Three Things I’m Doing to Become Healthier and Smarter

1. I take four Kirkland Natural Fish Oil Omega 3 pills a day. Each pill has 1000 mg of total fish oil with 300 mg of DHA and EPA each. 1200 mg/day seems to be a good target amount. Here's a page comparing fish oil to flaxseed oil. Here are all of Seth Roberts' posts on Omega-3. Here is Tyler Cowen on his flaxseed oil supplement which he calls "good for his heart, brain, and gums" and says "the Omega-3 ingredient has a scientific consensus in its favor, with no evidence for negative side effects."

2. I'm tracking personal metrics. I'm starting with sleep and exercise. I record in Excel when I went to bed, when I woke up, and how many minutes I exercised. See the article titled You Are Your Data to learn about the burgeoning Quantified Self movement. I hope to track nutrition soon. And maybe one day I will be able to carefully track my time spent on different activities.

3. I'm interviewing local neuro-psychologists to see if they can help me understand how I learn. I am still unsure how I process information best. People with learning disabilities work with these folks. I don't think I have a learning disability but I do think I could do a better job at taking in information in ways that are optimal for my cognitive makeup. I'm also researching SPECT scans, but these have its critics and are expensive.

I'm not a self-improvement maniac. But I am on the lookout for ways to become healthier, happier, and smarter, and all these things seem likely to help in one or all of these fronts.

Thanks to Seth Roberts, Andy McKenzie, Tyler Cowen, and a Child of the Kemp for their direct or indirect advice.

19 comments on “Three Things I’m Doing to Become Healthier and Smarter
  • I’m not quite to where I’m interested in tracking my waking and sleeping hours, but I do track my sales and marketing activities in business and my bicycling miles in my personal life.

  • I’ve been tracking the food I eat for over a year now in Excel. The more interesting things I’ve learned about myself:

    * My days often start with good intentions but deteriorate nutritionally by the end.

    * Friends have a huge influence on eating patterns. Some friends like to go out to eat a lot and when I’ve spent significant time with them, my personal eating habits change dramatically.

    * No matter how much I “get” that alcohol has a lot of empty calories, it’s always shocking to see how it can add up.

    * Interesting takeaway: my eating matrix reads like a diary of the past year. Food is so intertwined in our lives that we can associate strong feelings with them. I relive memories and emotions when I recognize a particular week by its menu and recall the events that took place surrounding it. Almost as powerful as keeping a written journal.

  • Interesting post. Tracking is a great idea.
    I would be very interested in your neuro-psychologists search re discovering how you learn. It’s an area that I am interested in as well as I find I don’t retain as much of what I read as I would like. I have however adopted your method of taking notes when reading a book and by reviewing these notes later, I do find a retain a lot more. It’s just extra work to take the notes. Hope that you post your process re the neuro-psychologists exploration.

  • Hey Ben, I met you some time ago in New York. Hope all has been excellent and by the looks of your blog it has! It’s great to find that your health interests align with my own as of late.

    I hope you had a chance to see this article on the movement as well (I’m quoted at the end):

    I track much more than food as can be seen on the Quantified Self site. I hope to publish something in the blogosphere about this soon.

    Let us know how you do with the fish oils and your conversations with the neuropsychologists. I’m wondering if this guy’s method for learning is optimal:

    keep up the goof stuff and I hope to make more time to join the conversation on your great blog!

    Toli Galanis

  • Yeah I looked into it but there didn’t seem to be conclusive evidence that krill is better. Either way, it’s like “rate chasing” on high interest savings accounts…. 🙂

  • Hi, Ben,
    number 2 sounds interesting but so far you only plan to record your sleeping hours and so on but wouldn’t it be more interesting if you also record your major achievements throughout the day and how motivated, efficient you have worked and then to find the best amount of sleeping and exercise to perform the best?
    Greetings from Germany,

  • Ben,

    Neuropsychology is the study of abnormal or damaged brains. While neuropsychologists often are very knowledgeable about the brain generally, they are particularly focused on understanding how damage to certain regions knocks out certain types of processing. I don’t think they’re really the people you want to talk to about learning. “Neuroscientists” (of various ilks – including those who study pre-and post-synaptic biochemistry; those who study ERP and fMRI scans to see how people learn; as well as modelers and behavioral neuroscientists; those who study perceptual learning, memory, motor learning, etc.) are generally more in touch with learning issues. Furthermore, cognitive psychology generally studies learning and there is a vast behavioral literature on learning, so you can find out much about learning from the behavioral, vs. neural, level as well.

