Personalised exercise

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a very good programme on BBC Four called The Truth About Exercise presented by Michael Mosley.

Instinctively I guess I knew that different people responded differently to exercise but I hadn’t really looked at the science. One study mentioned in the programme found that in a sample of 1,000 people given the same WHO recommended exercise regime for 20 weeks, 15% had a dramatic improvement in their fitness but 20% showed no real improvement at all (so-called ‘non-responders’). It also seems that there are genetic markers that can predict where you will be on this distribution.

The programme then looked at some of the research that’s going on into High Intensity Training which sounds too good to be true and has led to a few somewhat dramatic headlines. The idea is that you can get many of the same fitness benefits of the WHO recommended regime based on just a few minutes per week of really pushing yourself in full body exercise. What was interesting was that Michael Mosley is in the ‘non-responder’ group but the High Intensity Training did still have a benefit to him — it improved his insulin sensitivity by 24% which in his case (with a history of diabetes in the family) was very important.

It brought me back to my hatred of gyms which was what got me interested in Good Gym in the first place and thinking about how we could radically improve the health of a large percentage of the population. Only about a third of the UK population meet the recommended levels of exercise for a healthy lifestyle and it’s costing the NHS billions of pounds and probably having all kinds of other effects on the economy and society as well.

I think there’s a huge need for tools that make preventative healthcare work. Unfortunately the NHS  (which is really a national ill health service) isn’t set up to build them so I think they’ll have to come from elsewhere. I’d like to see services that can offer advice and motivation to people about exercise on a personalised basis. They could involve some element of genetic propensity to benefit from different types of exercise as well as looking at other lifestyle issues such as your activity levels (the programme singled out sitting down at work as probably the UK’s biggest killer) and devise nutritional and exercise advice that takes into account budget and lifestyle.



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The Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto

probably isn’t a good book to read on a plane. The main source of examples is flight safety — or more specifically plane crashes and what was learned from them. When I read it on an easyJet flight to and from Milan, I couldn’t help notice that the crew of the plane seemed to be younger than me. They say policemen only get younger, but it feels slightly scarier when it’s pilots.

The manifesto is also written by a surgeon (Atul Gawande) and so most of the other examples are about cutting people open in emergency situations. Also not good for me — I’m very, very squeamish.

It is however a very good book and I’m beginning to think there’s something in it. The basic thesis is that work and life are getting ever more complex and while we are getting better and better at mastering the world around us, we’re also more susceptible to making stupid mistakes. Gawande contends that the answer to this conundrum is remarkably simple — checklists.

The first checklist to reduce stupid mistakes in complex situations was created by Boeing after they realised that even one of the most distinguished pilots in the world could make a simple mistake in trying to take off in their (at the time) cutting edge technology — the B-17 four engine bomber. Ever since, every plane they’ve ever built has had a series of checklists created for it and they are designed to be incredibly easy to use. Check out this flight manual for the SR-71 Lockheed Martin ‘Blackbird’ which is now declassified to see how specific the checklists are.

At a more mundane level, if you’re cabin crew on easyJet, there’s even a simple checklist for giving the captain a cup of tea. That might sound ridiculous but get it wrong and you could let somebody gain access to the cockpit. It’s a one in a million type situation but that’s what checklists can prevent — they reduce risk. They enable six people under 35 to safely launch a metal tube filled with explosive to 30,000 feet and land it again with 153 other people on board.

Beyond flight and surgery, the book touches on a couple of investment firms or partners at firms who use this approach and say that while it’s early days, they’re seeing good results. I can imagine that’s true. Investing is all about finding the startups that reach escape velocity but there are a lot of things that can go wrong along the way. As an investor, using checklists could reduce the risk of those things happening both in decisions about investments and when working with investees.

It’s also a pretty useful approach for startups themselves and one we’re going to be using for Bethnal Green Ventures. We’re developing a checklist for pretty much any situation you could find yourself in during your first year as a startup. They’re not meant to tell you what to do, just to stop you from making silly mistakes that other founders wish they hadn’t made. Once we’ve tried it out, we’re also hoping to publish it so that others can use it too. In the meantime, this list of 40 steps every startup should take by Andrew Scott is a very useful place to start.


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The edge of the internet?

I feel like I’ve noticed the limitations of the internet’s infrastructure more often in the last few weeks than ever before.

The first time I was doing something I often do which is using my phone as a kind of radio around the house, streaming programmes or talks I’ve missed over my home wifi connection and playing them through the loudspeaker. In this case it was a video of Paul Graham’s PyCon keynote (although I was only actually listening to the audio). As often happens, I realised I was late to meet friends so picked up the phone, stuck some headphones in and walked down the road for 10 minutes, still listening to the talk. Just before I got there though, the audio cut out and I got a text message from O2 saying I’d exceeded my data limit for the month. I didn’t actually know I had a limit.

The second time I felt the internet creaking was checking the speed of my home internet connection which is starting to become far less reliable. In this case I think it’s because of the aggregate effect of increasing demand on my local exchange. I should have kept the data over time but based on a few spot checks it seems that it’s about a third of the speed that it was two years ago.

The third thing that’s becoming really frustrating is the glitchiness of wifi networks on the move. I wonder whether this has always been the case but now I just expect it to work better. It often takes forever to connect and cuts out every few seconds as it tries to migrate you across different base stations — especially in large buildings like hotels. Don’t get me started on how much some places are charging for wifi — I basically refuse to pay.

I know I’m a pretty heavy user but the point is that if I’m bumping up against the edge of the internet now, it won’t take long for the whole system to reach its limits. I’ve always thought of the UK’s communications infrastructure as quite good but for the first time I can see how it might not be enough.

It also wouldn’t surprise me if there’s room for a new player offering something much better because everything I’ve read about (such as ‘super fast’) is really just a bit more capacity. It feels like the demands we’re beginning to place on the infrastructure are a couple of orders of magnitude greater than we currently have.

I’m a bit bored of watching the little rotating dots on iplayer. If the UK is going to be one of the best places in the world to create new applications of the internet we’re going to need to up our game.


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