Real World Hacks for Staying Healthy Over the Holidays, with TJ Anderson

27 Nov Real World Hacks for Staying Healthy Over the Holidays, with TJ Anderson

INTRODUCTION:

TJ Anderson is joining us on this episode. He is a behavior change specialist, a health hacker, and founder of Elevate Your State, which is a growing community of health-conscious leaders online. TJ is dedicated to helping high-performance entrepreneurs, business professionals, and health-conscious leaders to merge the fundamentals of a healthy life with cutting-edge science and strategy, so you can stay on top of your health game. His new book, called The Art of Health Hacking, has been endorsed by people like J.J. Virgin and Bulletproof Coffee’s own Dave Asprey. In short, he’s killing it, and he’s helping people to live better and healthier lives.

RESOURCES:

INTERVIEW:

TJ, welcome to DREAM THINK DO.

Oh, Mitch, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Absolutely. This is just fun, man. I know you’ve been healthy since the day we met. Has that always been a thing for you? I don’t know that we’ve ever talked about childhood stuff. Did you grow up being healthy, or was this later in life kind of thing for you?

Good question. Well, everyone’s childhood is different, and I would say health is relative across the spectrum. I had a great childhood, but my personal, own desire and passion related to health improvement, health consciousness, et cetera, didn’t really start until after college. That’s when the fire ignited. After college, I realized how the unhealthy lifestyle I was living in college wasn’t the best for me. I actually realized through my parents. My mom inspired me through creating my own meals. It really starts in the kitchen, how much nutrition impacts health. That was after college.

Awesome. So some people have always just been geared toward healthy living. For others, it’s a major event in their life. Maybe somebody else close to them started to have health issues, or themselves started to have health issues. Yours was a little bit more gradual but, man, it’s become a major focal point for your life, for your own life, but also helping people all over.

Definitely. The inspiration really came for health right when it came for entrepreneurship, so the passion for both took off at the same time. At times, I would notice my parents running their own business, and how that could add a lot of stress on to one’s shoulders if they don’t navigate it in the best way. It’s not easy. There’s no playbook about how to be a healthy high performer.

I used to be the health guy that was just all into health and fitness and looking good and feeling good. Then, when I went down the rabbit hole of what’s possible for using our health as an asset in our life, with how well we’re able to think clearly and have the energy necessary to work and perform at the top of our game, I’ve really started, through the book and in all my work, it’s really connecting the dots between how our decisions, our habits, our behaviors impact our performance, both in the present moment, but also for the further, for longevity.

Absolutely. Well, that’s funny, because I remember it. Just as you’re saying that I remember you had invited me to be a part of one of your first entrepreneurial groups, right? You were trying to help a bunch of entrepreneurs get healthy and stay healthy. I’ll just never forget. I remember one of the interactions. One of the guys was sort of confessing, “I did this to try to get six-pack abs, but the thing that I’m actually benefiting from is clarity.” He said, “Yeah, I’m losing some weight. I’m feeling better, but,” he’s like, “I had no idea the positive effects on my clarity of thought, my reduced anxiety, things like that.”

It was neat to see. They went for it for one reason. You could see them realizing the other health benefits you’re talking about, almost as a bonus or a surprise, which is great.

Yeah, you sell them on what they want, and then you end up giving them what they need, you know?

Exactly right. I love it. Okay, I know we could talk any time about applying strategy and science and intentionality to your health, but I’ve been wanting to have you on since the book came out, but I really wanted to hold this interview until this time of year. The holidays are a special time. People are running all over the place. They’re wanting to see people, all of that. At the same time, it’s a time where we’re stretched. We might be feeling a little extra stress, all of those things, and it’s a really important time to stay healthy, or try to get healthy, right? It’s just more difficult.

I wanted to have you on to talk about that. What are some of those things that you do? Because I know so much of it is about the mindset, as opposed to just going and doing the right type of exercises or the right type of diet. Say we’re going to try to make these next couple of months super healthy for ourselves. What are some of those things that you do to lay the groundwork for that?

