Everyone likes a good ‘hack,’ aka those clever ways to do things better, faster, easier than what you’ve been doing before. A lot of hacks focus on automating or simplifying life’s more mundane tasks – like better ways of doing the laundry, working out, cooking, mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, etc. But you know what else could use a few good hacks? Your health.
Over the last few years there’s been a lot of talk about ‘biohacking.’ Yes, it sounds a bit Brave New World but, in practice, bio-hacking is really about applying smart, health-enhancing strategies to help us create the best, healthiest versions of ourselves possible. So, how to bio-hack your way to better health? Start here:
Bio-hacking is life done better.
When we think of the word ‘hack,’ we often think of tech geeks hunched over keyboards, wreaking havoc. Add the word ‘bio’ to it and the idea can sound downright unsettling, particularly amidst headline-grabbing news stories of Silicon Valley types implanting microchips in their bodies to ‘hack’ one bodily function or another. And while that is an aspect of it for a very select few, the biohacking I encourage focuses on working with your own physiology to optimize its functioning, your performance, and your overall well being. Sensible, safe, and good-for-you!
Bio-hacking has many spokes.
So, what approaches fall under the bio-hack umbrella? A number of healthy lifestyle and dietary habits; some supplementation where needed; plus a few more high-tech items like wearable health tracking devices, biomarker testing, and even genetic testing. To repeat: I’m not talking about highly experimental, riskier techniques like implanted devices or physical alterations like fecal transfers and ‘young blood transfusions.’ Though interesting in theory, the risks are considerable and serious – think infections, auto-immune responses, inflammation, just to mention the ones we know about. Simply put: I’d keep these options firmly in the must-to-avoid column for now (and perhaps for the next decade or so).
Meet the bio-hacks that have your back.
Rest assured, there are plenty of health-enhancing biohacking options to choose from. With any luck, you may already be doing a few. But the more the merrier, so add some new ones to your daily mix. Among the best to start gifting your mind and body ASAP:
ESSENTIAL DAILY BIO-HACKS:
- Sleep – Unless you’re among the 1% of ‘short-sleepers’ who are genetically able to function well on as little as 4 hours of shut-eye, you really, really need to get a nightly dose of 7 – 8 hours, to give your body and brain the time it needs to rest, repair and refresh. Though there are dozens of good health reasons to log those restorative hours, if nothing else, let me appeal to your vanity: even just one night of sleep deprivation promotes biological aging, and that includes the youth of your skin.
- Movement – Sedentary lifestyles devastate health and shorten lifespans, so, in a word, move – and keep moving throughout the day. Whether you’re working from home or in a conventional office, find ways to weave in movement. Whether it’s doing a few flights of stairs, jumping rope, taking calls standing up or walking around the parking lot a few times a day, it all counts. Even toe-tapping, foot-wagging and fidgeting are beneficial to your blood vessels, and blood sugar levels – so don’t just sit there.
- Meditation – Find 5 -10 minutes in the morning or at the end of the day to calm and soothe your brain and body with meditation. If you can go longer, even better. The more time you can find to meditate , the more you will bio-hack your head, improving memory, processing speed, focus and creativity. You’ll also lower blood pressure, stress and anxiety in a simple and natural way, no prescription required.
- Cold immersion – Now here’s a chilly bio-hack for you: short exposures to low temperatures. Doing so stimulates longevity gene pathways, increases mitochondria production, and helps tamp down inflammation. It also helps boost immunity, sleep quality and fat-burning, in part because doses of cold cause the body to shiver, which activates reactions inside the brown fat cells, the ones that our bodies burn for fuel to keep our bodies warm (versus the problematic white stuff our bodies store). While some folks do this bio-hack with cryotherapy sessions, you can DIY it to similar effect with cold showers (or a cold rinse at the end of your usual hot shower), ice baths or ice packs. You can also spend a few minutes outdoors in winter lightly dressed to give the body the light stress it needs to help fire up the longevity pathways.
EATING & NUTRITIONAL BIO-HACKS
- Low sugar diet – One of the greatest health hacks out there? Ditching sugar. Stick to a diet that’s super low in sugar, free of processed foods and high in organic (or farmers’ market), whole, unprocessed produce and you’ll automatically boost the health and performance of your gut and brain. In the short term, you’ll push down blood pressure and blood pressure levels to a healthier place. In the long term, you’ll lower your risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Every system and organ in your body will benefit so keep sugar out of it as much as possible – but do indulge in low-sugar berries a few times a week.
- Time restricted eating (TRE) – One of the great and easy bio-hacks with a big payoff: a metabolism that runs more efficiently. To do it, simply lengthen the day’s natural fast, the time between dinner and “break-fast.” Allow a minimum of twelve hours between the two, for instance doing dinner at 7 p.m. and breakfast at 7 a.m. Work towards expanding that daily fasting period up to 16 hours, three to four times a week, with an earlier dinner and/or a later breakfast. That smaller ‘eating window’ will encourage your body to do more with less of everything, while lowering blood sugar, insulin levels, reducing fat build-up and curbing inflammation.
