chris kresser genius life

The Importance of Exercise, Is Dairy Healthy?, Mercury in Fish, and More – Chris Kresser on The Genius Life, Hosted by Max Lugavere

Check out The Genius Life Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • When it comes to health optimization, control what you can: Eat right, get food sleep, manage your stress, and incorporate physical activity into your routine
  • Engineer your work environment to allow yourself to engage in low-level physical activity throughout the day
  • Research indicates dairy isn’t nearly as inflammatory as commonly thought
  • When it comes to eating fish, their selenium contents often help mitigate the adverse effects of mercury exposure
    • Fish that are high in mercury: Tuna, swordfish, and shark
    • Fish in which mercury isn’t a concern: Sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, salmon, and halibut 
  • “The CDC estimates that only about 6% of Americans consistently engage in the top 5 health behaviors” Chris Kresser
    • Those are: Not smoking, not drinking excessively, maintaining a healthy BMI, getting enough sleep, and regular physical activity

Products Mentioned


Debunking The Game Changers Documentary

Nutrition Discourse Has Become Inflamed

  • As a matter of fact: “I think all discourse has become inflamed as of late, whether you’re talking about politics or social issues” – Chris Kresser
  • Nowadays, with almost any topic, there’s little room for nuance or context – it’s all black and white, and there’s little consideration of the subtleties 
    • For example, to debate whether meat is “good” or “bad,” context MATTERS: Are you eating Big Macs of grass-fed beef with salads?
  • “To have a productive discussion that isn’t just people throwing things at each other, I think that would be a lot more useful for the general public. Instead, people just end up feeling really confused and throwing up their hands.” – Chris Kresser 

Chris’ Health Journey

  • In his early 20s, Chris sold everything he had and took off to travel the world, spending a lot of time in Thailand and Indonesia 
  • While in Indonesia, Chris came down with a near-death tropical illness which resulted in a “10-year, arduous journey back to health where I saw upwards of 50 doctors on 3 continents”
    • And Chris saw doctors of ALL types – Shamanic energy healers, acupuncturists, chiropractors, specialists, etc.
      • “I pretty much left no stone unturned in any aspect of health and wellness” – Chris Kresser
  • Eventually, Chris came to take control of his health and started pondering what to do next with his life
    • Chris soon enrolled in a post-doc/pre-med program, but after talking to a variety of doctors, he became dissuaded from entering conventional medicine. 
  • This led Chris to transfer into a California-based acupuncture and integrative medicine program
    • In California, acupuncturists are considered primary care providers – they’re able to diagnose, order lab tests, etc.
    • Around this time, Chris discovered the area of functional medicine and created his blog
      • Upon graduating, Chris started a functional medicine practice, which 10 years later, brings us to today

Functional Medicine vs. Conventional Medicine

  • Chris gives an analogy: Say you had a rock in your shoe which was causing some food pain…
    • The conventional approach would be to go to the doctor, where they’d give you a painkiller
    • Functional medicine, though, would aim to diagnose and treat the root problem (AKA remove the rock), not cover it up with medication
  • “The whole conventional disease care paradigm is based on suppressing symptoms with drugs. This is largely an artifact of conventional medicine really coming of age in a time when acute, infectious diseases were the biggest challenges we face.” Chris Kresser
    • Think about it: In 1900, the top 3 causes of death were typhoid, tuberculous, and pneumonia 
      • Today: 7/10 of the top causes of death are chronic diseases (which, unlike, acute conditions, are complex, difficult to manage, and can last for a lifetime)
    • In summary: “It’s really a situation where our model, the medical care, is mismatched with what our needs are. Functional medicine is an effort to address that by getting to the root cause of chronic disease and treating them so the patient can fully recover, rather than being prescribed medication for the rest of their life.”

What about the argument that chronic diseases are inevitable because we’re living longer?

  • Not so much:
    • Hunter-gatherers had a low lifespan because of high infant mortality rates, tribal warfare, constant exposure to harsh elements, and a complete lack of emergency medical care
    • Hunter-gathers that did live into old age tended not to die from things that characterize today’s old age (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.)
  • Besides, you can’t deny today’s health threats:
    • Sleep deprivation
    • Horrible diets
    • Sedentary lifestyles
    • Light pollution
    • Air pollution
    • And the list goes on…

When it Comes to Health, Control What You Can

  • Eat right
  • Get good sleep
  • Manage your stress
  • Incorporate physical activity into your day – here’s how:
    • Take frequent walks/breaks 
    • Use a standing desk at work
    • If you use public transportation, get off a stop or two before your destination to force yourself to walk a bit
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
    • Only take walking meetings

How Chris Optimizes His Work Environment

  • Chris uses:
    • A Mac app called Time Out, which reminds him to take a short break from work every 45 min.
    • An under-desk pedaling elliptical when he sits
    • standing desk (part of the time) in conjunction with a balance board 
      • Why the balance board? – It forces you to make tons of micro-adjustments, resulting in calorie-burn
        • Similarly, sitting on an exercise ball (instead of a chair) also forces these continual micro-adjustments
  • Lastly, Chris keeps kettlebells, a TRX, and push-up bars nearby, all of which he’ll try to use several times throughout the day
  • All in all:
    • “As I do all of this throughout the day, I feel completely different than I would if I had just sat in a chair looking at a screen the entire day” – Chris Kresser

