Chris Hemsworth on Limitless, longevity, and happiness | The Drive with Peter Attia (#234) 

Key Takeaways

  • Swimming in the Arctic Ocean was one of the most painful things Chris Hemsworth had done
    • The biggest challenge was putting his head under the water (he had no earplugs)
    • Despite being one of the most brutal experiences ever, the endorphin kick and the thrill that he felt afterward were the best
    • Peter believes it’s not just accomplishing the feat; it’s the temporal juxtaposition of being so low and so high
  • Arriving at the Blue Mountains (strength challenge), he realized the rope was longer than anything he had ever climbed before
    • It became less about training and more about grit and will. The quad burns were the most intense, more so than the arms
    • When he got up, he couldn’t extend his fingers; his hands were like claws
  • Peter notes that Chris has a very favorable gene around fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Chris has a very rare combination, two copies of APOE-ε4 (a set from mom and a set from dad)
    • He has an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (around 8 to 10 times higher than that of someone in the general population)
    • It’s a gene that increases risk, but it’s not a deterministic gene
  • Peter believes that having the gene is a blessing; it’s going to motivate Chris to take steps today that most people of his age would never think about
    • Peter wishes every single person should know their APOE genotype early in life
  • Just as exercise is known to help with cardiovascular disease, Peter thinks the sauna has a number of those benefits as well
  • Chris used to get very intense performance anxiety when he was first acting
    • Elite athletes are often so focused on their behavior that they interpret arousal as excitement rather than anxiety
    • The physical response is the same (elevated heart pulse, clammy hands, short breath, etc.)
    • He programmed himself to think about it positively; it was a decision
    • Instead of fearing it, he re-interpreted the arousal as a state of high awareness (faster reactions, sharper vision, etc.)

Intro

  • Chris Hemsworth (@chrishemsworth) joins Peter to discuss his work in docuseries Limitless, where he pushes himself to physical/emotional limits to learn about longevity
    • In this episode, Chris and Peter discuss the science of longevity and the challenges faced in the docuseries Limitless. They explain Chris’ APOE-ε4 genotype and how his outlook on health, happiness, and work-life balance has changed as a result
  • Host: Dr. Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD)

Limitless: How Chris Got Involved and His Overall Experience Filming the Docuseries

  • Darren Aronofsky proposed a docuseries called Limitless on longevity three years ago
    • He wanted to put Chris in extreme physical and emotional situations to see how he would fare
  • They had to extend the timeline of the shoot due to the COVID pandemic
    • This allowed for greater exploration of the science and growth for Chris
  • Chris was nervous about hosting the Limitless series as it was his first time hosting something where he was himself
    • He had doubts and questions about how he was going to come across and if it would be appreciated or not
    • To be authentic, Chris had to learn to be vulnerable
  • The docuseries evolved, and the challenges became bigger
    • E.g., the team discussed cold water immersion and doing ice baths, but they eventually decided to go to Norway and swim in the Arctic Ocean
  • Peter Attia’s involvement in the project began three years ago with the idea of six episodes
    • He was part of a core group from Nutopia and Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Pictures

Fasting for 4 Days

  • “Fasting” was the 1st episode of Limitless that they filmed
  • Chris had never fasted before and expected to enter ketosis on days 2-3
    • Peter Attia suggested three days for the fast, but they decided to do one more
  • Chris experienced increased alertness and strength on the fourth day of the fast when they went spearfishing
    • At that moment, Peter realized how strong Chris was because he didn’t have much time to prepare for the exercise 
    • Also, the circumstances could have been better; they worked out every day, learning a new skill of breath holding and spearfishing, etc.
  • Chris was worried that he was not going to be successful; if he didn’t complete the challenge, they would have no episode (fear as a motivator)

