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Another 50 years: Do the plank

Peter Allison and Peter Bowes


Peter Allison and Peter Bowes – school friends in North East England 50 years ago – return with another conversation about the latest science that could help us achieve a longer healthspan.

In this episode

  • A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that wall squats and planks are best at lowering blood pressure, with isometric exercises providing greater benefits than aerobic exercise.
  • Walking just 3867 steps a day could reduce the risk of dying from any cause, according to research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
  • A study suggests that a 10-minute MRI scan could be better at screening for prostate cancer than the traditional PSA test.
  • A nematode worm survived 46,000 years in permafrost but could it also mean melting permafrost may also release potentially harmful organisms and viruses.


Earlier conversations between Peter A. and Peter B.

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TRANSCRIPT – This conversation was recorded on August 24, 2023 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.

Peter Allison: This almost sounds like the opening lines of a science fiction movie. And I think the issue isn’t so much that these particular nematodes came up. The broader issue is that there’s an awful lot of stuff frozen in permafrost.

Peter Bowes: Hello again. Welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes in Los Angeles. Peter Allison is in Reading in the south of England. We went to school together in the 1970s. We’ve led different lives, but we have a common goal now in our 60s of pursuing as long a healthspan as possible. In this podcast, we review the latest science that could help us in that mission. Today topics as varied as the best exercises to lower blood pressure. The power of walking to live longer. MRI scans for prostate cancer and those little worms that survived 46,000 years in permafrost. Could we. Maybe? One year? Peter, you’re a geologist. We’ll get to that topic in a second. Good to talk to you again. You’ve been doing some diving, haven’t you, since we last spoke. How did it go?

Peter Allison: It went really well. We dived around the Isle of Man, and then I, my wife and I had a trip to the north west of Scotland. And then I went back for a second, helping on my own with another scuba buddy. And we went and dived some very isolated sites with cold. Well, not very cold, but blue water, good visibility teeming with life, fast currents, just great diving, great British diving.

Peter Bowes: Sounds excellent. And how is how is the body holding up to all of this exercise?

Peter Allison: So there’s lots of interesting exercise. So when we’re on the boat, we were on a converted trawler and we’re living aboard the boat. So if you’re moving around, this is a converted trawler, it’s moving through swells and there’s this constant and I don’t know this, but I just feel that there is this constant core exercise that you get because as the boat’s pitching, your body is stiffening and moving in different directions to try and counteract the movement because the movement is constant. So I suspect that that’s probably a very good core exercise. And then it’s moving my dive kit around, which is pretty heavy. So when I stand up with my dive kit, I’ve probably got. But I know 60 kilos of stuff that I’ve got to walk around about, so I’m okay with that. And but I mentioned to you an email that I was hoping to get back to going to the gym, and I don’t know if you can identify this or suspect identify with this. I suspect you can. You know, you sitting there thinking, I’ve got to get back to the gym. I’ve got to start doing that exercise. Oh, but I should also be doing something else, like tidying up or doing something else. Well, anyway, I was going to go to the gym today and because I live in Reading and it’s the Reading Musical Festival this weekend, my gym is closed because it’s part it’s very, very close to the venue for the musical thing. So in part I was sitting there thinking, Oh. You know, it’s a pity. But there’s also this little part of me think, Oh, that’s a cast iron excuse.

Peter Bowes: That thought just whizzed through my mind. Peter Yes

Peter Allison: Yes! And it was a cast iron excuse because the gym was closed, but I thought so I am putting myself as a hostage now to say I must get back into the schedule by the next time we speak.

Peter Bowes: Well, maybe. Peter, here’s some inspiration. Let’s talk about the first paper we’re going to look at today. Interesting headline That wall squats and planks are the best at lowering blood pressure. This is a paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and it reveals that in the gym, indeed, we don’t need to be in the gym. You can do these kinds of exercises anywhere, but they are supposedly the best and they’re quite simple exercises to do. This is a study involving 16,000 people. They found that all exercise lowers high blood pressure, but wall squats and the plank led to larger falls than aerobic exercise, in large part because isometric exercises place a very different stress on the body to aerobic exercise.

