Biohacking can appear to be a complex subject, and just for people seeking the ultimate performance physically or mentally, but in reality you should be doing it, even if you’re not trying to be “superhuman”.
What is biohacking? It’s the short cut to transforming your health, fitness and mind. The science-based, pro-active approach, to radically improving your brain, body, energy levels and lifestyle in as short a time as possible.
Let me explain how and why…
When you first hear of ‘biohacking’, it might bring to mind images of a Sci-Fi world – not the stuff of real life. However, while the term sounds futuristic and fantastical, biohacking is relatively simple, and there’s a good chance you’ve done some of it yourself already.
For example, if you’ve ever looked at ways to improve your performance in the gym, then you’ve engaged in biohacking; if you’ve ever had a sports massage to increase your running ability – that’s biohacking too. In short, biohacking is applying scientific evidence and the latest available technology to your personal biologies to improve yourself.
But to effectively apply biohacking, you need to understand how this relatively new term can be applied to existing habits.
These are the areas you’ll find out about:
- Why you should consider biohacking
- Taking the first step
- The science of biohacking
- Factors and facilitators that make the most of biohacking
- The benefits of biohacking
- Three ways to biohack your biology
It’s quite amazing: by making small, incremental changes to your daily activities, you can improve every aspect of your life – your physical fitness, your career, and your happiness in general. If you want to be at the top of your game, ignoring biohacking isn’t an option.
Why you should consider biohacking
It’s no secret that we live in a competitive world, so giving yourself every possible advantage is vital if you want to excel. Happily, whatever area of your life you want to boost, biohacking can help. When assessing the impact that your current sleep patterns have on your energy and efficiency, for example, it’s easy to see that a small improvement in quality could have huge benefits across all areas of your life.
Indeed, think how much better you would feel if your exercise regime was able to be optimized due to improved energy level, or the result of an improved exercise regime on your quality of sleep. Add a third boost to your routine, and you will have successfully biohacked your way to greater success in your day-to-day life.
To get an edge over the competition, advance in your career, or drastically improve functionality in any other area, biohacking is the answer. So, rather than ask why you should consider biohacking, instead the question should be: why would you not?
Taking the first step
You can’t make improvements to anything without analyzing its status, and biohacking is no exception. To be successful, you need to have an excellent view of what is happening in your body, and the term for this is ‘bioanalytics’. All ‘hacks’ take advantage of technology, and here are some of the basics:
We’ve all seen the latest fitness tracker boom – everyone and their grandmother seem to have a FitBit these days. This is a prime example of a biohacking tool, and a fuss-free way to implement ongoing bioanalytics into your day. By taking note of the distances you walk, run or cycle, as well as your intake of calories, you can assess your daily calorie burn. Some also monitor heart rate and sleep quality – all from the kit on your wrist.
Some wearable tech can be linked to your smartphone, offering you notifications and other tools. If you’re an iPhone user, you might want something like the Apple Watch, which seamlessly connects to your phone. If you prefer an Android device, you should check out the Samsung Galaxy Watch. It’s worth noting you can cross-use these devices, but you will miss some of the ease-of-use functionality that comes with picking a side.
Bioanalytics can be done from your smartphone. As well as linking into wearable tech, you can also use an app like SleepCycle, which is an intelligent alarm clock that tracks your sleep patterns. It notes your sleep times, tracking the five stages of sleep via muscle activity and movement, and monitors those signals to be able to wake you from the lightest sleep stage, helping you to avoid that groggy feeling when your alarm goes off.
Developed by experts in the fields of psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, the Happify app offers you effective, evidence-based solutions for better emotional health and well-being. It measures your emotional state, gives you impactful games and writing activities that are designed to influence it, and claims that 86% of its users experience an improvement in their mindset after two months of use.
Wearable tech and smartphone apps are incredibly useful tools – however, they are still in their infancy and do have their limitations. Fortunately, there are some less technological ways to find out exactly what is happening in your body. One of the best bang-for-your-buck biohacks you can do is treating your microbiome.
Defined as the naturally occurring collection of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live in your body, the microbiome in your gut is one of the greatest indicators of your health. Having a healthy, balanced microbiome is vital in being a healthy person in general. Things like pro-biotics and high-fibre diets are all great ways to improve the microbiome.
