Competing with counterfactuals

Peter Attia has this idea called ‘healthspan’. Rather than measure what is easy (years), Attia suggests we aim for something more difficult to measure, but more meaningful: health.

The idea, IIRC from Attia is that it’s the quality of years that matter. Okay, sure, but what does that mean? It’s to ask: what do I want to be able to do when I’m 80? an work backwards from there. If I want to be able to pick up my grandkids then, what do I need to be able to do now?

Working backward is one nice way to frame this idea. Another is to think about competition. Imagine the Healthspan Games.

A proxy for this was Sport Climbing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In this event contestants competed in speed, bouldering, and lead courses. Each contestant was ranked by finish and ranks were multiplied for a final score. If someone finished first, fourth, and seventh, their final score was 28.

A competitor must consider how they could compete. Of course it would be very good to be very good at each section, but a slip in the head end is much more costly than a slip at the tail due to the multiplicative nature of the scoring. An initial score of 2x5x8=80 improves by fixing the middle score to 2x4x8=64 whereas a weakest leg fix yields 2x5x7=70. This may not be a case to fix weaknesses first.

Sport climbing is a good proxy for the Healthspan Games because they also have three areas of competition: strength, balance, and flexibility. However the competitors are slightly different. Instead of athletes from different countries, the competition is different versions of oneself. It’s the you that does yoga against the you that does not. The different versions of you are a counterfactual.

“Counterfactuals are hard because we don’t think about what is on the other side. ‘What if we had done nothing; How many games would we have won?’.”  – Sam Hinkie to Zach Lowe, April 2016

Counterfactuals and competition are one way to reframe the idea of: how to be healthy. It’s easy to think about weight (lost or lifted) or speed while running as the important aspects. But the competition is more varied than these very visible areas.

Are strength, flexibility, and balance the most important parts for a long Healthspan? Probably. Does framing them this way make them easier to think about? Probably too.

We return to the idea of easy to measure vs helpful to measure in the “metric” tag.
IIRC = if I recall correctly