Yeah, great question, Mitch. First off, if you’re listening to this right now, nine times out of ten, most people will delay a change towards the end of the year for the beginning of the next year, the whole New Year’s resolution craze. For instance, I’m leading a group right now through a six-week mastermind for their health, through the holidays, and that’s not something that people typically consider, “Could I actually get healthier and perform at a higher level through the holidays, as opposed to having my health be sacrificed through the holidays?”

That, as you said, is a mindset shift around asking yourself what you desire, what your body requires, and what’s possible. After people ask themselves those questions, and if there’s a desire to, at the very least, maintain health through the holidays, then, to your point, I would say, stack the deck in your favor. I’m actually going to talk about a tactic called habit stacking, something I talk about in the book. I’ll come back to that later.

What I like to first start with people on, no matter where they’re at in their health journey and when they want to approach making improvements is focusing on those high leverage health hacker habits. These are those simple changes, the small hinges that can swing big doors in overall energy, health, just ability to relax and listen to their body. Number one, big time, is sleep, so looking at your sleep habits, your ability to have a pretty intentional evening routine to block artificial blue light, so it doesn’t disrupt your melatonin production while you sleep, so perhaps investing in something called BluBlockers, which are actually glasses that will block the artificial blue light from not just the lights in the parties you go to or in your home, but also on your technology. Sleep is definitely a big one. That’s when our bodies heal and recover.

Let’s talk BluBlockers for just a second, or blue light. You do that. I’ve seen you with some pictures and things like that. What is your evening routine, as far as when you put those on, and how do you start shutting down?

Great question. I work backward, right? I ask myself, “What time do I want to wake up in the morning?” I like to wake up with the sun.

So the sun’s rising a lot earlier now, for instance. You can look at the sun as a guide to our overall relationship with light, meaning that receiving sun first thing in the morning is really important, because it signals to our Circadian rhythm and our hormones that it’s time to start taking on the day.

In the morning, you receive full spectrum sunlight and that spectrum changes throughout the day, so first thing in the morning, getting natural sunlight. I work backward. When it comes to sleep, I like to get seven and a half hours, give or take. Of late, I have not been setting an alarm. I’ve been letting the sun/our puppy wake us up in the morning, which I’m quite fine with. I work backward.

I like to typically have at least an hour to an hour and a half before bed with no technology. I’m not perfect, by any means. I’m human, and sometimes you get caught in a good Netflix documentary, but at the very least I’m blocking blue light, if I am using technology, through either BluBlockers, or there’s actually a free app. There’s a lot of software out there. There’s a free software called f.lux. I actually have f.lux on right now, on my computer. It’s blocking all of the artificial blue light coming from my screen, and so I can watch movies that way at night, and not have it impact my sleep as much.

Those are some examples. I’m really cognizant of my body temperature. Body temperature before sleep is very important, especially if you’re sleeping with someone else, and you increase each other’s body heat together. We like to keep it lower temperature in our house at night, while we sleep, anywhere between, this might sound crazy, 60 degrees to 66 degrees.

Is that personal preference, or is there a science to back up temperature or things like that?

There’s science, yeah. There are definitely studies out there if you want to research. There are some sleep experts that have looked at even what a cold shower can do, on how it regulates your hormones and gets your body prepared and ready for sleep.

That’s interesting.

Hydration is another one. We dehydrate while we sleep. I know some people don’t like to wake up in the middle of the night and have to go to the bathroom, so maybe don’t drink too much water, but make sure you’re having enough so that you don’t wake up too dehydrated in the morning.

Some things to avoid: Food, alcohol, and blue light are the three worst things that can really negatively impact your sleep. I try not to eat anything from about 2 hours before I go to bed.

Vitamin supplements can help. Magnesium, which such a huge part of our population is deficient in, is really important. It’s a great supplement to have before bed. CBD, which is the non-psychoactive component in cannabis, which is completely legal in all 50 states, is helpful for deep sleep. A little bit of honey right before bed provides a little bit of glucose for the brain. The brain loves glucose, a little bit of glucose, while it sleeps.

That’s great, okay. Yeah, I love it. A good night’s sleep can impact a lot of other things, as well. That’s awesome. Okay, so we start with sleep and watch out for the trifecta of food, alcohol, and blue light. I’m digging it. I’m buying it. I love it.