- Supportive supplements – Granted, nutritional needs to vary somewhat from person to person, but in addition to eating a diet rich in healthy whole, foods, a few supplements taken daily can add additional support for the good things you’re already doing. Among the basic, daily must-haves most people will benefit from and tolerate well: a good broad-spectrum probiotic, preferably one with at least 20 billion viable organisms; 1 -2 grams of a high-quality fish oil with EPA and DHA, vitamin C and D3.
MENTAL HEALTH & SELF-CARE BIO-HACKS
- Music – Ever notice how the right music can completely alter your mood? That’s bio-hacking in its most basic form, and many of us use music in this way without a second thought. But, to bio-hack into the incredible power of music in a more strategic way, tune into ‘brain entrainment’ music, which is actually designed to create desirable changes in brainwave activity. Depending on the music selected, you can plug into music with imbedded tones (or ‘binaural beats’) that will help boost alertness, awaken or energize, or if preferred, encourage relaxation, meditation, concentration, improved mental state and even sleep.
- Social connection – Got relationships? As long as they are healthy and supportive ones, that social connection is also an essential bio-hack. Research has found that strong social connection reduces the likelihood of premature death by 50%. This research concluded that individuals who have healthy and strong relationships live longer. What’s more, genetic research suggests that social connectedness supports immune function, whereas isolation likely reduces immune function.
- Time in Nature – Step into green surroundings to access a bio-hack that immediately calms the body, shifts the brain into a state of restful awareness – a fantastic double-health-whammy. It also heightens the senses, especially the olfactory system, which takes in the aromatic chemicals released by pine trees and may power up production of prized the body’s disease-fighting “killer T-cells.” Time in nature also initiates a cascade of beneficial effects, dropping cortisol levels, switching on your parasympathetic nervous system, and giving the brain’s prefrontal cortex—your hard-driving command center time to relax and refresh.
- Optimism – It does both your mind and body good, and yes, its impact on both makes it an excellent head-to-toe bio-hack. In fact, numerous studies indicate that optimists generally enjoy healthier hearts, brains, immunity and tend to live longer than their less upbeat counterparts. If perhaps you weren’t born with an innate abundance of optimism, or perhaps life’s challenges have tamped down some of your enthusiasm, remember that this health-supportive turn of mind is learnable. Just like eating well or staying fit, you can grow your skills and the impact of this powerful bio-hack with practice.
- Gratitude – Though it’s a bio-hack that can take practice, it’s benefits are legion and fast-acting, so now’s the time to get into a gratitude groove. Research indicates it can help lower blood pressure and blood sugar, boost heart health and immune function. Gratitude has a positive effect on brains too, stimulating the release of mood-lifting neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin while curbing the release of cortisol, aka, the stress hormone. Gratitude is associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while also boosting feelings of happiness, contentment, generosity, emotional resilience and improved mood – making it the bio-hack that keeps on giving.
TECH & TESTING BIO-HACKS
- Genetic testing – Among the most helpful bio-hacks to tap into is health and wellness genetic testing, which provides insights into how your unique body functions, and can lead you to a whole array of actionable insights into optimizing your eating, exercise, lifestyle choices, and more. The intel gleaned from these tests, empowers you to bio-hack your future over time – and downsize risk factors by identifying lifestyle, nutritional, health and wellness adjustments to make now, to reduce risk and help you steer of potential trouble spots.
- Blood analysis/biomarkers testing – You can think of this bio-hack as an actionable, what’s-happening-now companion piece to a more long-view approach of genetic testing. With blood analysis, the process provides evidence about your current state of health, testing levels of biomarkers to reveal what may be contributing to a current illness or exacerbating it. These tests will identify nutrient, mineral and/or vitamin deficiencies; high toxin levels; food allergens; inflammation levels, etc., which in turn, will help guide decisions on how to best treat those conditions based on the data.
- Wearable technology – When it comes to biohacking, wearable devices like an Apple Watch or Fitbit, a Continuous Blood Glucose Monitor (CGM) and an Oura Ring, do a simple, fuss-free way of collecting data about yourself, and learning how your body reacts to food, exercise, stress, sleep, etc. Wearable tech gives you real-time feedback on what you’re doing right and where there’s room for improvement. If you are drawn to data and tracking technology, the stream of stats on your steps, tracking heart rate, body temperature, heart rate variability, sleep patterns and more is a great way to keep your health goals top of mind.
These sorts of bio-hacks and the integration of them into healthcare will become more commonplace. There are now a few companies who integrate all of this into programs tailored to the individual, including one startup I am very excited to be part of, Hearty. Think of it as a sort of a one-stop-shop for your health, guided by a team of healthcare professionals, using best in class technology.