Peter Allison: I think it’s interesting. I mean, so they talk in terms of doing a plank. It’s a two minute plank and the wall exercise is two minutes. So two minute planks. I think most people could do a one minute plank. Two minute plank probably requires a bit of practice.

Peter Bowes: It’s quite challenging.

Peter Allison: It’s not an exercise I do very often. I can do press ups, a limited number of press ups. So anyway, so it’s two minutes. My take home from this is it’s great. It shows that you can get you don’t have to do an awful lot of exercise to get positive benefits. So that’s great. It also shows that the differences between some of these different exercises in terms of the blood pressure variation, I mean, they’re all good, but one of them is is slightly better than the others because the benefits that you get are the good benefits, but they’re not massive benefits. They’re not reducing somebody’s blood pressure from a you know, from very, very high levels down to down to normal healthy levels. They are one feature that’s beneficial amongst a whole suite of things that you have to be able to do to try and manage your health as you get older. I think that’s what I took from it.

Peter Bowes: I agree with you and I think it’s interesting. I do do planks quite frequently, and the reason I like them is that they are quite challenging, as you say, in two minutes is is pushing it. And I would encourage anyone. Well, the first thing I would say is before you start any exercise that’s different to what you’re doing already, you need to speak to your doctor just to make sure that it’s good for you. That’s always the best advice. Just don’t leap into something that you’ve heard about on a podcast, but if you are doing planks, start slowly. Start 15 seconds 30s move up to a minute. But I find them. I like them because they’re actually once you get into the rhythm, they’re quite easy to do. You just flop down on the ground, on your arms. You just stay there and the benefit. Oh, well, clearly the benefit from this study is quite significant. But I like to intermingle what I see as the easier exercises to do. And I don’t mean easy in terms of exertion because you got to be good to do this, but intersperse them with the push ups, with the squats, some of the more challenging exercises that sometimes I think I just want to get this over with with a plank. there’s a point you get to that you quite enjoy it.

Peter Allison: I’ve never got to that point with a plank yet. I should. I need to try. So I’ve been going to the gym for a bit and I’ve improved my upper body strength quite considerably. I think some of my core strength I really need to improve. And I think for in terms of the weight of some of the stuff I’ve put on to go diving, I think that’s probably pretty important. Apart from anything else. It’s just to prevent sort of the sort of trivial injuries where you put a foot wrong and all of a sudden you pull a muscle and you limping about. It’s to try and protect me against that sort of thing, really. So I really think so this resonated with me because I just thought I do really need to improve my core strength. And I think this speaks to some of these exercises. Speak to that as well. So I thought that was good. We’re both in agreement that we got to try and do a sort of a diverse, a diverse series of exercises to try and do as much as possible.

Peter Bowes: Yeah. And in a similar vein, another study, the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, suggests and this was a surprise to me, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise because I think the when people talk about walking, the number of 10,000 steps a day is often quoted. That is, quite frankly, just an arbitrary number. But this study suggests that fewer than 5000 steps can begin to show positive results. Walking at least, he’s a very specific number 3867 steps a day started to reduce the risk of dying from any cause. 2337 steps a day. Not that we ever count that precisely when we’re walking, but that number of steps reduced the risk of dying from diseases of the heart and blood vessels. And again, I think it’s just positive to report this kind of study, just to show that the power of walking. I know you do a lot of walking. I do tremendous amount of walking. And we’d probably put it as number one of all of the things that I do.