Also, lighting is important. A red light near-infrared bulb creates the best source of light before sleep. Otherwise, lighting candles, instead of having bright LEDs shining down at you in the evening, can go a long way, as well. Then music – If you’re looking for something other to do besides watching TV, put on some music. I love teaching people how to use music as a health hack to really change your state, especially before bed.

Hmm, do you have a bedtime playlist then?

I switch it up a bit. But YouTube has a free song called Youthing. They call it an anti-aging, binaural beats song, non-lyrical. Non-lyrical music can be really powerful.  

Also, Moby has a 10-song album on Spotify called LA, for long ambiance… Oh, that album is a state changer for sure. They’re like 25-minute, non-lyrical, ambient music that will just get you ready for sleep.

I love Moby. Right on, man, awesome. I love it. Okay, so sleep is where we start. Where do you head next?

Yeah, so sunlight, especially through the holidays and over the winter. There’s a reason why, unfortunately, too many people have called the winter season the flu season. The flu is not a season. Winter is a season. The reason that we tend to see more flu in our population over the winter is that people are not getting as much sunlight during the day. First off, most people don’t get enough sunlight during the other months.

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system, as well as hormone production, so it’s important to get some sun, either indoors or outdoors. You can let it come through the window, and that’ll still be beneficial. Getting enough sunlight, and maybe even supplementing with vitamin D through the winter can be really helpful.

Yeah, and what’s the science on the amount of time? Is it 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes?

Yeah, good question. From 5 to 20, you’re going to have a benefit. Really a minimum of 20 minute is what I like to share with people. That could be going on a walk outside in the morning. You’re able to get light movement, you’re able to clear your mind, and get sunlight to help optimize your energy for the day and your Circadian rhythm. That is one of my favorite hacks, is going on walks outside.

Yeah, well it is. It’s interesting, especially at Daylight Savings Time in winter. I mean, you’re in Colorado. We’re in the Midwest. My wife and I love to take walks, especially with our dog. In the winter, it’s more difficult to actually do that in the sun, but it sounds like we should be pretty intentional about that.

That’s a great point, and one other thing I was going to share is, yeah walking, even right after you eat, is amazing for digestion. Walking blunts the rise in blood sugar, so it can improve your insulin sensitivity for three hours or more post meal. If you want to stack your hacks, right after you eat a good meal, going on a walk outside can go a long way.

You mean, don’t just sit on the couch after a big Thanksgiving meal?

Exactly. So that is a good transition into nutrition if you want to start getting into that.

I love it. Let’s do it.

Intermittent fasting. The first topic of nutrition has to do with not eating.

Right. What the heck? I’m glad you’re bringing this up, though, because I’ve heard more and more people recommend this. Intermittent fasting is just not eating, right? There’s a lot of strategy to this.

Exactly, exactly.

Tell us about it, and what are some of the hacks?

Yeah, so basically, the whole premise comes down to how often we eat. If you think of our days, with 24-hour windows, and we sleep seven to eight hours of that 24-hour window, so you can count sleep inside of your intermittent fast. An intermittent fast is simply a break from eating.

Let’s say you eat dinner at 7:00 p.m., and you wake up at 6:00 a.m. That’s been 11 hours, so your body, at hours 12 to 14, shifts from burning calories for fuel to burning stored fat as fuel. Literally, once you get through hours 12 to 14, you’re in a state of burning your own body fat for energy, which can create a state of what’s called ketosis, where you’re creating an alternative energy source to glucose.

Ketones are these energy bodies that can be released in the brain and the body during an intermittent fasting. A lot of people are trying a ketogenic diet and going about it the wrong way. I even went about it the wrong way myself. I talk about an emergency room visit, in my book, that I took because I didn’t do keto right.

Doing it right, one of the simplest ways to get into a state of ketosis, which can be really healthy to burn your own body fat, keeping blood sugar low, is through intermittent fasting. If you think about it, it gives your body and it gives your organs a break from processing all this food, and that allows your cells to regenerate. It allows the blood glucose to go down. It allows blood flow to stay in your brain, which can give you more energy and focus in the morning. Because, when you eat, blood flows to your stomach to break down that food.

Intermittent fasting, 7:00 to 7:00, it would be 12 hours, but I like to do a minimum of 14 hours for myself pretty much daily. You might already be doing that. I don’t know. Some people are doing an intermittent fast, and they don’t even know it.

