"The Black Swan" - How Does it Relate to Exercise?
Posted February 23, 2017 by Matthew Romans
Most of our clients at Total Results know that Tim and I are avid readers (in fact, Tim often juggles multiple books at the same time). While I'm not usually quite that ambitious, I have enough of an adventurer's spirit to tackle some subjects that are a little out of the mainstream. I recently finished reading a book called "The Black Swan - The Impact of the Highly Improbable", written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The author was born and spent his formative years in Lebanon, but attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He spent several years after graduation working on Wall Street, and witnessed first-hand the "Black Monday" stock market crash of October 19, 1987 (which was the largest one-day market crash in history). After having survived that harrowing day, Taleb coined the term "the black swan" to describe an event, either positive or negative, that is seemingly improbable and causes massive consequences. Some of the major events he describes as blacks swans include the aforementioned 1987 crash, the start of both world wars, and 9/11. The first edition of this book was written in 2007, and the second edition (the one that I read) was written in 2010 (interestingly enough, he claims that the global banking/real estate crash of 2008 does NOT qualify as a black swan).
At this point, you're probably asking yourself, "what does this have to do with exercise?" I first learned about this book while watching a lecture given by Dr. Doug McGuff, who is an emergency room physician and owner of a high-intensity exercise studio in South Carolina. The second edition copy that I picked up from the library has a few additional chapters, including one that discusses high-intensity strength training and a primal/Paleolithic method of nutrition (in addition to intermittent fasting). This particular chapter, titled "Why I Do All This Walking, or How Systems Become Fragile", actually mentions Dr. McGuff by name, and Taleb credits him for changing his thinking on the way the body responds to a stimulus. Taleb discusses how he implemented an exercise regimen of very brief (sometimes 15 minutes), very infrequent high-intensity weight training workouts, followed by periods of rest and minimal activity. He would also regularly take long walks at a very leisurely pace (this was his favorite way of having discussions with friends and colleagues). Taleb would eat in large quantities for some meals, followed by times when he skipped meals with no ill effects (this sounds very much like the way our Paleolithic ancestors lived and ate). At the end of two and a half years of following this exercise/dietary regimen, Taleb noticed significant improvements in his physique, blood pressure, and his clarity of mind.
While "black swan" events can and do happen no matter what, how we respond to these circumstances will determine our success and happiness. Incorporating a brief and relatively infrequent high-intensity exercise routine, combined with a Paleolithic nutritional philosophy will help you to optimize your health and make the most out of your genetic blueprint.