Peter Allison: Yeah, well, I’m just looking I’ve just pulled up this graphic on the screen, which is associated with the paper, and it’s essentially going, you’ve got four exercise for four numbers of steps with a straight line in between in between them looking at the reduction in mortality going from 3867, right up to 11,529. With on those four points, there’s no sign of a plateau on the data. It’s just the reduction in mortality is just going as a straight line between those points, which implies if you do a little bit more, even even better. And I think I think one of the things this really speaks to me is. Well, it’s walking is just a great exercise, isn’t it, really? And it’s it’s a natural exercise. It’s the it’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been doing as a species. It’s what we’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years. So we, we are we well capable of that. And so I like that. I mean, it reminds me a little bit about some of the things that my father used to do, and he used to describe his father and grandfather when they were going to work. If they’re going to work, their workplace was four miles away or five miles away. They’d just get up and walk there. And that’s now. How often do things change?

Peter Bowes: Yeah, I’m with you. I mean, I walk to the gym. I’ve got to drive to my gym. It’s several miles away, but I park half a mile away. And so there’s a decent amount of steps before I even get there. It’s a nice warm up and then you’ve got to walk all the way back again. I think if you can just work into your lifestyle, your daily lifestyle, these little extra walks and one little bit of the statistics, it’s really struck me the risk of dying from any cause or from cardiovascular disease decreases significantly. With every 500 to 1000 extra steps you walk. That’s not many steps to make a significant difference.

Peter Allison: Yeah, well, we’ve just become so as a society, it’s just so easy not to walk, right? So some years back I was in, I was in the States, I was in upstate, I was in Rochester in upstate New York, and I was visiting a colleague. Rather than stay at his house, he’d arranged for me to stay at one of his friend’s house, and I was introduced to this friend. When I’m jet lagged and I’m tired, he tells me, you know, mi casa su casa, you know, make yourself at home. Very, very nice gentleman, George. He was introduced to me while I was jet lagged. I went to bed. He said, Right, I’ll be gone at work. I’ll be gone to work. You’re the only one in the house. Here’s the key. Anyway, I got up. There was one of these aluminum mobile home breakfast places, you know, one of these great American icons that wasn’t too far away. And I thought I could remember the walk there. So I walked there, had a great big, massively calorific breakfast, walked back, and as I walked back, I was stopped by the police and the American police car pulled up and said, Excuse me, sir, what are you doing? I said, I’m you know, I’m just going here and I’m staying at that house. What’s the name of the person whose house you’re staying in? And I just had a blank and I just thought, Well, I remember. Really? Where have you been? I’ve just been to this place for breakfast. That’s a long way away. That’s over a mile and a half. Well, I’m just walking. And then he said, People don’t walk around here. It’s been. You’ve been reported as being suspicious, so. Wow.

Peter Bowes: That doesn’t surprise me. Tragically and sadly, that kind of experience I’ve had as well. Not exactly like that, but I’ve been in strange neighborhoods where you do feel as if people are the curtains are flickering, that they’re looking at you because you’re walking and no one else is. And there are many neighborhoods just around where I live. They don’t have payments. They have homes on both sides and a road. But there’s actually no pavement because no one walks. And it’s just a regular suburban neighborhood. It’s just not made for walking, which I think is is clearly a huge mistake. And but it just goes, doesn’t it, to the psyche about walking not only as a form of exercise, but the necessity to walk for anything.

Peter Allison: I think it does something about the way you treat other people or the way you think about other people as well. I think because if you just live in your house and if you go to a car or you go to these little enclosed environments, I wonder whether or not it makes you feel more suspicious about people. And if you are out and about and you’re walking, you can I’m sure you can remember going for a walk when you were young in the north east. You might be going for a walk out in the country somewhere and every time you saw somebody, they would just say hello. Yeah, nowadays, you know, depending on where you are, if you somebody says hello, you’re treated with suspicion or they treated with suspicion.