Yeah, depending on when you eat dinner and when you eat breakfast, or if you do eat breakfast, you might be accidentally intermittent fasting, right.

Yeah, basically, and then there’s something else called a feed window. Now, don’t get the visuals of a hog on a farm.

That’s exactly where I went.

Yeah, especially in Iowa. So a feed window could be noon to 7:00, so that is a seven-hour feed window, where you could literally have two large meals: one large meal at lunch, or average, regular-sized meal, and then one large meal at dinner, maybe a snack in between. Everyone’s different when it comes to how they relate to intermittent fasting. Typically, men can go about intermittent fasting a lot easier than women and, depending on if you’ve got thyroid stuff going on or hormone stuff going on, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, but it’s for a lot of people.

We’ve been fed a bill of goods, no pun intended, that we have to eat three meals a day, in our modern U.S. society: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” right?

When people try out intermittent fasting, they’ll realize it’s much more psychologically challenging than it is physiologically.

Well, yeah. But intermittent fasting is the elimination of all food. But water and other liquids are ok, is that right?

Great question. You can have anything non-alcoholic. There’s a lot of questions out there around do supplements count? Do they not count? It depends, but typically if you’re staying away from just calories in general … You can have black coffee, green tea, water by itself, with sea salt. It’s important to get your minerals in when you’re fasting, as well, so getting some good, high-quality sea salt in with your water in the morning can be really important during a fast. Yeah, you can have black coffee. You might find, depending on how sensitive you are to caffeine, that you don’t need as much caffeine when you’re in the middle of a fast, and so you become more sensitive to it. That’s why I’m a fan of decaf coffee during fasting. Everyone’s different. I would say, practice your own experiments on it.

Yeah, and that’s what you recommend is learning the basics, but then experimenting to figure out what’s best for you. You do it all the time. Do most people start to do that, or do people mostly do short periods or sprints with intermittent fasting?

Yeah, great question. A lot of people do a daily 12- to 14-hour fast. Then, every now and then, some people will do a 24-hour fast. I mean, it’s not just good for prevention, but intermittent fasting is being used for healing. Specifically, it can work just as good, if not better, as chemo and radiation. A three-day fast can be beneficial for people with cancer. Cancer cells are fueled by glucose. Sugar fuels cancer, so if you shut off cancer’s source of energy from glucose. You’ll notice that it’s being used in these circles for healing.

Okay, we’re gearing up for family gatherings, party, office parties, things like that. What are some of your other strategies, especially around nutrition or staying focused on eating the right things or not destroying our diet during holidays, or any time?

Yeah, for sure, great question. What can play a big role in our relationship with food is our overall state of mindfulness and peace in our bodies. For instance, cultivating a breathing practice in the morning, or a breathing practice right before we eat, can really go a long way. Something as simple as what’s called alternate nostril breathing is a great way to change how we’re breathing and have more intention to our breath. It just requires you to inhale up one nostril while you close the other.

You use your right thumb to close your right nostril. People can do this while they’re driving. Put one hand on the wheel, and put the other on your nostril. You inhale through the other open nostril. Then, after that inhale, you close the nostril that you just inhaled out of and then exhale out the other one. You rotate that exact same process. It changes how oxygen is flowing through the different hemispheres of the brain, and it allows you … It requires your brain to focus on the breath because you have to move your fingers back and forth. I love that practice, in general, and especially maybe right before we eat.

A few other hacks … If you’re eating higher glycemic foods, a little bit of cinnamon can help blunt the blood sugar.

Yeah, let’s talk English for those who haven’t been studying health and health-hacking.

Higher glycemic … Give us some examples.

Yeah, yeah, higher glycemic, meaning foods that are high in carbohydrates, that spike blood sugar quicker.

Grandma’s dinner rolls.

Here’s this concept that I’ll share now, as it relates to still being able to enjoy great foods as you said, the pumpkin pie, the cookies, the mashed potatoes, whatever they are, whatever we’re used to in our childhood, and what our families are used to making. There are ways, really simple, easy ways, to trade up a lot of these recipes with healthier ingredients that still taste great. I’m all about merging pleasure with performance when it comes to food.