There are a variety of services for testing your microbiome. Check out Ubiome, a subscription service that will send you out a test-kit every month or quarter, letting you keep on track of your gut health on a long-term basis.
The science of biohacking
Biohacking is backed by scientific evidence and a long history of studying the human body. If you consider the interactive nature of biohacking, then it’s clear that a singular approach to your well-being won’t be as effective as a layered plan based on clinically proven methods.
The process of supplement stacking has been studied for years, offering both qualitative and quantitative proof that it works to enhance energy, endurance and – in the case of fitness training – recovery. By using complimentary nutritional supplements in careful balance (maximizing effectiveness while minimizing side effects) you can beef up your ability to achieve a specific physical goal.
One of the most well researched and effective supplements you can buy over the counter is melatonin. A vital hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain, it helps to increase the body’s brown adipose tissue, aka ‘brown fat’. This tissues’ function is to turn food into heat, but as we age, tissue volume is lost. Research has shown that higher volume levels are linked to lots of health benefits – including bone health, insulin sensitivity, and a longer lifespan in general.
Additionally, melatonin affects your quality of sleep. Given its dual impact, why wouldn’t you want to stack in order to achieve the best possible outcome?
A fast-growing movement, Earthing (or grounding) is a belief that physically connecting to the earth can offer you numerous benefits, including improved sleep quality, increased blood flow and a reduction of pain. The idea is that you are being ‘connected’ to conductive systems that transfer the earth’s electrons from the ground into the body.
Quite simply, proponents walk barefoot outside for around 20 minutes every day in order to access the earth’s negative electric charge and neutralize the positive electric charge that they have accumulated. For those who prefer not to interact with mother nature directly, there are grounding mats which are said to offer the same reversal while you sleep.
There have been some clinical studies that have shown a positive effect, but possibly the most vocal supporter of the movement is Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof. A regular long-haul traveler who used to suffer from painful jet lag, he utilizes Earthing to not only counteract the negative effects of his journeys, but also sleeps on a grounding mat to increase his REM sleep patterns. Speaking of sleep…
Arguably the most achievable and effective biohack of all, improving your sleep patterns will positively impact every single area of your life. Consider this: in 1910, the average American slept 9 hours each night – in 2018, that was down to 6.8 hours.
We live in a fast-paced world and slowing down to get some quality shut-eye has got harder and harder. Therefore, it’s not surprising that up to 60 million of us have reported suffering from insomnia. Additionally, three-quarters of those who suffer from depression also experience a lack of sleep.
Frankly, a lack of quality sleep is crippling. It doesn’t matter how tough you are – not getting enough sleep will break you down. But by using bioanalytics to identify the root cause of your sleep issues, you can apply scientifically proven biohacks to your sleep process to counteract lethargy, improve mental well-being and boost energy reserves.
Factors and facilitators that make the most of biohacking
The interaction between internal and external factors in your daily life should be balanced. Just like supplement stacking, the trick is to use complimentary biohacks to maximize your natural biological functions.
Every time we watch ‘just one more episode!’ on Netflix or think ‘I’ll just check my Instagram feed’, we activate the dopamine receptors in our brain. This part of the brain is constantly seeking novelty and reward, and it requires discipline to ignore its call. Additionally, blue light from screens has been shown to lower melatonin by up to 50% – further impacting your ability to achieve REM.
But technology can work with you as well as against you, so to automate your down-time, use a filter on your device. By powering down your mind, you will tell your body that it’s time to rest and facilitate a nourishing sleep.
If you are using a PC or Mac, there is an excellent app called Flux that changes the screen contrast depending on the time of day, and can be pre-set to dim when it’s time for you to start the biological process of mental relaxation. Both Android and Apple phones have this feature built in, offering a simple biohack that guides you to be screen-free for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Superfoods contain a variety of nutrients, as well as antioxidants, that are hugely beneficial to your health. Stuffed with healthy fats and all-important fibres, a diet that includes superfoods can prevent heart disease, ward off diabetes and digestive issues, as well as boost your immune system. On top of that, adding a dietary biohack will also improve your fitness achievements.
You get out what you put in, so why wouldn’t you choose a biohack that benefits you? We’ve already discussed the advantages of melatonin, and foods like bananas are known to naturally increase those levels. But what about the rest of your diet?