Peter Bowes: You’re right. Although I’ve got to say, last time I was back home in Darlington in County Durham, I continued my walking. I do it every morning from my mum’s house. And I was actually struck by the number of people who did say good morning. I actually found it quite uplifting compared with when I walk here in in the Los Angeles area of California, where I actually feel that fewer people make eye contact and want to people have their earbuds in and they’re focused on what they’re doing. And I was actually struck in a very positive way. And I found it quite uplifting that, you know, friendly northeast of England, that it still produced that kind of reaction, which is quite nice. Just going back to the study, one line of information that came out from it that I thought was interesting, they’re saying that the authors are saying that further studies are still required to see whether these kinds of benefits that we’re talking about exist for more intensive types of of walking or indeed running, such as marathon running and. Triathlons that the jury is still out in terms of whether they are positive or perhaps even negative for us. And I’ve always found that with my marathon running and triathlon running, that I was I wasn’t convinced that it was the best thing I could be doing for my health. It was great for my the competitive nature of what I do and maybe the social nature of what I’m doing in terms of exercise. But I was never convinced that it was better than just an hour long walk in the morning.

Peter Allison: Well, yes. I’m just immediately struck by the fact that the word marathon comes from this runner who was running in Greece. Right. And to warn of the and he managed to run this immense distance to warn people of the approaching enemy. And then apparently he just collapsed and died because of the intense run that he’d just done. So. So even the origin of the word marathon.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that said, I’m still a big fan of marathons and triathlons. I think the you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to make sure you’re in good shape to approach it. And the number of casualties are absolutely minuscule in terms of the number of people that are involved in these competitive large scale sports. So I think they’re good and they make you feel fantastic when you’ve actually finished.

Peter Allison: Well, because I’m 62 and I’m now start thinking about things that I’d like to do, I’m actually thinking about trying to run a marathon myself, but I haven’t decided whether or not to do that yet. But I it’s something that I just think I’d like to do it just to say I’ve done it.

Peter Bowes: You slipped that in, Peter. You slipped that in there. It’s almost like you’re committing to do it in my eyes.

Peter Allison: Yes, it is, isn’t it? It is, isn’t it? But I’m right. Yes, it is. Yes, I did slip it in there. And it is it is a sort of a commitment, isn’t it? Once I say it on on the air and it’s recorded.

Peter Bowes: Yes. Good luck. We’ll follow with interest.

Peter Allison: On a little side tangent if you if you’ve got the time for this, have you come across the concept of immersion pulmonary edema?

Peter Bowes: It’s kind of familiar, but tell me.

Peter Allison: So it’s essentially what happens for certain. It’s when the your blood, your body fluids starts rather than gas coming from your lungs into your body fluids. You start having body fluids coming into your lungs. So it’s very, very bad because it impacts upon your ability to respire and all the rest of it. It’s an issue for scuba divers and it’s something that’s very big in the scuba diving medical literature at the moment. But most of the documented evidence of it is associated with people doing these iron Ironman challenges. Who and one of the risk factors is overhydration and blood pressure issues as well. But overhydration is one of the risk factors and it’s associated bizarrely, it’s one of these things that’s associated. It has been documented in people who are auditioning for special forces who are doing these ridiculous well, I shouldn’t say ridiculous, but these, you know, very, very intense levels of exercise.

Peter Bowes: You’re listening to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. Peter Allison is with me. And we’re talking about this week’s new longevity science. Let’s move on to this next study which came out just a few days ago, which again, is really interesting to me because you and I talk a lot about exercise and the importance of exercise. When I look at my longevity and the pursuit of a long healthspan, it really is combining all the tools in the box, and that includes the latest medical evidence and the latest medical interventions that we can apply to ourselves, as well as the simpler things that involve doing more exercise and eating a better diet. But in terms of medicine, one of the biggest killers of men is prostate cancer. And this interesting study that shows that a simply a ten minute MRI scan could be better at screening for prostate cancer than the traditional PSA test. And I know there’s a lot of there are a lot of questions regarding the PSA test, which and it does vary according to country, how routinely that test is used. I think it’s perhaps more routinely used here in the States than it is in the UK at the moment. But this simple MRI, from what I read and this is a study from the BMJ Oncology Journal, it seems to be very promising.

