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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Review: Stress and Your Body

I listened to Stress and Your Body, and kept thinking about how familiar it all sounded. Turns out it was all a rehash of another audio lecture series by the same author. Being Human, and Biology and Human Behavior.

The content of the lecture series is fine you've never heard it before. For instance, why are symphony conductors so long lived? It's not just because being up there on stage and waving your baton is excellent aerobic exercise, it's also because they have a lot of control. Apparently, it's not uncommon for the musicians to have to ask the conductor for permission to go to the bathroom in the middle of a practice! Having that much power is apparently great for longevity. (And there you have it, the answer for why women live longer than men)

Anyway, the book's thesis is that the stress response is great. In the short term, it does a lot of good things for you, boosting your cognition and reaction time in those moments when you're running away from the tiger. It's chronic stress that's bad for you, because the human brain has the ability to turn on that stress response for things where raising heart rate and reducing digestion won't help you for, such as the need to pay a mortgage.

The book does provide some solutions for managing stress, but some of it is not as good as you might imagine. For instance, there's an experiment where they got students training to be social workers to visit people in nursing homes to see if that additional human interaction was good for them. And indeed it was great. But then when the experiment is over and the students stopped coming, the folks in the nursing home deteriorated to a much worse baseline than the controls who never got that additional interaction. So it's not like you can do this as a temporary thing, it has to be ongoing.

The lecture series is fine, just don't be me and buy the other books Sapolsky has done: he's pretty much been mining the same material over and over again, so you're bound to start thinking: "Hm... I've heard this before, even in the same voice!" Otherwise, if you've never heard any Sapolsky before, it's recommended.

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