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The Health Stack: with Sean Rose

By Matteo Franceschetti
August 24, 2020
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Sean Rose headshot
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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.

I had an hour-long Zoom chat with Sean Rose recently. Sean has worked at places like Slack and Box, where he focused on products that improve communications through software solutions. Sean lives an incredibly fit and healthy lifestyle now and I wanted to learn more about his habits and hacks. 

What matters most to me in health and wellbeing

There are two things that are most important for me. First, being at my best every day. That comes from both physical and mental acuity, which I see as closely linked. Working out regularly and having diet, sleep and everything in order, it enables me think more clearly at work and perform in my everyday life. It's to the point now where when I'm not doing any of those things, it feels like I'm losing something as opposed to gaining something when I actually do them. It's a point of no return, I think, when you get that clarity. The other important thing for me is living both long and well.

“Most people are familiar with the idea of lifespan, which is how long you live, but just as important is healthspan, or how many years of your life you are optimally healthy.”

Both are very important for me and inform my health related decisions. 

The things I prioritize to stay healthy

My core behaviors are around sleep, diet and exercise. After many years of experimenting, I now have well-defined habits and schedules for each. I think of sleep (and honestly, this isn't just because I'm talking to you) as the primary driver that dictates all the other things health-related. Having the right environment and amount of sleep every day is really important, everything else gets better when I have that in order.

Second, for diet, I’m a big practitioner of the fasting mimicking diet, which has been shown to have many of the same benefits of intermittent fasting, but on a more manageable, daily schedule. Essentially, you’re just limiting your eating window everyday. Mine is typically 10 hours. My diet is otherwise paleo, though I take a “bend but don’t break” approach and am not always strict. If there’s a meal/food I really want, I’ll make time for it, just not every day. About 6 months ago I stopped drinking alcohol, which has been life changing.

The third is exercise. I have habits around when I exercise and the exact type of exercises I do, too. I'm very into doing HIIT. Part of it is just because I think I'm a lazy exercise person, and it's the only thing that keeps me mentally engaged. I can't really do long distance activities. I just get bored, so I end up sticking with interval training instead. I do yoga and a lot of physical therapy-like activities to even out my body as well. I train in the morning right when I wake up because it just sets me on a good path for the rest of the day. 

The products I use

In terms of the top 2 products in my Health Stack, it's probably a tie between the Apple Watch and the Eight Sleep Pod, but I use many.  The Apple Watch is fascinating to me because it's very easy to dismiss as being very simple, but there's something so impactful about the accountability it creates. Even seemingly basic things like the stand reminders are effective for me. Before I got the Apple Watch, I probably would‘ve told you that I stand at least 12 hours a day, but the number of times it has to remind me to stand in a given day is pretty amazing. It’s got the perfect amount of simplicity while still being effective and motivating, and I don't think I would be nearly where I am today without it.

On the Eight Sleep side, the Pod Pro has just made everything effortless for me. I could probably spend hours talking about how huge of a problem thermoregulation has been for me in the past. I sleep very hot and live in the Bay Area. Most places don’t have air conditioning, which can be tough for people like me. I’ve tried everything over the years from all the different materials for sheets and comforters to multiple fans and all this other stuff that didn't really work. Just knowing that my sleeping temperature is instantly going to be taken care of every night is life changing. I would definitely fight over giving that up, and I could never go back. 

When it comes to working out, I use Peloton for both HIIT cycling workouts as well yoga and stretching workouts in their mobile app. I’m a diehard Barry’s fan as well. They don't quite have an app per se right now, but they do have online classes. I'm still a big fan of those and the style of interval workouts they do. I rely heavily on Levels to closely monitor my glucose and personalize my diet. For recovery, I use a foam roller, Hypervolt Plus and Hypervolt ball. I also have a scale from Withings which keeps my weight synced with Apple Health. I use 23andMe and Elysium's index, which leverages epigenetic tasting to help you understand your biological age.

