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#206 – Exercising For Longevity: Strength, Stability, Zone 2, Zone 5, And More | The Drive with Peter Attia

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Key Takeaways

  • Spend as much time as possible working on dynamic stability, static stability, strength training
  • Training “zones” are really a function of the underlying system you are referring to whether it’s heart rate-based or power-based
  • Most people spend too much time in zone 5 and not enough in zone 2
  • The limits of human performance for truly going “all-out” is about 10 seconds – look at the difference between Olympians in the 100m versus 200m
  • Training for longevity: work backward from 100 years old and think about what you physically have to do to be happy with your life (e.g., play with grandkids, get up from the floor, garden, bike ride, etc.)
  • There is an increase in mortality with a reduction in grip strength and loss of quad muscle
  • Life generally takes place in zone 2 and zone 5 so this is what we want to train
  • “Stability is the cornerstone upon which you do everything” – Dr. Peter Attia
  • Peter’s current exercise routine: M-W-F lift (split upper and lower body); Tu-Th-Sat zone 2 cardio; Sun zone 2 cardio then zone 5 cardio


In this special episode of The Drive, Peter Attia and Head of Research at Attia Medical, PC Bob Kaplan (@bobkaplan) compiled a “best of” from previous episodes full of tips to optimize exercise for longevity.

Peter discusses his framework for exercise, what he’s really optimizing for, and how to train today to be prepared for a good life at age 100. He describes the importance of strength and stability, and why deadlifting is an important tool to consider for longevity. Additionally, he details why training in zone 2 and zone 5 is important, gives a primer on VO2 max, and describes the most effective ways to engage in those types of exercise. Finally, Peter reveals his current exercise routine. 

Host: Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD)

Training For Longevity

  • People who are centenarians today are largely genetically lucky – today we’re really trying to hack our way there
  • Exercising for longevity is different than training to win a marathon – all-out training is often past the point of optimizing longevity returns and can actually be diminishing
  • The goal is to be the healthiest 99-year old around
  • Life generally takes place in zone 2 and zone 5 so this is what we want to train
  • In the decline of mind and body, the body often fails first
  • Work backward from 100 and think about what you physically have to do to be happy with your life – how old with your kids, grandkids, etc.? Will you want to play with your kids? Will you want to tend to the garden? Do you want to exercise?
  • Find physical tasks associated with the goals you have for your 100-year-old self – goblet squat (picking up and carrying a grandkid), overhead press (lifting suitcase above head)
  • Stability usually gives out before other areas
  • Dynamic neuromuscular stabilization (DNS) is really centered around the moves that we can do so well and effortlessly as children then fail older in life
  • Peter’s high school squat breathing protocol (really tough!): use heaviest 10 rep weight, load on the back, normal cadence, at the top take 3 deep breaths with each breath taking 30 seconds, then do another 10 reps

Strength & Muscle Over Time

  • Some studies show 2-4% strength loss per year – if you want to be a healthy 85-year-old, you can’t sit around when you’re 50
  • There is an increase in mortality with a reduction in grip strength and loss of quad muscle
  • Strength is the more important parameter of health

Importance Of Deadlifts As An Adult

  • Powerlifting: deadlift, squat, bench press
  • “The deadlift is a beautiful audit for everything working perfectly.” – Dr. Peter Attia
  • Don’t focus on deadlifting for speed or weight, be intentional
  • Peter deadlifts at least 2-3x per week with a lightweight and videos every single rep and studies it
  • What to watch for in deadlift: the right amount of thoracic extension, a right curve in lumbar, activation of glutes, activation of hamstrings, wedging correctly
  • Why deadlift? Super functional movement – you want to be able to safely pick things up from the floor, including yourself
  • The things you have to prepare to deadlift correctly might be as beneficial as the deadlift itself
  • You can create traction in the spine during the deadlift

Zone 2 Training

  • Zone 2: the exercise intensity at which you are stressing mitochondria and oxidative capacity the most
  • Tenants of zone 2 training: recruits mainly type I muscle fibers, mobilizes the highest amount of fat oxidation, and stimulates bioenergetics (fat & glucose in mitochondria)
  • Listen to podcasts or audiobooks and enjoy the slow pace!
  • A reasonable measure of how zone 2 should feel: you can carry out a full conversation, maybe not as comfortably as if you weren’t exercising, but still without much strain
  • You want to know your actual maximum heart rate – zone 2 will be about 70-80% of the realized maximum heart rate
  • We can do zone 2 training safely our entire lives
  • Measure heart rate
  • Unless you are a proficient runner, street running may kick you out of zone 2 too fast – try a treadmill so you can control speed and incline
  • Bikes are good for zone 2 because you can measure watts
  • Zone 2 needs to be consistent and not oscillate in speed or effort

Zone 5 Training

  • Most of Peter’s zone 5 is on a stair master – 4 rounds of 3 minutes at zone 2 + 1 minute at Vo2 max
  • Other ideas for zone 5: 4 minutes at 125% of functional threshold power + 4 minutes recovery
  • High intensity is critical for sustaining glycolytic capacity, especially as we age – but thankfully it can be improved in just a few months
  • Ways to incorporate high-intensity training: (1) add a 5th day of exercise dedicated to high intensity (in addition to your four-zone 2 days); (2) once per week add high-intensity bout after 60-90 minute zone 2 workout
  • Sample high-intensity protocol: 4-minute full effort, 4-minute recovery, 4-5 cycles

 VO2 Max

  • VO2 max is highly correlated with longevity
  • VO2 max: the size of your engine; it tells you how fast you can take oxygen from the air and into the lungs for use in metabolic processes you can use
  • VO2 max measures the limits of the aerobic system: there’s a point at which even though you’re working harder, you can’t get more oxygen in
  • VO2 max is measured in mL of oxygen per minute per kilogram of bodyweight
  • At every stage, there can be limitations if everything isn’t working correctly, down to the ability of muscles to extract the oxygen from the bloodstream to make use of (but presumable the lungs aren’t the limitation)


  • “Stability is the cornerstone upon which you do everything” – Dr. Peter Attia
  • Stability is the way we translate force from the body to the outside world, and vice versa – in the safest way possible
  • You don’t want force dissipating from your body
  • Instability is a root cause of a lot of injuries
  • Types of stability training: postural restoration, DNS, Pilates

Peter’s Current Weekly Exercise Routine

  • Tu/Th/Sat/Sun: Cardio days
    • Tu/Th/Sun – zone 2
    • Saturday – zone 2 then immediately into zone 5
  • Mon/Wed/Fri: Lifting days
    • Upper body/lower body split – upper body Wednesday, lower body Mon/Fri
  • Lift after cardio on days where both take place to accommodate changes in schedule
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