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Optimization; The Minimal Effective Dose: Sunday musings…4/2/2023

1 Fools. April Fools Day brought a very funny gag from my past. Supposedly Williams College and our arch rivals Amherst were merging, becoming Wamherst.

Easiest AFD joke to suss out in history.

2 Plural. Sometimes I struggle with spelling. English is an odd language, eh? Today it was the plural of “journey”. I kept trying to put an “ies” in place of the “y”.

Actually had to look it up to realize is was a simple “s”. Doh.

3 Offended. “Second hand offended”: to be offended on someone else’s behalf, whether or not they, themselves, are offended at all. Seems to be a major source of fuel for the interactive social media market. HT “Lovely Daughter” Megan.

There just isn’t enough time or energy to partake in this, at least for me. In my effort to optimize my various reasons to be offended (see below) I just can’t fit in any dose of offense on behalf of someone else at all.

4 Message. “Turn your mess into your message”. –Julie Walker, founder of the Peyton Walker Foundation.

My friend Julie lost her daughter to a cardiac condition almost 10 years ago. To honor Peyton’s brief but extraordinarily wonderful life Julie and the rest of the Walker family founded a charitable foundation dedicated to the twin goals of screening to diagnose cardiac conditions that pre-dispose to sudden cardiac death, and to donate AED’s to schools and other organizations so that they might have the means to save a life in one so afflicted. Very cool, very strong stuff, that.

A tip of the hat to Julie and her family. I’m gonna steal that quote but you can bet I’ll be giving attribution, Julie.

5 Optimization. Some time ago I wrote about the Minimum Effective Dose (MED), the concept in which we seek to optimize our results with the smallest amount of whatever it is that we are using to achieve that outcome. The quest to find the MED is one that crosses quite easily between my day job (medical) and my own quest for health. A quick mention of Eva T in Outside magazine and the program she uses with her clients made me think a bit more on the MED. Robb Wolf, one of the most knowledgeable nutrition experts on the face of the Earth, linked a Tweet today to another trainer who proposes that low-intensity aerobic exercise is the only thing that has ever been shown to postpone mortality. Big shift for Robb given his legacy involvement with CrossFit, the ultimate high-intensity program, and given the “slow” part of aerobic fitness programs, one that puts pressure on the quest for MED. The Everyday Math column in the WSJ provided an enhanced vocabulary for the journey.

Sometimes the MED really is a “something” you take. Here one thinks of medicine or food, for example. It is astonishing how many viewpoints there are on the topic of daily protein intake, for example. More often is the case that we are looking at a dose of time or effort. Or perhaps both. In this case we are seeking to optimize the effort as it relates to the outcome, to make the value of outcome divided by effort as large as possible. In healthcare “Effort” includes not only the number or test you get or pills you take, but also such things as time devoted to stuff like insurance forms and the figurative effort of reaching into your wallet to pay for medicine. The rate limiting factor is the Law of Diminishing Returns, of course: at some point additional effort produces such a small incremental increase in the outcome that it becomes not worth making. This applies to everything from workouts/week (or day) to decorating a birthday cake. At a certain point you just have to feel you’ve succeeded.

How, then, to know when you have reached this optimal level? Eugenia Cheng, the mathematician who wrote the WSJ piece, offers the concept of the “minimal acceptable standard”. Once she has reached this outcome the additional effects garnered from more effort have moved beyond the point where Diminishing Returns kicks in and she simply accepts the outcome. We would call these “minimal standards” goals, but the concept is essentially the same. We want an outcome; setting a target or a goal is step one in optimization.

Cheng then goes on to refine optimization with a discussion about boundaries. One is your goal, of course. In real life others also exist, things like a 24 hour day and a 7 day week and the need to make a living. The dose you choose, both qualitatively (what it is) and quantitatively (how much you get) is unavoidably affected by boundary conditions over which you have less control. In the end no outcome worth achieving happens without effort. Health, friendship, or the unraveling of a gnarly math problem–you’re going to put effort in to get your results out.

Maximizing your outcome-to-effort ratio is just another way to say you are seeking your Minimum Effective Dose, in fitness, health and elsewhere. Doing so in any one domain necessarily leaves you the resources/time to do the same in many more or the other domains in your life.

I’ll see you next week…

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