Peter Allison: It does seem to be promising. And I and I guess if we go back in time, I don’t know how many years you go back in time. The PSA test was very cheap. It still is very cheap and the MRI scan was very expensive and MRI scans are now just not as expensive as they used to be. And I was the I know that in the the British hospital system, we’ve obviously got MRI machines in the in the major hospitals. But the satellite, smaller hospitals have their own little MRI machines which are which seem to be like semi portable. And I’ve just transferred by a small vehicle and they just go there. So for people who might have difficulty getting to the big hospital, they go to this little small hospital that’s a satellite hospital and the MRI scanner comes to them. I mean, and so I think the availability of the technology has meant that the MRI scan is better at doing this. And now MRI scans are so much cheaper to do and so much more available that that’s why this now becomes this screening process of using the PSA is perhaps less valuable because the MRI scans are more available and they’re relatively cheap now. I suppose that’s that’s the underlying story.

Peter Bowes: I think this was a study involving men in London aged between 50 and 75. So we’re right in the middle of that age group. More than half of the men whose cancer was picked up on MRI had low PSA scores of scores of below three nanograms per milliliter, which is considered normal. So they would have been those people would have been with those results would have been falsely reassured that they were free from the disease, which is quite significant.

Peter Allison: Well, yeah, because I think prior to this, the sort of like the my word of mouth discussions with other people about PSA was I was aware of the overdiagnosis issues. So I was. And so overdiagnosis in a screening to screening tool is more acceptable, isn’t it? If there’s an overdiagnosis in a screening tool and then you go for the subsequent analysis and then you get screened out, that seems like an acceptable process because that’s what a screening tool is supposed to be. But if a screening tool says you’re okay when you’re not, well, that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it?

Peter Bowes: Exactly. I guess overdiagnosis is probably more acceptable on the part of the the patient than it is the institution that is overdiagnosing because of the, let’s say, the fiscal and financial consequences of that of pursuing it and and following it up. So yeah, it’s interesting. I think it’s positive and maybe it’s just worth saying and I’ve had a lot of prostate cancer screening. There is prostate cancer in my family. I would encourage every man to go ahead and get whatever screening is available wherever you live in the world. And I know it does vary around the world, but even if it is PSA that is still the the gold standard in your particular area, I think it’s probably still worth having it. And let’s hope that these MRIs come online soon, although I did see that it may be up to ten years that further studies are required, but it could be quite a while before this becomes the standard. Let’s move on to those little worms. This is one I’m really looking forward to talking to you about, Professor Peter, the geologist who probably understands these things a little bit better than I do, how they could possibly happen. But a worm, a nematode, a worm survived 46,000 years. Is that your grandchildren? I can hear in the background.

Peter Allison: It is. Would you like me to go and ask them to be quiet a little bit?

Peter Bowes: Let’s keep going. Okay. It’s nice to hear kids in the background. Yeah, it is.

Peter Allison: So. And she’s happy, so that’s great.

Peter Bowes: Well, that’s good. So nematode worms, one worm that survived 46,000 years in permafrost, essentially, I was going to say brought back to life, but I guess it never died. It was just the increase in temperature revived it and it actually managed to produce offspring before then dying a few days later. And the lifespan of these nematode worms is is short anyway. But it’s just the scale of this thing, isn’t it? 46,000 years. That is so astonishing.

