Health is based on three pillars: sleep, nutrition and fitness. I chat with some of the most interesting people I know to discover more about their Health Stacks: the behaviors and products they use to stay healthy and fit.
For many people, Covid-19 was the catalyst for a renewed focus on health and wellness, in all aspects of life. As vaccine distribution accelerates across the United States and a new normal crests the horizon, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Molly Maloof, MD, about how to build sustainable, holistic wellness practices that incorporate the body as well as the mind.
A Stanford lecturer, prolific startup consultant, and expert on biohacking, longevity, and futurism, Maloof is the person you go to when you have a question about cutting-edge, effective ways to lead a healthier, longer life. Read on to learn all about Maloof’s daily routines, the products she uses, and why she believes good sleep and a strong social network are integral for increasing longevity.
- Molly starts every day with an elixir of adaptogens, a blend of tea and mushrooms
- A big believer in knowing your metrics, she gets her labs done regularly and wears a continuous glucose monitor every other month.
- Molly views relationships as one of the most important determinants of health and longevity: ‘Your network is literally your net worth, and your net worth will determine your longevity.’
- Stem cells and regenerative medicine are trendy, but Molly believes lifestyle and environment are the biggest drivers of longevity.
- Molly has worked with over 45 startups on health and wellness products, including the Peter Thiel-funded MetaMed.
- One of her mantras: ‘If you don’t sleep well, you’re screwed.’
- Molly starts her day with a 30-minute period of lucid dreaming or meditation.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What does health mean to you?
There’s a discrepancy in the way people see health. There’s the World Health Organization’s definition, which is “health is the complete absence of disease or infirmary.” That’s not realistic. Everybody gets sick occasionally and that doesn’t mean you’re not healthy. I found this research in the Netherlands [from] this one woman who defined health as, “the ability to adapt and self-manage in the face of diversity.” That phrase has been stuck in my head ever since. It’s a really great reflection of what health really is about. It’s about not being perfect, it’s about getting hit with something hard and being able to bounce back. It’s about being able to not break down and fall completely apart when you get hit by a health threat.
What should regular people be focusing on when it comes to improving their health and increasing their longevity?
First and foremost, sleep, exercise and proper nutrition is really important. If you don’t sleep well, you’re screwed. If you don’t exercise, you don’t charge your batteries. If you don’t eat right you’re not going to have the right fuel to run the molecular mechanisms.
But stress is a big, big driver of disease and decay. I would argue that while everybody knows that sleep, movement, and metabolism are important, not enough people recognize the role of stress, specifically its constituent parts.
For example, there’s psychosocial stress from our relationships—our relationships literally determine the quality of our life. If people have poor relationships or poor social connections, they’re not going to live as long. Hands down, that’s just the truth. And that’s also largely because your ability to be resourced in the midst of chaos and disaster is likely dependent on your social networks and your ties. Your network is literally your net worth, and your net worth will determine your longevity.
There are also a lot of low-level stressors in the environment that people don’t recognize. Just the baseline levels of stress of being outside in noise pollution are going to drain your energy throughout the day. Feeling unsafe in any way is a huge drain of your energy—the generalized unsafety theory of stress basically describes how there are a bunch of different reasons why humans feel unsafe, and our brains won’t turn off the stress response system unless we are given signals that we are safe.
The more you can do to establish safety and security in your environment, the longer you’re going to live. Your body is designed for survival and reproduction. Your body’s main priority is, ‘I need to keep you alive and I need to make sure you reproduce.’ It doesn’t actually care about anything else.
There are all these people who are so obsessed with stem cells and regenerative medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s important, but the reality is your lifestyle and environment form the basis of your health.
What specific strategies do you incorporate into your routine to live a healthier, and hopefully longer, life?
I sleep a lot. I sleep way more than most people think I sleep, probably because I get so much done. I look at sleep as the ultimate biohack. If you’re going to biohack anything and your sleep sucks, start with that. I actually biohacked my sleep before I did anything else and it was game-changing.
I look at sleep as a space for productivity. A lot of people think of sleep as this thing that you have to do. And it’s like, no, when you go to sleep there’s all this work that’s being done inside your body. You’re literally removing the garbage in the cells in your brain, and you’re consolidating all of your memories.
I get a lot of REM sleep. I dream a ton, and I remember my dreams almost every single day, which is crazy. It’s taken a lot of practice. I look at my dreams as a window into my life. When my dreams are interesting and good, that means my life is interesting and good. If my dreams are scary and there’s fear involved, that means there’s something going on in my daytime that I need to address.
What time do you usually go to bed and what time do you wake up?
