The Next Brand, Episode #16

Toxic media, resting heart rate, and why wellness is a trend to bet on

Hi there, and welcome to The Next Brand - my take on health, wellness and brand building.

In the last 4 years I’ve founded 2 consumer health brands (Kettle & Fire and Perfect Keto), which each do tens of millions in revenue. I’ve raised ~$20mm to build Kettle & Fire, gotten into 10k+ retail stores, bootstrapped Perfect Keto, launched 80+ SKUs… and have a small portfolio of Shopify apps I run on the side. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC or any other 3-letter industries.

If you missed past episodes, you can catch up here (Episode 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). Let’s dive in!

🆕 What’s new

Our media corporations are toxic. Increasingly, I find friends living in different realities: up to date on the latest hypocrisy from the other side, while blissfully unaware of any similar actions committed by their favorite political sports team. 

“There’s no such thing as election fraud!” we heard in January. While a mere 4 years earlier, tales of Russian interference in our elections ran rampant:

4 years later and we see the same accusations from the other side. We've always been at war with Eastasia!

Our media corporations are increasingly turning up the polarization dial, just to get a headline, clicks and more revenue. For them, anger drives revenue. And this polarization is a natural result of a system working to find stories that polarize. After all, just two years ago the New York Times signaled that more of their reporting would work to “shed light on the ideas, institutions, and personalities that exacerbate racial and gender inequity in American life, creating the sort of world where Donald Trump can be president.” 

With that mandate, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more anger and polarization: that’s the point! 

And with increasing polarization comes a lack of any ability to compromise or create middle-ground solutions that can move things forward. The other side EATS BABIES: you’d never want to compromise with baby-eaters, right?!?! 

As one of my favorite blogs pointed out *in 2013*:

Compromise becomes impossible, as a simple example, when a "moderate" "thinks" there should be more restrictions on guns, they want gun owners to give up something they want very much-- in exchange for nothing.  "But it's the right thing to do!"  And the yelling starts, in HD.

The shut down was the inevitable consequence of a government not permitted to compromise, smothered by the oppressive gaze of a kamikaze media that will kill itself and your country just to get a headline today. 

In a media landscape where outrage generates polarization and profits, the only solution I can think of is to opt out as much as you possibly can. And to be honest, you’re not missing much: pick up a month-old issue of any newspaper and think about how many headlines are still important just 30 days later. My guess? Not many. 

Preserve your mental health and disengage. Cancel your newspaper subscription, turn off your TV, log out of Facebook. It’s their job to trigger you and make you unhappy: don’t let them. 

💪 Health stuff

After tweeting about my COVID recovery, I got a good bit of feedback on my resting heart rate. Between that + at the prompting of a reader, I figured it might make sense to dig into what the science says as it relates to heart rate and longevity. 

Resting heart rate is one of the critical biomarkers well worth paying attention to. It’s strongly correlated with longevity, inflammation, sickness… all sorts of things you probably want to pay attention to. 

There is a huge amount of variation in heart rate across mammals. Some smaller mammals (like mice) have heart rates in the 600-700 beats per minute (bpm) range. Larger ones (whales, elephants, Tony Robbins) have heart rates closer to the 30-35bpm range. 

Interestingly, there’s a near-linear relationship between heart rate and life expectancy in animals (1):

And pretty consistent evidence that mammalian species average about a billion heartbeats before they die: 

Reader’s note: an ass is a donkey. This does not mean assholes die by the age of 30. 

Beyond the above, there are a bundle of studies that establish a strong association between heart rate and longevity. Granted, these are associative studies and there’s a good chance that increased heart rate isn’t causal (ie an increased heart rate could be a symptom of a high-stress lifestyle or other poor choices, which are the more direct causes of earlier mortality). 

That said, other studies indicate there may be a more causal relationship between heart rate and longevity, though more research is definitely needed. 

Okay, so heart rate is important. But what causes an increase in heart rate? 

According to the research I’ve done (again, I am not a doctor nor even all that smart, so take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt and do your own research), genetic variation seems to explain as much as 2.5% of the variance in resting heart rate (source). That leaves a whole lotta other factors responsible for increased resting heart rate. 

Here you see the culprits you’d most expect: diet, inflammation, too much caffeine, too much alcohol, smoking, too much stress, too little exercise, too much meth… all things that will lead to increased resting heart rate. 

Now, as someone who’s interested in lowering your heart rate… what can you do? 

Exercise - duh. I’ve seen a pretty significant decrease in my resting heart rate since I started biking and doing more endurance exercise. If you live in Austin and want to go on a ride, hit me up 🚴‍♂️. Otherwise, doing a HIIT workout 1-2x/week and going for daily walks can help (I like Nick’s setup for content consumption while on outdoor walks).

Improve your diet - I can all but guarantee you’ll see a major improvement in your resting heart rate as you cut out inflammatory foods (vegetable oils, sugary + highly processed stuff) and move to a Paleo-ish diet. Some members of the wearable challenge have found that wearing a continuous glucose monitor and minimizing glucose-spiking foods helps clean up their diet quite a bit. 

