of the main reasons I actually stayed in academia. You know, I was gonna leave my postdoc and just go full into the industry. And then my boss is like, “Well, what if I made you a professor? Would you stay on?” I was like, “Yeah, actually.” It wasn’t the title that drove me. It was the fact that I got an opportunity to keep on working with a group of people that I really enjoyed working with.
So and then beyond that, and sort of on the other side of things, I want to make health- I want to democratize health if that makes sense. I was trained in the NHS. I deplore the US medical system and also the way most functional medicine is done. Good health is really easy and it shouldn’t be expensive. And if the barrier is people understanding their own bodies or understanding what they should do or understanding the tests that they get. I want to make that as easy for them to understand and as accessible as possible. And so, again, you go back to all the things that are going to be the best for people to create long term optimal health.
It’s cheap. It’s free. There’s no fancy testing, no fancy supplements required. If you want to better understand your blood test, I want to build something that helps you look at it and be like, “Okay, I understand what this means. I know what I can do now.” And you don’t have to pay for a fancy microbiome test. You’d have to pay for fancy genetics tests because most of what’s going to be beneficial should be easy, cheap and free. That’s right. And I want to be one of the people that help make that happen.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: That’s a very noble mission. And this conversation is at such a breadth and depth. And it’s amazing, such an academic talking about not only kind of the personable things about how you manage the health parameters and having this kind of goal to make everyone healthy. And as well as that, I’ve had a physiological masterclass, which I’m glad to hide from you because you have to be taking that knowledge from the experts. But I know it’s been amazing having you on. And before I let you go, where can listeners find you or find more about what you’re doing or follow you, etc.?
Dr. Tommy Wood: Yeah. So I have the basic up until now where people can go and find me at most recently, NourishBalanceThrive.com. That’s the company that you mentioned early on. However, I will start rebuilding some of my old blogs and so I have a website called drragnar.com, which is D-R-R-A-G-N-A-R. dot com. Ragnar is my middle name for anybody who are fans of the series.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: But it wasn’t on your LinkedIn. It wasn’t your LinkedIn. That’s all I’m saying.
Dr. Tommy Wood: Not just out there. So I’m hoping to build that back up again. So I have a Twitter handle, which is @DrRagnar. I’ve never been on Instagram, but maybe I will be one day. So I’m basically going to start building that up again because I just want to be in charge of my own content. I haven’t done that for a while. So I’m kind of gonna give that another go.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So Instagram, I’m looking forward to Kim Kardashian versus Professor Tommy Wood. I think that would be a good battle on demystifying health.
Dr. Tommy Wood: How I always used to say that I have rather than, FOMO, fear of missing out. I have JOMO, joy of missing out. So it’s just one of those things I don’t have to worry about but maybe they’ll come. So if you go to Drragnar.com now, there are all my old blogs and it’s a couple of years out of date but hopefully, that’s going to get rebooted in the next few months. So yeah, definitely follow me there. And if people do go there and they want more for me and nothing’s happened, then they’re very welcome. There’s an email button. They can poke me into Life and I’ll try and make that happen.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Your inbox will be flooded. So great having you on. Thanks a lot, as always. And obviously, we’ll stay in touch. Thank you for listening to the Owaves BodyClock podcast.