    By the way, your blog titles are starting to sound like a women’s magazine cover… 8 ways you can make him want you, 8 recipes for quick tasty dinners.

  • Yeah, but it’d be pretty hard to record my “major achievements” throughout
    the day, I think. But the end goal is to try to find the optimal mix of
    sleep, exercise, etc….

  • You might want to look into nootropics, otherwise known as smart pills. Safety issues might be a concern, but you might find the available info interesting.

  • That’s right … but maybe there is something like a “feelgood-factor” that can be numerical measured … I gues that is something that I’m going to try:

    record the amount of sleeping and exercise and a “feelgood-factor” between 1 and 10 …

  • A med school student reader writes:

    Hello Ben, I read your blog often and find it interesting. I noticed that recently you plugged the benefits of omega-3 supplements, citing T Cowen’s comment that it was good for the brain, heart, and gums. I did a quick search on the Cochrane Library <“>> (database of high-quality evidence for medical decision-making) and found the following, which you might find interesting:

    There is a growing body of evidence from biological, observational and epidemiological studies that suggests a protective effect of omega 3 PUFA against dementia. However, until data from randomized trials become available for analysis, there is no good evidence to support the use of dietary or supplemental omega 3 PUFA for the prevention of cognitive impairment or dementia.


    It is not clear that dietary or supplemental omega 3 fats alter total mortality, combined cardiovascular events or cancers in people with, or at high risk of, cardiovascular disease or in the general population. There is no evidence we should advise people to stop taking rich sources of omega 3 fats, but further high quality trials are needed to confirm suggestions of a protective effect of omega 3 fats on cardiovascular health. There is no clear evidence that omega 3 fats differ in effectiveness according to fish or plant sources, dietary or supplemental sources, dose or presence of placebo.

  • Hi Ben,

    The key to #2 being successful is using the right metrics. The right metrics, in my experience, may come after a few attempts and anaylsis and tweaking.I use various excel spreadsheets to track how I’m going. One of my goals was to stop drinking soft drinks (Australian for Sodas) and I was finally successful because I found the best metrics to use combined with strong mental reinforcement of my being some one who never drinks soft drinks.

    I had another habit, a few years ago, that I wanted to break and I also used a spreadsheet to track my success in this habit change. I don’t need to use this spreadsheet anymore because this particular habit is one that I no longer indulge in.

    In the past I also used a spreadsheet to track my mood, productivity and attitude. I rated these on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 worst – 10 best). I rated the numbers at the start of my day and at the end of my day to see if there were any marked differences between the numbers – i.e. I started the day in the 2-4 range for each category and finished the day in the 7-9 range and vice versa. I also noted what triggers would account for any wild fluctuations. If I started the day in with high numbers and finished the day with high numbers it correlated to a good day. Of course this is based on my perceptions of my life and someone more objective might rate them differently.

    IMHO improvements/changes to one’s life is a matter of either eliminating habits, changing habits (i.e. going form habitually hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock to getting out of the bed the moment one’s alarm goes off) and introducing new habits.

    If you find this theory interesting, I highly recommend the following book – “Self-directed behaviour” by David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp. I came across this book in one of the library branches of the University that I work for, a few years after I started using spreadsheets to track and modify my habits/behaviour. Tracking behaviour changes/modifications with record keeping is one of the techniques they recommend. Because I have used and continue to use this approach, this is why this particular book resonated.

    Another book worth reading is “A primer in positive psychology” by Christopher Peterson – some of the techniques in this book also involve tracking habits and thoughts. Particularly in leading a meaningful life – unfortunately Positive Psychology suffers from being just about happiness, when IMHO it offers so much more.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

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