Beyond the obvious diet + exercise, lowering alcohol consumption and decreasing caffeine can make a BIG difference. Lately I’ve been drinking more non-alcoholic beverages (non-alcoholic wine, and this hoppy refresher have been my two favorites), and plan to do 30 days without drinking starting mid-March. 

Stress is also a big one. Since reading Breath, I now focus on slowing my breathing to 6x/minute while I’m working. This + other stress reduction techniques (meditation, emotional regulation work, breathwork, etc) seem to have helped me, though it’s hard to say the exact impact they’ve had on my heart rate. 

In the end, your heart rate is an easy metric to track and ensure you’re healthy, happy and living well. If you have other ideas for lowering your resting heart rate, let me know! I’d love to hear them. 

🤑 Biz stuff

If I had to be on a mega-trend of the next decade, wellness would certainly be near the top. I want to talk a bit about just why I think wellness is one of the biggest (and most important) trends I’m aware of today.

Most western humans today are unhealthy. We all know the stats (they’re bad, and they’re getting worse), but in short: humans of today are in worse shape than they were 100 years ago. Sure your great-great-grandparents couldn’t flick on a lightbulb, but they sure looked better naked (I’m assuming). 

Society at large is already seeing the costs of a sicker population: higher healthcare spend, more anxiety, more depression, and shorter life expectancy than previous generations. 

Cosmo, attempting to trigger your emotions by claiming something that is empirically not true

This cannot last forever. A society made of sick individuals will itself become sick. I suspect (and hope) that we are at the start of a decades-long transition away from a food + healthcare system that makes people sick, and back towards one that improves the health of those who engage in it. 

Not only am I bullish on the wellness trend because I think society practically requires it, but I because individuals literally feel better when they start caring about their health. For many in the wellness world, it’s not just a “trend” - it’s a night and day difference from how they felt before they invested in their health. 

Humans want to be healthy and feel good. Yet, our natural environment is SO far removed from the one our ancestors experienced. We eat more processed food, get less natural light, have fewer friends, eat more, sleep less, breathe polluted air…. Our environments are different from those of our ancestors in almost every way.

Investing in your health has real, tangible benefits in a way that many things don’t. People feel better, society benefits… everybody wins. 

Now the question is, how do you bet on it? 

Personally, I’ve started investing in companies that are doing right by people’s health. Companies like Force of Nature who are pioneering regenerative agriculture, or Surely which is creating a non-alcoholic wine that actually tastes good, or Mindbloom which is bringing ketamine-assisted therapy to the masses. 

Unfortunately, there’s not (yet) a great way to invest in the wellness trend in public markets. But for potential entrepreneurs and other founders, I suspect betting that the wellness trend continues is a bet that will pay off in the coming years. 

😌 Dope stuff on the internet

Some of my favorite things since the last newsletter (note: I don’t get paid to recommend anything here):

  • 📰  Article - I’ve become increasingly interested in climate technologies. Not only those that I’m already bullish on (like regenerative agriculture), but other solutions and technologies that pull carbon out of the air while also delivering cheap, clean energy (👋geothermal). That’s why I really enjoyed this article about some of the geoengineering experiments technologists are considering. Though I’m still the most bullish on regenerative ag, I still think these technologies have a tremendous role to play as we work to fix the impact on our world.

  • 📚 Book rec - Kapil Gupta is an interesting character. He’s a performance coach, one of Naval’s teachers (mentors?), and sort of mysterious character. I hadn’t read much of his stuff until picking up Direct Truth: a short but philosophically compelling read on truth, the nature of life, right + wrong, etc… all delivered via Socratic conversation. I highlighted it more than any other book I’ve read this year (though, granted, it’s only March) and think some of you might get a lot out of it.

  • Cool product - I love finding new music, especially long mixes. So this week’s cool product uses AI to deliver an incessant stream of high (or low) energy beats right into your earholes. It’s pretty cool: you can download it and easily raise or lower the energy level. I’ve been really digging the lower-energy beats in the afternoon, and the high-tempo stuff in the morning. 

  • 🎵 Music - Anytime Anjunadeep releases a mix, I give it a listen. This one is no exception, a super chill melodic mix that I’ve just about worn out now.

  • 🏀 Random - Some of you may not know this, but I helped launch a daily health and wellness newsletter - The Daily Tonic - last month. If you’re looking to learn more about health via an entertaining 5 minute daily read, I think you’ll love it. 

    • Also, Scott Alexander is back writing at Astral Codex Ten! This is the best news the internet has given me since he stopped writing last year. 


This month, I have 2 questions for you:

  1. I’m considering setting up a Clubhouse show to discuss the contents of this newsletter with readers. If I set it up, would you come (I’ll send you an invite). 

  2. I’m also planning to kick off a 3 day fast and 30 days of no drinking, likely April 1st. Any interest in joining me for a readers-only community challenge? 

Let me know - I’d love to get more of you smart people interacting with one another, and the above ways seem like a fun way to do so. 

Enjoy the month! 

  • Justin