Bryan Johnson’s ‘SAD Challenge’ is simple – even if you’ve never built healthy aging habits before.
While you might think of healthy aging in terms of treatments, supplements, or nutrition – SAD brings ‘Self Aided Destruction’ into the picture.
The challenge is to avoid four different forms of destruction. They are eating too much food, eating junk food, missing your regular bedtime, and skipping exercise. Each challenge lasts for 7 days – and your objective is to get a SAD score of zero.
I love the simplicity of Bryan Johnson’s SAD Challenge. It is short enough to be accessible and the scoring is straightforward. While Johnson’s Blueprint is amazing, this is a complex protocol best suited to people already on the path to boosting their healthspan.
Here I delve into each of the SAD behaviours – showing how quickly they can become healthy aging habits that will stay with you for life.
Self-Aided-Destruction: Science Backed Reasons Why SAD Behaviour Will Kill You Faster
80% of healthy aging is behaviour-based, with only 20% genetic.
Most of the unhealthy habits we pick up along the way are slow burners. They age us incrementally and increase the chances of chronic disease in later life. While everyone knows the dangers of smoking, excess visceral fat, or chronic alcohol consumption – few people think of their morning bowl of cereal as toxic.
Bryan Johnson listed four SAD behaviours on Twitter.
- Eating too much Food
- Eating Junk Food
- Missing Bedtime
- Skipping Exercise
These behaviours are aging you, whether you do them once or every day determines the rate.
Let’s face it, most people perform every single one of these Self Aided Destruction behaviours every single day.
Do you see a pattern with the health outcomes for the general population here?
The challenge is to score a ‘zero’ every day for a week in each category. Skip bedtime, you get a 1, eat an unhealthy snack and one more point is added. The maximum score is 28 – though at the heart of this challenge is getting as close to a zero as possible.
Below I covered the SAD challenge one behaviour at a time, adding some definitions and tips for avoiding SAD behaviour.
#1 – Bryan Johnson’s SAD Challenge: Eating too Much Food
This is the hardest SAD behaviour to define, and the easiest to understand.
Eating too much will age you. Eating too much every day will put you on what Peter Attia calls ‘the train to metabolic disease.’
For the purposes of the SAD challenge, your two or three healthy meals should be your baseline. Number three (sleep quality) requires not eating in the hours before bed. Snacking should be cut out for this challenge, even ‘healthy’ snacks add incrementally to our calories.
Calorie restriction is proven to rejuvenate cells via autophagy.
At the same time, you’ll be avoiding damaging fat storage and longer-term resistance to insulin.
Beginner Tip: You don’t need a fast or time restricted eating to score a ‘zero’ for this SAD. What you need to do is stay sensible with portions and extra food for the seven days of the challenge.
#2 SAD Behaviours – Avoid Junk Food
What you consider junk food, and what Bryan Johnson thinks of as junk food are miles apart.
This is your SAD challenge, so we can go easy on the extremes!
Junk foods are everywhere. Sugar, simple carbs (which become sugar as soon as you digest them), chemical flavours and preservatives – and so on.
Some non-obvious poisons are cartons of fruit juice and those hyper-refined carbs on popular breakfast cereals. I’m also sorry to say that alcohol is a Self-Aided Destruction no-go. Don’t worry, you can reward yourself with that delicious glass of French red wine after your weekly challenge is complete!
Beginner Tip: For your first SAD challenge, candy bars / chocolate, alcohol and sugary drinks need to go. In the future, we can get stricter.
#3 – Self Aided Destruction Challenge: Don’t Miss Bedtime
Sleep is the master habit for healthy aging.
When you get sleep right, everything else becomes instantly easier. You’ll resist snacks, eat healthier and exercise more regularly.
Having a sleep routine that is in tune with your biology boosts the quality of your rest. Your body and your brain benefit (including your mood).
Bryan Johnson understands this – and so added getting a sleep routine to his list of SAD behaviours as well as making it a core component of his Blueprint Protocol. 7 to 8 hours a night is ideal.
This challenge covers seven days, highlighting that maintaining your routine over the weekend is vital. Going in and out of different sleep schedules will compromise quality. As will eating or exercising late and especially drinking alcohol.
Beginner Tip: Set a bedtime and stick to it for a week. Avoid eating, exercise and excessive blue light from screens for the few hours before bed – you’ll feel that boost to your motivation. My favourite book on sleep science and habits is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, check out my review here.
#4 – Skipping Daily Exercise is a SAD Behaviour
Any activity is better than none, though daily exercise crushes occasional excursion.
If it were my SAD challenge, I’d specify movement multiple times a day. Even a small ‘exercise snack’ habit provides a long-term boost to healthy aging. Bryan Johnson keeps this simple, work out every day to keep your zero score.
There are three types of exercise to consider:
- Mild Cardio
- Intensive Cardio
- Strength Training
Get them all, and you are doing great. If you only have time for a short workout, a mix of strength and intensive cardio (HIIT or similar) will give you the most benefits.
Don’t skip the resistance training. Muscles fade with age – and maintaining them boosts stability as well as immune system health.
Beginner Tip: If you are starting from zero, a 10-minute exercise session each day will give you massive healthy aging benefits. As your overall fitness improves, you can up both the intensity and the duration. More on my minimal viable exercise for healthy aging post.
Wrapping Up: Simple and Effective – Start the Bryan Johnson SAD Challenge Today
This challenge uses an age-old technique – going on a streak.
Getting started with the SAD challenge is easy enough. I recommend you set your own rules for getting that ‘0’ in each category each day. This should reflect where you are on your healthy aging journey instead of trying to compete with those who are ahead of you.
Tell your family or friends, post on social media or find an accountability buddy.
This accountability will help get you through any wobbles, where temptation becomes too great.
Most important of all, enjoy your seven-day SAD challenge – and take notice of how much better you feel by the end of it.
More Popular Healthy Aging Posts:
- Healthy Aging Micro-Habits: Morning Sun
- Omega 6 Seed Oils and Healthy Aging
- Peter Attia’s Four Types of Death