So for instance, instead of using nonorganic sugar or even just any organic cane sugar, you can do a low glycemic impact, like a sugar alternative, such as Stevia, Xylitol, monk fruit extract. These are three different options, besides regular sugar, that will make it taste sweet, that are all natural and that are not unhealthy sweeteners, and that will not cause as big of a blood glucose spike at all.

So if you’re planning to get in a big carbohydrate meal, doing it after a workout, where you’re able to deplete your glycogen levels – that’s your body’s ability to use that fuel, that glycogen, that sugar in the muscles for fuel for the workout. You deplete that during the workout, and then you’re able to refuel those muscles with the carbs right after the workout.

The same thing can be said for alcohol. I’ve been giving a few talks lately, and there are lots of ways that you can actually not just hack a hangover, but enjoy alcohol in a better way. I don’t know. Do you think your audience might be open and interested in how they can hack a hangover?

I think that you’ve definitely got some people leaning in, going, “Okay, all right, I’m intrigued, TJ. Continue.”

Yeah, so first off, the best way to hack a hangover is to not drink at all. Right? That may go without saying, but for those that do want to have their cake and eat it, too, and enjoy a drink or two every now and then through the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with that. There are ways that you can hack it.

First and foremost is the quality of your ingredients, so the quality of the alcohol that you are drinking. A lot of times, in our holiday drinks, we’re mixing way too much sugar in a lot of these concoctions. Truth be told, you can get away with not having any sugar at all, or very low sugar, in these drinks. Sugar combined with alcohol makes the hangover that much worse.

For instance, one little recipe that I’ve actually shared with close people in my family … They’ve traded up, now, on how they make a margarita. People can research a paleo margarita, but a paleo margarita is taking a clear tequila, and mixing with club soda, club soda, and lime juice, by itself. Those three ingredients on the rocks, simple … It’s sweet enough from the lime, and both the lime and the club soda will help your liver, help your body, process the tequila and alcohol better.

No kidding!

Yes.

Plus, I like saying paleo margarita.

Yeah, yeah. The other thing about alcohol is a lot of people drink wine throughout the holidays, too.

Wine is typically touted as being one of the healthier forms of alcohol, although a lot of wine is GMO, so not grown organically and has lots of pesticides on it, which can impact hangovers. A lot of wine is high in sugar, as well. There are a few companies that I’m a big fan of. One is called Dry Farm Wines. They source from wineries all over the world. Dry farming means they’re using the moisture naturally occurring in the earth and not giving it extra water.

These are lower sugar wines. They’re all natural, with no pesticides, and they’re low to zero sulfites. This is literally a hangover-free wine that still tastes great. It’s low in sugar. This company actually lab tests these wines for sugar content. Check them out at dryfarmwines.com. That’s where they’re at. You can also look for sulfite-free wine at your local grocery store. That can go a long way for hangovers. The other tip around alcohol is if you consume alcohol, again, similar to a high carbohydrate meal, right after a workout, that is the best time to consume alcohol.

Right after, so is it okay to go workout, then drive to grandma’s house or whatever. I mean, does it have to be immediate, or would you still, if you’re in that two-hour, three-hour window, are you still benefiting?

Great question. Yeah, you’re still benefiting.

Well, I will tell you, TJ. You’ll appreciate this. I used to live in England, and the place that I worked out was an old jail. It looked like a castle, but it was a jail. It was called The Old Jail. The top floor, all the equipment. Middle floor, pub.

Really? That’s great!

That’s exactly what people would do. They’d go upstairs. They’d work out. Then they’d come down to the pub, so for some, it could be a lifestyle.

They were onto something, yeah. Yeah, that’s a great way to allow your body to be able to process that alcohol faster.

I love it. I’ve got one last question for you, though. Before we go there, though, I want to point people to your book. The book is called The Art of Health Hacking. You can grab it at healthhackerbook.com. Plus, if you’re willing to share this, and just tag it with #dreamthinkdo, we’re going to watch for those. I’ve got some copies of the book that I’m going to be giving away to some lucky people, who are sharing the wisdom and sharing this episode. Where else can people find you, TJ?

Yeah, you bet Mitch, so Elevate Your State, as you mentioned, elevateyourstate.co is where they can learn more about what I’m up to. I’m actually launching a podcast here soon myself. That should be live by the time this goes live. I’ve also got some great healthy holiday recipes.