The apps I use

I use several apps to regularly monitor different aspects of my health.  I use Zones for interval training. It helps you monitor your heart rate zones during workouts in a much more personal, actionable way than the default Apple Watch fitness app. I also just started using Future. I want to see how it goes, but for now, I like the idea of having a personal coach, especially one that’s flexible to the different types of workouts/apps I want to use. For fasting, I use an app called Zero to keep me accountable for when I should and shouldn’t be eating, along with Levels for glucose monitoring. I use WaterMinder to make sure I’m drinking enough water regularly, and finally, Streaks for monitoring my habits, which helped me stop drinking alcohol.  I do mindfulness meditation somewhat regularly and use Sam Harris's Waking Up app. Finally, at the core of everything, I use the Apple Health app as my main hub. 

“The Apple Health app is my home base for looking at all of my health and fitness data in one place.”

The newest addition to my Health Stack

I recently started using a service called Q Bio that I like a lot. They do a full body assessment with comprehensive blood testing, a full body MRI, and all of the basic diagnostics that we don’t typically get during a checkup. Afterwards, their doctors sit down with you to interpret everything so you can see where you stand compared to your peers and what you might want to work on, both in the short and long term. I learned, for instance, that I’m vitamin D deficient, so I’m working through that now with supplements and additional blood testing.

The health product that I would build

There are two main things I’d want to create. First, I’d want a coach that could be plugged into Apple Health that would have access to all of my data and health records. Then, the coach would look at what the most important aspects of health are for me, and try to find specific, personalized changes I could make, kind of similar to the role trainers play for professional athletes. The other thing that I’d love is if you could have something like a microchip in your stomach that automatically monitors everything you eat. With Levels, I’ve noticed that subtle variations in foods can have a huge impact, like having a whole versus half an avocado with a meal. Something that automatically records what you eat would be so much easier than apps where you have to log all of your food, which I’ve found to be way too tiresome to use consistently.

My number one hack for peak performance

Without question, it's definitely getting a consistent amount of sleep.

“I could work out less or eat terribly and be fine enough, but if I'm sleeping six hours on a given night, I'm going to lose focus and my performance slips during the day.”

It's just so easy to recognize and feel how much lost sleep causes lost focus. It's just very, very palpable for me. If there's one thing that’s non-negotiable for me, it would be sleep for sure.

My morning routine

I’m a morning person and usually wake up at 6:00 AM every day. Then from there, I read or meditate for around a half hour or so. Then I'll do some exercise, because I found that if I try to exercise right when I wake up, my body's too stiff and it just won't work. I need to move around a little bit before I work out. Usually the first workout I do in the day is  30 to 45 minutes. That depends on whether it's just purely cycling or if I do Barry's class or something like that. Then I'll shower and start working from there. I like to start work on the earlier side so that I'm also done on the earlier side. If I start working by 8:00 AM, I can be done comfortably by 5:00PM or 6:00PM, and won't have to worry too much about too many outstanding things after work hours. That’s definitely been something problematic for me in the past, especially with sleep. I don't want to be checking emails before I'm going to sleep, so I make sure to start my day earlier now.

My night time routine

Three hours before sleep, I really try to control my environment and wind down. I have Philips Hue light bulbs in my apartment that I’ve programmed to turn red at that point in the night, so that there's no blue light, and then they dim progressively as it gets closer to my bedtime and turn off when it’s time to go to bed. Around 8 or 8:30pm, I switch off all devices and do light reading or, as of recently, practice piano (I’ve just started learning). I’m old fashioned and prefer reading physical books, I don’t use a Kindle. I usually have my last meal of the day 3-4 hours before going to sleep as well. 

How much sleep I get

I usually sleep about eight hours, including bedtime, waking up and everything else. I still want to sleep a bit more, but I'm not sure I can comfortably wake up earlier yet without feeling rushed in the evenings to get to sleep. I’d like to figure out how to get about a half hour more of sleep per night, but I’m still working on it.

What keeps me up at night

I tend to think more about long-term things as I’m going to sleep, not day to day stressors. It's surprisingly not a stressful thing for me because it's almost like dreaming, but before dreaming. I usually find optimistic thinking keeps me up at night, so it hasn’t been too much of a problem for me, fortunately.