A sometimes-overlooked internal factor that is potentially the most important of all is mental well-being. When you live a busy life that involves high levels of stress and anxiety, your internal balance will be in constant flux. On a very basic level, that can make it a nightmare (pun intended) to do something as simple as fall asleep. But by applying biohacks that deal with diet and fitness, you can also positively impact your mindset.
The benefits of biohacking
Biohacking is not a process that is limited to one sphere of your biology. It involves improving all of the different aspects of your physical and mental health. By developing the interconnections between your mind and body, you can become the best version of yourself.
The best biohacks are those that involve improving your full biology as a whole and not just one area. The following examples will give you an idea of what a ‘bang for your buck’ biohack looks like:
Meditation is one of the most impactful and resource-light biohacks available. There are a multitude of studies on meditation that demonstrate how consistent practice can show structural changes in your brain and how it functions. Needing only your mind, the benefits include:
1. An increase in gray matter: Gray matter is associated with your ability to memorize, the capacity to learn, and the regulation of emotions. It is located in the areas of your brain that deal with muscle control, sensory perception and decision making. Meditation has shown to make significant increases in gray matter volume.
2. Reduces stress and anxiety: It’s hard to be at the top of your game when you’re overcome with negative thoughts. By regularly meditating you can improve self-control, keep your emotions stable and sail through stressful events.
3. Increased focus: Meditation makes it easier for you to focus and concentrate by thickening the prefrontal cortex. This area of your frontal lobe governs higher executive functioning – including personality expression and behaviour moderation. Building up this area makes it easier to complete cognitive tasks.
4. Increased pain threshold: Meditation reduces the amount of pain you perceive – that’s some superhero stuff!
5. Heightens awareness: After meditating for a short time, even if it’s only 10 minutes, you will notice that you are more aware of your surroundings and body. This mindfulness is great for keeping you ‘in the moment’ and not living out your life in your own head.
There is so much evidence on meditation and so many listed benefits that you would be crazy not to practice it. Just 10 minutes a day, every day, is far superior to a one-hour meditation once a week, and it won’t take too much time away from other tasks.
If you struggle to keep focus, a cheap and easy way to get the benefit of guidance is to use an app like HeadSpace. This will talk you through your meditation process as you do it, keeping you on track.
Resistance training is a commonplace hack for people looking to become the strongest version of themselves. Resistance training doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a barbell above your head, but can be as simple as practising bodyweight movements like squats and push-ups, or engaging in some yoga activities.
By definition, this type of training is simply the action of your muscles pulling on your bones under load – it’s your body reacting to and moving against resistance. Resistance training can be a vital biohack for everyone: men and women, young and old. Undertaken regularly, the benefits can include:
1. Increased muscle mass: Regular resistance training causes your muscles to become more efficient and there’s a couple of ways this happens. The first is through increased muscle fibre recruitment (this is a reaction in the brain that activates more muscle fibres to cope with the increased load). The second is hypertrophy, which involves the muscle cells actually getting bigger, as well as new cells being created.
2. Increased metabolism: Having more muscle in your frame increases the number of calories you burn at rest. By having a higher metabolic rate, you can eat more food while keeping your total intake of calories at a healthy level.
3. Improved insulin sensitivity: Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. By engaging in resistance training, you increase the muscles’ sensitivity to insulin and there is evidence that it can reverse the disorder.
4. Improved quality of life: Keeping your muscles and joints strong and healthy will give you a better quality of life as you reach your twilight years. What’s the point in living to old age if you can’t do the activities you loved doing in your youth?
5. Self-esteem and confidence: Resistance training will improve your physique. Having a body you’re proud of will dramatically increase your confidence and self-esteem, which will translate into every area of your life. Move better, perform better, feel better.
Resistance training can be done on your own, or as part of a group. The Crossfit lifestyle movement has boomed in popularity, offering a supportive community that incorporates just about every kind of resistance training you can imagine as part of a strength and conditioning programme.
If weights aren’t your thing, you can start attending a yoga class. This is particularly good for those with mobility issues as it incorporates physical, meditative and spiritual practices for all-encompassing wellness.
Recovery is as important as the actual exercise, and cold therapy (or cryotherapy) works by targeting blood flow to specific areas to reduce swelling and inflammation. As well as reducing pain, it has been proven to facilitate recovery after physical exertion and is beneficial for the treatment of some physical ailments including tissue damage and muscular injury, and has been shown to increase cell rejuvenation. Some of its reported impacts are:
1. It’s anti-inflammatory: Cold therapy releases norepinephrine, a naturally occurring chemical that acts as a stress hormone and neurotransmitter. As a fight-or-flight responder, the release of norepinephrine will lessen short-term pain from injuries and reduce inflammation in your entire body.