Chris’ Exercise Routine

  • Chris is a fan of variety:
    • Some days he’ll strength train (with primarily Olympic-style lifts). Other days, he’ll do more balance/agility work.
    • Other staples: Kettlebell workouts, swimming, running, hiking, surfing, skiing
  • “If I could only do outdoor exercise all the time, that would be my preference” – Chris Kresser
  • But no matter what, exercise is important:
    • “We’re biologically programmed for physical activity. We never had long periods of being sedentary. We had to hunt for food, we had to create and build shelters, we had to fight often… We always had a physically active lifestyle.” – Chris Kresser

Don’t Forget About Non-Exercise Physical Activity

  • If you sit for 12+ hours a day (working, driving, and watching TV), 45 minutes of exercise at the gym won’t make up for it
    • “There’s research now showing that even people who are training for a marathon, if they were completely sedentary the rest of the time, they have biomarkers suggestive of a sedentary life” – Chris Kresser
  • A cool fact: During the writing of his first book, Chris walked 2,000 miles using his standing treadmill desk
  • 🎧 “I don’t think people fully appreciate that being sedentary for an extended period of time literally drains blood from your brain” Max Lugavere
    • Chris adds: “Your brain is the control center for optimal health. If you want to be healthy, age well, and have a long healthspan, you have to protect your brain more than anything else.”

Chris’ Diet

  • Chris eats mostly paleo
    • Why not strict paleo? – Grains and legumes can be healthy if they’re well-tolerated and properly repaired
  • Staples include: Non-starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes, plantains, yucca, white rice, bone broth, fermented vegetables (kimchi and sauerkraut), organ meats, shellfish, and fatty fish
  • Chris doesn’t eat that much fruit
    • That said, he’ll throw in some berries every now and then
  • Chris doesn’t drink milk, but will gladly eat other dairy lower in lactose (ghee, butter, cream, goat cheese, chevre cheese, etc.)
    • Fact: 2/3 people globally are lactose intolerant

🎧 Is dairy unhealthy?

  • Chris recalls a 2019 review study of several meta-analyses:
    • 84% of meta-analyses showed either no association (71%) between dairy and cancer or an inverse association (13%)
  • Chris also mentions a 2017 review of 52 clinical trials that showed dairy products were inversely associated with inflammatory markers
    • Said differently: People who consume more dairy had lower levels of inflammation
  • “There’s a lot of research showing dairy products are inversely associated with cardio-metabolic disease (cardiovascular and metabolic diseases)” – Chris Kresser

Chris’ Supplement Regimen

  • Chris thinks of supplements in two categories:
    • Maintenance supplements: Those we take to meet nutrient needs we can’t hit with diet alone
      • Vitamin D might fit this category for many, although Chris, due to a combination of genetics, diet (lots of cold water fatty fish and pasture-raised eggs), and sunshine, doesn’t supplement
      • That said, Chris does supplement with magnesium glycinate and cod liver oil (which contains vitamin A, D, EPA, and DHA)
        • Why magnesium? – Nowadays, soil levels of magnesium are lower than ever before (which in turn lowers vegetable magnesium contents)
    • Therapeutic supplements: Taking supplements for a specific purpose or heal a particular ailment

How concerned should we be about mercury in fish?

  • It’s certainly a concern among some types of fish, but the selenium content often helps mitigate the adverse effects of mercury exposure
    • How so? – Selenium is the co-factor for enzymes that are involved in mercury detoxification 
  • Fish that are high in mercury: Tuna, swordfish, and shark
  • Fish in which mercury isn’t a concern: Sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, salmon, and halibut 
    • (Basically, cold-water fatty fish)
  • Also, there are definitely genetic difference related to how efficiently people process mercury and other heavy metals

Eat a Diet That Supports Detoxification

  • “The most important thing is to eat a really diverse diet with a lot of plants, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and organ meats. A nutrient-dense diet is going to contain all the nutrients you need for detoxification.”Chris Kresser
  • Other things that help:
    • Exercise
    • Sweating in the sauna

Wrapping Up

  • 🎧 “The CDC estimates that only about 6% of Americans consistently engage in the top 5 health behaviors” – Chris Kresser
    • Those are: Not smoking, not drinking excessively, maintaining a healthy BMI, getting enough sleep, and regular physical activity
    • Why only 6%? – It comes down to behaviors and habits
      • “Information isn’t the problem. Most people know, to some degree, what they should be doing, and they’re not doing it.” 
  • So, to facilitate habit shifts, “shrink the change”:
    • Start small: 
      • To improve your diet, first try eliminating seed/industrial oils. Then, once you have that controlled, maybe try removing sugar.
      • The same thing goes for exercise – commit to X/days week (with X being a number you know you’ll have no problem hitting)
    • “Shrink the change into doable bite-size steps. Let the success build on itself. That gives you the motivation to take the next step.” – Chris Kresser

Additional Notes

  • Be mindful of low-fat (or fat-free) yogurts – they often contain more sugar than the “high protein” they advertise 
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