My girlfriend and I are actually working on a cookbook together, so these are some of the early recipes from that cookbook.

Oh, wow, that’s great.

Last question. DREAM THINK DO-ers might be thinking they want to stay healthy over the holidays, but it’s just hard sometimes, especially when all that food’s just sitting there, or maybe there are treats at the office. What’s one last tool, or thing that you can do to offer folks, to help them to stay focused on going after the health hacking and living that life?

Yeah, great question. What I encourage people to do is sustainable behavior change. I want to empower people to become their own health coach, through self-coaching practices. That’s essentially a lot of what the book is about. One of those practices, I’ll share right now, that can allow people to feel a little bit more confident in their approach, is what I call the health hacker self-coaching questionnaire, as well as the four quadrant model for sustainable behavior change.

We get caught up in trying to improve ourselves so much. I call it the self-improvement movement, that we can get caught up in. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself or become better. One of the things I talk about in my book is the power of self-compassion, celebrating yourself for what you’re already doing well in your lifestyle, first and foremost. That’s the first thing to think about. When you’re considering a change, acknowledge yourself for the good that you’ve already been doing.

Number two: Ask yourself what you’re most interested in exploring, as it relates to health. What are the areas of your health throughout the holidays that you want to focus on? Why are those important? Then that can fuel this following process, called the four quadrant model for smart behavior change.

Imagine, you draw a cross on a piece of paper. That forms four boxes: top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right. In these four boxes, you’re going to write different words at the top of them. The top left is going to be Start Doing, things in your lifestyle that you want to start doing, that you’re not currently doing. On the top right, there’ll be Stop Doing, things that you are currently doing that you want to completely stop doing. Those are the black and white boxes: what do you want to start doing, what do you want to stop doing?

The bottom two presents an opportunity for the subtle aspects of change, the gray area, so Do More Of and Do Less are those two boxes. What are you doing in your lifestyle already that’s good, that you want to do more of? What are you doing already that you don’t want to go cold turkey on, but you just want to do less of?

This four-quadrant model I use in my own lifestyle. I share it with my clients for them to use. It’s great to try out weekly or on a monthly basis to reflect and recommit to what you desire most, and it can give you a simple path. You might find there are a couple of action items under each of those boxes that can just add a little bit more mindfulness to your overall approach.

Yeah, I like that a lot. I like it especially from a sprint perspective, saying, “I’m going to do this weekly,” or to be able to have a set amount of time, so that really helps you to focus over that time. I like the Do More, Do Less to make a path to gradually eliminate or increase these things.

Definitely.

I love it, man. That’s pure gold. TJ, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and your heart with the DREAM THINK DO world here, man. I appreciate you. Guys, go grab his book, healthhackerbook.com will get you all the information and get you the book itself. TJ, keep bringing the awesome, buddy.

Rock on, Mitch. It was a delight to be here. Here’s to health hacking our holidays.

All right, DREAM THINK DO-er, what’d you think? What stood out to you? I’m going to take this challenge of getting more intentional about my sleep. That’s been something that’s been on my mind and something I’m needing to do, and so I’m going to go after that.

Then, I think I’m actually, finally, going to experiment with some intermittent fasting. That’s something that a number of my friends have experimented with and had some good results with, in weight loss, but more so just in clarity of thought, feeling good, feeling energized. I’m all about that.

How about you? What’s something that you’re going to try, based on this discussion? Leave a comment and let me know.

Lastly… share this episode and include #DREAMTHINKDO and you’ll be put in the running for a copy of TJ’s book, The Art of Health Hacking. So share… share… share… and let’s help the world get healthier over the holidays!

2 Comments
  • sharon karasek
    Posted at 19:47h, 29 November Reply

    I always love these interviews! I so appreciate you, Mitch and your guests giving us new perspectives. I can’t wait to read this book and I’m thinking it will make a great gift. THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Mitch Matthews
      Posted at 20:47h, 29 November Reply

      Thanks so much Sharon! I appreciate it. And yes… the book is jam packed with more insights… that you can use right away! Let me know what you think! And be sure to share this episode for the chance to win a copy of the book too!

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