2. It’s immune boosting: Exposure to cold strengthens your immune system, helping you to kill off viruses and reduce the chance of getting sick.
3. It’s energising: Short-term exposure to the cold will give you a much-needed jolt of energy, to help you go about your day in a better mood and with increased productivity.
4. It can help with depression: One study reported that taking regular cold showers had a beneficial effect on the brains of those who suffer from depression. The cold directs an increase of electrical impulses to the brain, which has been shown to help ease depressive episodes.
5. It can help you lose weight: Numerous studies have shown that cold therapy leads to an increase in brown adipose tissue (or brown fat) that increases the bodyfat conversion, helping you to burn more calories.
Cold therapy can be as simple as a cold shower. The shock from the cold water increases the circulation in your body, which leads to a higher demand for oxygen. You automatically start breathing deeper – and this gives you a jolt of energy and helps you fight off fatigue.
For those who prefer more controlled conditions, Cryotherapy booths are often available in spas or similar environments. The process typically involves standing in a chamber at temperatures as low as -110ºC for between 3 and 5 minutes.
Three ways to biohack your biology
Biohacking can be as rigid as a regime, or as loose as a personal preference. Some involve scientific testing, like the microbiome kit, while others you can do with the aid of an app, like sleep hacks. As well as this, there are three, main biohacking themes that hacks can fall into:
This is a growing social movement that involves individuals or communities who study biohacking in the same way as a traditional researcher, but at home. Carried out online in forums, it involves personal experimentation, then the sharing of findings to the community at large. Usually a not-for-profit ideal, DIY Biology is focused on disseminating knowledge and giving back to the group as a whole.
Also called nutritional genomics, this is a scientific discipline that uses nutrition to improve physical and mental well-being. Most commonly used to reduce the risk of obesity, the process identifies the relationship between individual genetics and certain types of food. This analysis can reduce diet-related illnesses and is used to develop personalised nutritional treatments. On a very basic level, this biohack can find the foods that make you happy, while making sure to keep you healthy.
Grinders are extreme biohackers who physically alter their bodies with cybernetic devices, or use chemical stimulants to enhance their functionality. Often associated with transhumanist ideologies (which theorise that radical technological advances will fundamentally change the nature of human beings), the Grinder movement practices DIY implantation of cybernetic devices (such as magnetic fingertips) and nootropics (prescription drugs used by healthy individuals) to boost cognitive performance.
To choose the best biohacks for your personal needs, you should take into account your individual circumstances and ideologies. Rather than restricting yourself to one theme, a combination of all three could, therefore, be the most effective way to maximize your potential.
For example, joining a DIY Biology group may provide you with guidance on the most effective fitness hacks, while nutrigenomic analysis will pinpoint the most impactful dietary regime. If you have a disability or physical disadvantage to address, embracing cybernetic enhancement could grind your way to optimizing your potential.
If you’re not biohacking, you’re missing out. In this day and age, you have to take every advantage you can get to stay at the top of your field. But as well as boosting your career and fitness achievements, biohacking can positively impact your mental well-being too.
By approaching biohacking as a multifunctional tool, you can apply science and technology to your personal biologies and reap the benefits across all areas of your life. By implementing bioanalytics via wearable tech and interactive smart apps, you can assess personal weaknesses and apply evidence-based hacks to increase overall performance.
In short: figure out what you want to change, then use a hack to change it.
Whether you decide to supplement stack for physical fitness, use Earthing to counteract jet lag, or just want to increase your REM sleep, there’s a biohack to help. By considering the internal and external factors that govern your day-to-day activities, you will be able to put into effect all manner of personalized biohacks to improve your quality of life.
Biohacking can positively impact mindfulness and relaxation, physical fitness, and improve recovery from illness and ailments. So whether you prefer a DIY regime with support from the #biohack community, want to benefit from nutrigenomic analysis, or are keen to grind your way to maximum performance with cybernetic and nootropic enhancements, you can biohack your way to a better you.
What are you waiting for? Harness the power of biohacking and upgrade your life today!