Chris Swims in the Arctic Ocean

  • Once again, Chris was underprepared for the challenges of cold water immersion (2nd episode called “Shock”)
  • The first time they jumped into the ocean was four and a half minutes (longer than any ice bath he had)
  • To jump into the sea when it’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit is a different experience than sitting in an ice bath at home
    • It was windy, and snow was falling
    • A lot of it was trusting Ross Edgley and listening to his voice; without his coaching, it would be near impossible for Chris to make it
  • What does it feel like to swim in the Arctic Ocean?
    • It feels like you are in boiling water
    • It starts to take your breath away
    • It was one of the most painful things Chris had done
    • The biggest challenge was putting his head under the water (he had no earplugs)
  • After the initial surge of adrenaline and confidence, he felt the most extreme headache
    • He started getting really dizzy and wanted to throw up
    • His arms and legs were like lead balloons; nothing works
    • He couldn’t keep his fingers together; he couldn’t thread the water
  • The feeling afterward was extraordinary, and he will remember it for a long time
    • Despite being one of the most brutal experiences ever, the endorphin kick and the thrill that he felt afterward were the best
    • Most serene, peaceful state, in awe of everything
    • Wonderful sense of calm and overwhelming joy
    • It comes any time you achieve something that you think is impossible or you overcome some great challenge in the face of diversity
  • Peter believes it’s not just accomplishing the feat; it’s the temporal juxtaposition of being so low and so high
    • For example, when we are on a plane, we only feel acceleration, not speed
    • According to Peter, we are only wired to feel a rate of change
    • 4 minutes later, Chris thought he was going to die; the upper part of his brain knew he wouldn’t, but the reptilian part believed it
    • How common is it that we find a situation where in 4 minutes, we go from our absolute lowest to our absolute highest?
    • That’s the “juice,” according to Peter
  • The same could be said of emotions too
    • If we are constantly in bliss, can we really feel profound joy?
  • Undoubtedly, there is also a physiological explanation for what Chris experienced
    • Brain chemistry is flooded with neurotransmitters and endorphins that are very positive
    • Check out these Podcast Notes from Huberman Lab Podcast for more information on the health benefits of deliberate cold exposure

Dangling From a Rope High Above a Canyon

  • In the episode “Strength”, the team explores how muscle can improve longevity
  • There are more than 600 muscles in the human body, and for longevity, you’ve got to make good use of as many as possible
    • When Peter assessed Chris’s muscular power and efficiency, flexibility, and agility, he found he could be working a wider range of those muscles
  • Initially, Chris was supposed to be pulling a car across a section of the land, but it was hard on his joints
    • Afterward, they transitioned to the rope climb, and it was more on point as far as the science around strength and longevity
    • For rope climbing, you want to be strong, but you don’t want to be heavy; the heavier you are, the harder it is to is going to be to get up that rope
    • While preparing for the challenge, Chris stopped lifting weights and reduced his calories
  • Arriving at the Blue Mountains, he realized the rope was longer than anything he had ever climbed before
    • It became less about training and more about grit and will
    • The quad burns were the most intense, more so than the arms
    • When he got up, he couldn’t extend his fingers; his hands were like claws
  • The benefits of the challenge
    • His training is more specific now; being smart about the training, he has a much more targeted approach
  • Training with Ross: he has exciting, intense ways to work out
    • Everything is about explosive energy, firing up your sympathetic nervous system & slow negatives afterward
    • Chris got far more gains this way than he got ever before
  • Peter notes that Chris has a very favorable gene around fast-twitch muscle fibers
    • He has a genetic predisposition to be muscular, strong, and explosive
    • As we get older, these slow twitch muscle fibers are shrinking in everybody, and that’s why people are losing strength, power, and explosiveness most rapidly as they age
    • Much more than they are losing endurance (slow twitch fibers)
    • It’s only via lifting heavy weights that you can get those fast twitch type 2 muscle fibers firing

