We have all seen the word “hack”. Life hacks, art hacks and even DIY hacks. What about bio-hacking? A new word, so new it was only just recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and is defined as follows:
Biohacking as a method of self-improvement and increasing quality of life
Biohacking is used by people to improve performance, health and quality of life. By reflecting on aspects of life that you wish to improve, using food, exercise, supplementation and lifestyle tweaks to improve those aspects of your life that you had identified.
To start biohacking you need to reflect on the aspects of your life that you wish to improve on. If you want to lose weight, there are biohacks to aid in weight loss. If you want to be more productive, there are biohacks to work better and smarter. There are biohacks for everything and with the use of social funding, there are more strategies and models to follow with an equal amount of amazing tech to track and monitor progress.
Biohacking is a field outside of the realm of the medical field. It has been allowed to flourish and progress through individual entrepreneurs funding and personal desires for excelling. Mainstream science is slowly catching up but for now, we can owe many thanks to those entrepreneurs who see value in alternative methods of improving human functioning. In saying that, I do heed some caution in the things I try. Most biohacks are safe and are easy to trial on your own but there are some more advanced hacks that probably need more solid scientific verification and safety testing on a long term basis. For now, eating a diet high in veggies and doing exercise are easy, safe biohacks.
So with all the hype and media coverage, what actually are the benefits of biohacking? It all depends on what your aim is. There are people who are mainly concerned with mental capacity biohacking. Some focus on physical biohacks to become better athletes and others (put me here) focus on biohacking as a way to improve longevity.
The focus in biohacking is to work with yourself. To try different strategies and methods and find out what works for you. More and more we are understanding that our bodies are individual systems. Even though on a macro level we function the same, genes, lifestyle, nutrition and even race mean our microsystems may function differently. Testing out different methods can be tedious, time-consuming and possibly financially difficult but once you find what works fpr you, its all systems go. You will feel better, work better and overall function better than you could have ever imagined.
Can anyone do biohacking?
Chances are you are already doing some form of biohacking. By taking that herbal supplement to improve concentration, you are doing a biohack. By taking short intermittent breaks between work tasks, you are doing a performance hack.
A biohack is anything that is going to improve you in some or other way outside of the medical field. It’s available to anyone and everyone. Some of it costs a lot of money, like getting your DNA sequenced and some of it costs absolutely nothing, like meditation.
Biohacking is a way to take your health and wellbeing into your own hands. You bypass the traditional methods of relying on others to bring to your health, wealth and happiness and create it for yourself.
The only requirement for biohacking is the willingness to assess yourself and a need for change, and once recognizing it, taking the necessary steps to improve, tracking your results and monitoring and adjusting. It’s available to anyone that wants to, as they say, “live their best life”.
What are some easily incorporated biohacks?
Most people live pretty busy lives. And while there is a hack for that itself, let’s look at some biohacks that can be easily incorporated into day to day life that can offer improvements.
I personally hate cold showers however I can’t deny the benefits. Ben Greenfield, a super athlete is where I first learnt about cold therapy. There is a lot of science behind it but essentially it is amazing for burning fat, improves immune function, increases cell longevity (winner – slower ageing), increases metabolism, improves emotional resilience, supports healthy lymphatic system, improves resilience against stress, better condition of hair and skin and has a positive effect on blood sugar. That’s quite an impressive list for something as simple as going for a cold shower in the am.
Initially, cold showers are painful and not fun, but after a few days, your body gets used to it and looks forward to the boost. Get over the initial hurdle and then it’s home free.
How do you do it? Start off with at least 10 seconds exposure of cold shower in the am and work yourself up to pretty much just having cold showers. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a hot bath, which has its own benefits. Stick to cold showers in the am and hot showers at night.
Improving the quality of your sleep is one f the easiest hacks to overall better quality of life. By getting the right amount and best quality of sleep you can improve your mood, your performance, relationships, athletic performance and more.
Sleep is that time when your body and mind can switch off and switch on its inner healing and regenerating mechanisms. Hacking your sleep should be on your list if at least the only one. But what does it entail?
- Eliminate bright light – sleep in total darkness. Stay away from electronics at least one hour before bed. More than that is an added bonus. I myself try to maintain a no phone rule after 6 pm and allow an hour before bed of reading and meditation to get into sleep mode.
- Keep cool – sleeping in a room at about 15 – 20 degrees Celsius has been proven to be the ideal temperature for having a good nights rest.
- Knowing your chronotype – I know a lot about health and wellness and was quite pleased to discover that there are sleep types. Now that I write it, it seems quite obvious. Dr Michael Breus PhD, considered America’s sleep doctor, has devoted his life to understanding sleep. He has come up with 4 sleep types. Once you know your chronotype, you gear your life and its activities to make sure you are working with your rhythms and not against them.
IF has become the next best thing after sliced bread. I do myself practice and value IF as a tool for health and wellness, however, I want to start off with some caution, especially for my female power womyn. IF is great for losing weight and maintaining a healthy lean body but overdone it can wreak havoc with your hormones. So while it is definitely a great biohack, please proceed with caution. Listen to your body and don’t force fasting when you are menstruating, busy or feel fatigued.
What’s the ideal time? There are 3 main time frames for fasting 12/12, 16/8 and 18/4. The longer time frames have their benefits, such as with medical conditions such as autoimmune disorders, metabolic syndrome or gut issues but in my personal opinion and direct experience, most people will still experience maximum benefit with a 12/12 schedule.
