"Q&A With Matt Richtel"
Book: An Elegant Defense
Author: Matt Richtel
Matt Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and bestselling writer of mysteries and thrillers. His books are fast-paced, character-centered stories in which things are not always as they seem. The backdrop for the books is the modern world. Technology is everywhere. Everything moves at lightning speed, from conspiracy, to love, business, and violence. Technology is our slave. Or has it become our dark master?
The books relate to Matt's journalism. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for a series of stories on distracted driving. The next year, he wrote an acclaimed series for the New York Times called "Your Brain On Computers" exploring how heavy technology use impacts our behavior and our brains.
Matt lives with his family in San Francisco. He writes from an office with a window that looks onto the former house of baseball legend Willie Mays. He -- Matt, not Willie -- is an avid tennis player, takes pride in making guacamole and coffee, and writes the occasional song." (Source: www.amazon.com)
1. Why do you think there’s so little attention to the ‘correct’ process of healing the body?
Simple, really. Good health requires discipline and habit, and many of us (including me, sometimes) would prefer a magic pill. A vitamin, a healing herb or vegetable or fruit, mashed up just right in the blender.
But it doesn’t work that way. The “correct” way to heal the body, with explicit science described in the book, requires adherence to sleep, exercise, stress minimization, nutrition.
2. Have you noticed differences in immune system strengthens based on ethnicities, regions of the world or genetics? (Example: Someone born in the Global South vs. the Global North or someone from Asia vs. North America)
What differs around the world is less the immune system at a baseline than the way the immune system develops in certain environments. In less developed, or hygienic countries, the microbiome might actually be richer – for good or ill. There might also be less allergy and autoimmune disorders if there is a less clean environment.
But this is obviously a mixed blessing. If an environment is truly filthy, the level of diseases can be extremely dangerous, even if the immune system is a heartier one.
3. You highlight excessive hygiene as a compromiser of immune system strength, what do you consider signs of excessive/too much hygiene?
My mantra here is hygiene, not hysteria. Wash your hands with soap before you eat, and absolutely after you go to the bathroom! Wash your hands and your countertops after you’ve dealt with raw meat, always.
But I’ve learned that you need not cover yourself in anti-germ goop after you touch a random railing at the mall, or sit in a bus, or walk through an airport. The world’s microbes are not out to get you, and to the extent, you interact with nature, it might do as much good as harm.
4. From your research, what mainstream diet plans tend to improve your immunity system over time and which ones tend to lower your immunity system over time?
I don’t know a thing about mainstream diet plans. But I’d say this: eat natural foods. Processed foods introduce the possibility of alien particles and organisms that might cause your immune system to react. More than that, though, processed foods can lead to obesity.
Obesity leads to immune-system deregulation and poor health. The best immunologists will tell you that fad diets likely don’t have proof behind them. Eat healthy, and in moderation.
5. Can you please elaborate on why it’s actually 'OK' for parents to allow their kids to eat some foods that have hit the ground?
Interaction with the natural world informs and educates the immune system. When we starve (figuratively) the immune system of regular interaction with its and our surroundings, we limit its ability to calibrate correctly.
This doesn’t literally mean kids need to eat food off the floor, but it does mean that we have overcorrected with germaphobia. In two words: lighten up. (said as a parent!)
6. Can you answer this age-old question, how many hours of sleep is best to keep your immune system high?
The research puts the average at 7.5 hours. I cannot state strongly enough the value of sleep to the immune system. It is essential to regulating a balanced immunity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you can keep your body in a state of high alert that undermines the immune system. All the details are in the chapter called, boringly, “Sleep.”
7. What’s your writing process like for this book?
Five major steps: Get thrilled about the subject; start learning; start writing; become overwhelmed and sometimes terrified; get a good night sleep. Repeat.
8. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
Public enemy number one of creativity is “perfectionism.” Writer’s block is perfectionism, in a nutshell. Let yourself go. You have something to say and you are entitled to say it. The more you practice saying it, the better you will get at communicating your message. The world is your mountaintop, sing from it.
9. What’s the best book you have read in 2019 thus far?
10. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
I never heard it in these precise words, but I think of it this way: Happiness doesn’t mean constant joy. It means contentedness or even lack of unhappiness. This is under your control. You are not a victim. You can dictate the terms of your relationship to the world, at least emotionally and spiritually. Own it.
11. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
I’m not a planner. But every time I turn around, I’m writing again. So I suspect the future is foretold.
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