Peter Allison: I mean, this almost sounds like the opening lines of a science fiction movie, doesn’t it? Really? You know, it’s really interesting. But I think there’s a sort of like a broader, genuine concern here. And I think the issue isn’t so much that these particular nematodes came up. I mean, the broader issue is that there’s an awful lot of stuff which is frozen in permafrost. And as we have global warming, that permafrost is starting to disappear. So whatever’s in the permafrost becomes released. So more broad. And and so for me, this story is actually just flagging up this broader risk. And there’s a whole suite of I mean, so there is there geochemical risks because we got these things called methane hydrates, which are in permafrost. And if they are defrosted, then they get in the atmosphere and that’s a potent global warming gas if the methane gets in there. So that’s a concern. But on a more biological risk, then there is there have been a suite of papers which have been published in the last few years, people who’ve extracted viruses from permafrost, live viruses. So there’s a virus which can infect amoebas, and this virus was extracted from permafrost. And lo and behold, it was in fact, still infecting amoebas today. So it was viable and was doing the same thing as it was doing X thousand years ago. More. There is studies which have been people have extracted genetic material from the 1918 flu pandemic associated with burials in permafrost. So then the worry is when the permafrost melts, is there any risk of previous the bugs from previous pandemics getting out? So is that a risk? There was a study done in of anthrax. So there was an anthrax incident, I think, in Russia in about 2016, and that was associated with a lot of deer dying and a number of people being infected. And that was thought to be from melting permafrost. So there’s the interesting stuff about the about longevity and about this bug being able to survive in the permafrost. But the broader risk for me is that there’s a whole bunch of stuff in there that is will have been adapted and been held in check by an environment that is tens of thousands for the environment tens of thousands of years ago. And people might not have the immunity that was around that that was there then. So I think that’s a bit more of a that’s a bit more of a concern, I think.

Peter Bowes: Yeah, it is interesting. And they are now studying the descendants of this worm. It did reproduce. So they are. So there’ll be more questions, there’ll be more answers hopefully to to glean from this one little tiny worm. I know the longevity community got quite excited on hearing this story because nematode worms are used a different type of nematode. This was this was new, but a different type, so related.. Are used extensively in laboratories in terms of longevity research, in large part because of the short lifespan, just in the same way as fruit flies. And mice are very good models in the laboratory because the entire lifespan is short and therefore you can get results. But the very fact that nematodes are perhaps the first creature that are used in that chain of events or chain of study for whatever particular issue. So I’m just and I think we can probably discount this, but as to whether there are there’s anything in this that we can correlate with human longevity or the possibility and there are some people that believe that if we freeze our brains now, we could one day in centuries time be brought back to life that ourselves our I don’t know whether how you describe it, whether it would be the same person, whether it would be just the beginning of life for a new being, if we could be brought back to life. Does this finding with this one single nematode tell us anything, do you think?

Peter Allison: I think the jump from nematodes to humans, I think is a big jump in terms of cellular complexity.

Peter Bowes: Right.

Peter Allison: So I kn`ow that there are microscopic organisms which are adapted to living in cold environments, also have some of them have antifreeze. So there are algae or bacteria, green algae that have bacteria present within their within their cell, within their cellular material to prevent their cells from being damaged by the formation of ice during freezing. And I don’t know about the nematodes. I mean, we’ve all frozen stuff in the freezer, right? And we’ve seen how badly damaged the meat’s been when we’ve got it out. If we haven’t done it right. I think in terms of human beings being frozen, I would say I think that’s a long, long, long, long way to go. I suspect my concern more I would think that my concerns are bigger risk than that.

Peter Bowes: I think I am on the same page with you there. I think it’s far better. It’s fascinating. It’s interesting. But I think focusing on the here and now and coming full circle, focusing on healthspan is probably the best thing we can do. Peter, it’s always good to talk to you. Thank you so much.

Peter Allison: Take care.

Peter Bowes: And Peter and I will return with another conversation about the longevity science that piques our interest very soon. If you see something you think is worth discussing or sharing, please let us know. Or if you just want to comment on the topics that we raise, do drop me a line or send a voice memo. My email is You can also get in touch through our website L-L-A_M_A podcast dot com. This has been a Healthspan Media Production. Thank you so much for listening.

The Live Long and Master Aging (LLAMA) podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.

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