12/12 has proven to have the best benefits with no possible side effects whereas increasing the hours’ can increases chances of thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances and fatigue, all at no added benefit. Anything longer than 12/12 ratio fasting should be done with caution and in consultation with a health professional. While people do longer fasts feel great initially, internal unseen mechanisms in the body can become stressed and unbalanced resulting in health issues that may not have been there.
12 hour fasting has proven to be the best fasting period with the most benefits for health and longevity.
Again, ladies, forcing longer fasts as a way to stay thin is not the answer. It can mess with your hormones and once the damage is done there, it can be quite tricky to come back to normal. Stay safe and listen to your body. Eating smaller meals that are nutritionally dense with 12-hour fasts is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Remember, strong is the new sexy, not skinny!
This is quite an old school concept coming back into the light. And for good reason. It works. I have for the last 8 months been focusing on being as conscious as possible in my day to day life and one of the things that have really improved my quality of life is gratitude.
If you are reading this, you have a phone, laptop, tablet or maybe evening chilling at a computer cafe. Anyone of those options puts you in the top percentage of people that can be labelled privileged. By the fact alone that you have a cell phone you have something to be grateful for. You have a bed at night, as opposed to sleeping under a bridge offers you an opportunity for gratitude. Waking up to the fortune in your life allows you to see the unfortunate suffering elsewhere, and this in itself opens you up to being a more compassionate, empathetic person. Flowing from this is the willingness to share what you have and once you turn over that leaf, life exponentially improves.
Wouldn’t practising gratitude be a life hack rather than a biohack? While it is a life hack it most definitely is also a biohack. Being grateful sends messages through your body of peace and joy. Being grateful puts you physiologically in a state of receptiveness and healing. We all know the perils of stress, so putting yourself in the opposite state has the very opposite effects – healing.
Wayne Dyer knew what he was on about. By practising gratitude you look at life from a whole different perspective and things start to change in your life. Start with 3 things at night and stick to it. After a month, reassess your life and how you feel, see the magic.
The reason I am so passionate about nutrition is this: when you feel physically down, your motivation and ability to achieve goals, big or small is minimized significantly. When you are healthy and strong, you feel like you can move mountains.
Sorting our nutrition is one of the most impactful biohacks available. That doesn’t mean you have to be 100% clean eating machine. But it does mean making smarter choices most of the time. Choosing healthy whole foods options more often than not is a great way to live.
Basic nutrition principles that you can do starting now:
- Drink more water 2-3 litres of good quality water
- Eat more vegetables – 80% of what you eat!
- Include more greens – green leafy vegetables, spirulina and chlorella are amazing!
- Eat less animal-based proteins and more plant-based protein
- Avoid refined carbohydrates. 99% of the time.
- Avoid Sugar – always.
Spend time outdoors each day
Spending time outdoors seems like a strange point to put into biohacking but there is plenty of science to back it up. Getting fresh air each day refreshes the brain and the senses. Going outdoors also has a grounding effect on you physically. Getting outdoors also means more sunshine and vitamin D, a common deficiency in developed nations.
Exercise is an obvious hack to wellbeing. Everyone knows that moving your body leads to better weight management, decreased chronic diseases, stronger immune system, improved mood, increased energy, better blood glucose metabolism, better skin and improved cognitive function and performance.
Starting to exercise is not easy, for sure, but once you have gotten over the initial struggle you will then struggle to not exercise. Once you feel the benefits it’s hard to wake up and say to yourself that you don’t want to feel that good and you would rather feel sluggish, tired and lagging.
It’s about finding an exercise that you resonate with. Go on a month of free classes. Try dancing, yoga, weight training, HIIT, pilates, running, walking, hiking swimming, rock climbing or callisthenics. There are so many types of body movement, it’s only a matter of finding the one you like.
Ah, and I saved the best for last.
Meditation has been around for centuries. It really does have the capacity to have major effects on health and wellbeing. Again, it’s not about being perfect, it’s not about starting off with an hour a day and sitting in perfect comfort and being one with the universe. You don’t even have to call it meditation. call it “me time”, or breathe work, or downtime, or whatever makes you feel comfortable, as long as you take that time each day for yourself and to get centred in your own world and life experience.
Build yourself up. Start by waking up and taking mindful breathes for a week. And then make it 10 deep slow mindful breathes for another week, And then progress to sitting down in a comfortable position for 10 minutes only observing your breathe. And from then on work yourself up. There are amazing apps that have guided meditations or music. All of which ultimately have one thing in common, to slow you and your brain down and become present.
I have not ever heard of anyone that made a true effort towards meditation and said it had no effect. Try it and watch the effects for yourself. Some scientifically recorded benefits have been found for your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
Find what works for you
Not all biohacking systems will work for everyone. But that certainly does not mean you shouldn’t try. I know that focusing on sleep, nutrition and meditation have massive benefits for my well being whereas lying in a bucket of ice is not going to add much value for me as a non-athlete.
Ask yourself this… Are you happy? Do you feel healthy? Do you want more?
If so, biohacking is for you. Biohacking puts your life in your own hands and gives you the power to feel more, be more and have more. It does require effeort which some people seem to be afraid of but no one successful didnt put effort in. In fact, they embraced it, using other hacks such as productivity, time and life hacks to support it.
Happy hacking everyone!
There is a lot more surrounding Biohacking such as wearable tech, implants and supplementation. I decided to keep this post about easy, accessible and affordable hacks that can still offer a lot of benefits. This is a new field and there needs to be more research into the effectiveness and safety of some of the other methods that are mentioned on the web. If you want to know more than is available on this post, feel free to comment or do some research of your own. The following Biohackers are leading the way: Ben Greenfield, Tim Ferris, Anthony DiClementi, Peter Attia and Wim Hof. There are loads more but these are my go to.