I go to bed at 9:30 pm or 10pm. I started doing early bedtimes this year after getting really burned out. I turn work off at 5pm or 6pm or so, and then I eat dinner and wind down. By the time 9:30pm or 10pm rolls around, I’m totally tired. I’m a big believer in circadian rhythm alignment, which means you need to align your body with light cycles. I try to get up in the morning around 6am or 6:30am. I’m sleeping about eight to nine hours right now on average and I feel really good.
What other behaviors do you practice regularly, and how do you keep yourself accountable?
I set health goals at the beginning of every year, and I check in on these goals every quarter. I set intentions every two weeks. For a lot of people, they adopt something and then they lose it because they’re not consistent. Consistency is pretty much the most important thing when it comes to any health change.
I’m also a huge believer in not eating sugar. Years ago I eliminated sugar from my diet. I eat a tiny bit here and there, but really breaking a sugar addiction is important because it’s so damaging to blood vessels. It sets you up for diabetes and heart disease.
Outside of that, I wear a continuous glucose monitor every other month or so. I used to wear it every day but I’ve stopped doing that because I think it’s important to use it as a test, implement changes, and then put it back on. It’s a really great reflection of your lifestyle and your overall nutrition
I’m a big believer in knowing your metrics. I get my labs done pretty regularly. I’m getting my labs done for the third time this year because I’ve noticed that given the amount of stress I’ve been under, my labs have changed a bit this year. And so keeping tabs on your biomarkers is really important.
What physical products can you recommend for improving one’s health?
Let’s start with the cheaper ones: Acupressure mats are awesome. They’re a cheap way to reduce stress.
I also really like this thing called the Apollo Neuro, which uses vibration to basically send signals to your body that you’re safe. It enables your body to get into this relaxed state. I use it during meetings and calls. I’m actually going to go find it and put it on today because I’ve got back-to-back calls until 7pm.
I love infrared heat in all the ways you can get it, whether that’s just sunlight on a beach, an infrared mat, or an infrared sauna. I love a sauna and cold plunge. A cheap way to do the hot-and-cold cycle is to take cold showers and hot baths. I love doing that in the winter.
I’m a big believer in continuously monitoring stress, sleep, and blood sugar. I love this device called Leaf Therapeutics for people who suffer from anxiety and need in-the-moment stress response reminders to improve their breath rate.
If you had a magic stick and could build any product, what would you build?
I want a blood sugar monitor that’s a stress monitor and an accelerometer so I can monitor my sleep, my heart rate variability, and my glucose. I want it implanted in my arm and I don’t want to have to replace it.
I want to know my sleep time. I want to know my exercise time and my amount of movement. I want to know my stress [levels], and then I want to know my blood sugar. I want it all in real-time, and I want it all the time. Somebody please make that and put it in my arm!
Can you walk me through your daily routine?
The first thing I do when I wake up is take supplements you can’t take with food. And then I’ll go back to bed, set an alarm for 30 minutes, and use that time for either lucid dreaming or meditation.
After I wake up, I make some sort of elixir. I’m actually weaning off coffee right now. There’s no such thing as coffee addiction, but there is coffee dependence and I’ve been dependent on coffee since the 6th grade. I’m weaning myself off of coffee and weaning onto this stuff called MUD/WTR, a product made of adaptogens, [which are a blend] of tea and mushrooms. I’m shifting away from a hyper-caffeinated lifestyle into a more natural, energy-driven lifestyle. So there’s some sort of warm liquid in the morning; in the past, tea or coffee and now, elixirs.
I usually don’t eat until I feel hungry. Today that was at 10:30am. Some days it’s earlier, some days it’s later. I like to listen to what my body wants. My eating schedule is determined by my stress levels and goals for my health. I used to do a lot of fasting, but with COVID it became really difficult to do that because I was under so much stress. I will probably pick up a little bit more intermittent fasting soon, but I usually don’t go more than 14 to 16 hours without food, max.
I’ve done longer fasts, though, and I’ve found them really useful for optimizing my fasting blood sugar. But right now I’m doing regular mealtimes. I’ll do a small amount of food in the morning, a late lunch, and then an early dinner.
Every day is a little bit different. Some days are deep work days where I do a bunch of research and development and some days are constant calls, podcasts, and media. I’m usually done around 5pm or 6pm.
What keeps you up at night?
To be honest with you, I’m not usually up at night. Ideally, nothing should be keeping you up at night, and if something is, you need to address your entire daytime stress sources. Right before you fall asleep, your body is processing what happened during the day. If you have a bunch of unresolved emotional stuff— fights with your coworkers, or your partner, or just things you’re afraid of—you have to address those fears during the day.
What’s something the last year has taught you?
It’s funny, I’ve been a nomad for the last year and there was this point where I was like, I need to find a permanent home, I should definitely settle down somewhere. And then I realized, you know what? There are going to be years where you just go with the flow, and there are going to be years where you put down roots. I think I’ve started to just let go of a lot of unnecessary rumination and just let myself be more present.