The APOE-ε4 Genotype and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk

  • They did every blood test one can get on Chris
    • Chris’ blood test was not something that Peter wanted to tell him about in front of the camera
    • Overall, his results were fantastic, but they found a couple of things that are a cause for concern
  • Chris has a very rare combination, two copies of APOE-ε4 (a set from mom and a set from dad)
    • He has an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (around 8 to 10 times higher than that of someone in the general population)
    • It’s a very rare genotype (only about 1 % of the population)
    • It’s a gene that increases risk, but it’s not a deterministic gene
    • The earlier you know this, the more you can do to mitigate risk
  • Peter believes that having the gene is a blessing; it’s going to motivate Chris to take steps today that most people of his age would never think about
    • “It was just a good sort of kick in the ass, and a reminder to do what I can, whatever’s within my control and within my power to give myself the best fighting chance.”Chris Hemsworth
    • They turned it into a positive
  • Why did he decide to talk about it on the show?
    • It’s a missed opportunity to motivate others to do the same if he doesn’t talk about it
    • To make people go and get checked
    • To understand more about brain health and see what they have within their power to make a change
    • Peter wishes every single person should know their APOE genotype early in life

How Chris Uses Sauna

  • Just as exercise is known to help with cardiovascular disease, Peter thinks the sauna has a number of those benefits as well
  • Our body is trying to cool us off by pumping harder so that our heart can quickly get the blood to the outside of our body
  • Sauna benefits haven’t been proven yet because so much of the data is observational, but it’s so overwhelmingly positive in the same direction with every single study
  • It’s become a more significant part of Chris’ daily routine
  • He feels great after doing it, same with an ice bath
  • Sauna helped with his back issues; every time he does it, he feels 50-60% better

Experiencing Old Age

  • “Acceptance” was the 6th episode of Limitless, in which Chris explores the meaning of life by contemplating death
    • Chris wore an aging suit for three days in a retirement village
    • They were manipulating everything in that space to make him think about his death
  • He realized he needed to be more present in his life and stop running from one thing to the other
  • The real shock and the adjustment of this episode was going from an environment of extreme physical challenge into a different kind of emotional state; completely open, vulnerable, accessible
  • Interacting with people who were at the end of their days or who had come close to death
  • The whole experience shook him to his core and made him want to slow down and spend time with his family to soak it all up

Chris’s New Perspective on Work-Life Balance

  • Chris didn’t have more than two months off in about ten years
  • Chasing down your dream comes with a sense of guilt
  • Hearing his daughter say that his playing Thor makes a lot of people happy was a fantastic moment
  • He doesn’t want to retire, but he wants to replenish and spend time at home to get re-inspired

Learning About the Impact of Stress and How to Manage It

  • When Chris and Peter first met, Chris was struggling with his sleep routine
    • He had a restless mind; he would wake up in the middle of the night and fixate on thoughts
  • Early in his career, he was in a constant fight-or-flight state
    • Leaving Australia with no money, sleeping on people’s couches, being told “no” a million times, etc.
    • To obsessively push forward despite all that requires a massive amount of self-motivated drive
    • The problem is, once you achieve those things, your body still has the perception of threat which activates the sympathetic nervous system
  • The more comfortable Chris gets, the more he has to convince himself that everything is ok now and that there is no need to worry so much
    • Some of that disappears, but some of it is there all time 
    • That’s what he needed to succeed and may need again in future
    • It’s hard to switch off; it’s both a blessing and a curse

Chris Reflects on His Intrinsic Motivation Driven by Both Fear and Purpose  

  • He used to get very intense performance anxiety when he was first acting
    • The anxiety was debilitating; he’d be shaking, couldn’t think or see, and he felt like he was going to pass out 
    • He was fighting performance anxiety for years
  • It’s very common with many people in an adrenaline-fueled space (athletes, musicians, actors, etc.)
    • Elite athletes are often so focused on their behavior that they interpret arousal as excitement rather than anxiety
    • The physical response is the same (elevated heart pulse, clammy hands, short breath, etc.)
    • The only difference was how they labeled that feeling 
  • For Chris, that was a real light bulb moment
    • He programmed himself to think about it positively; it was a decision
    • Instead of fearing it, he re-interpreted the arousal as a state of high awareness (faster reactions, sharper vision, etc.)
  • However, fear has its purpose. It’s a good motivator
    • Fear pushes you; your purpose pulls you. Both of them are equally important
    • It’s all about balance
    • Fear also allowed him to have a more self-deprecating sense of humor about himself and kept him humble
Drive with Dr. Peter Attia : , , , , , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks