Much of what you need to know about biohacking is in the name: this series of techniques taking wellness circles by storm allows you to “hack” your body’s natural processes in order to work your way towards better health.
Biohacking techniques can lead to weight loss, reduced inflammation, increased energy, better skin, and more – and the best part? They're easy to include in your daily routine.
1. Intermittent Fasting
Touted by keto practitioners everywhere, intermittent fasting is the key to launching autophagy, a cellular process whose name comes from auto, meaning self, and phage, meaning to devour. In essence, autophagy helps cells devour dead, dying, and malfunctioning cells in our bodies, paving the way for improved healthy cell function.
"When your cells get old or die," explains Jason Way, ND, "other cells clean them up and recycle the materials to build new, younger and healthier cells."
Without autophagy, he explains, "our body would become a landfill, crammed with broken pieces or worse it would just shut down because nothing would be replaced."
For Drew Manning, creator of the 60-Day Keto Jumpstart and Fit2Fat2Fit, intermittent fasting is one of the biohacks that gives you “the best bang for your buck,” contributing not only to physical but also to emotional and mental improvements.
“People are experiencing this mental clarity that they've never experienced before,” he says.
The benefits of this particular biohack are particularly poignant for women after age 30, notes Michelle Burleson, author of No Fail Physique Transformation for Women.
“For women specifically, after about age 30, we begin losing about 10% of our lean tissue (muscle) every decade – unless we get proactive in preserving and growing it,” she says. “When we prevent muscle loss and increase it, we also prevent insulin resistance (and the associated lifestyle-related diseases), fat gain, bone thinning/osteoporosis. So, we're not only taking out the cellular garbage, increasing muscle, increasing bone density, achieving hormonal homeostasis, bolstering the health of the gut biome... we're also inducing longevity and anti-again processes at a cellular level.”
How to Hack
Practicing 16/8 intermittent fasting, where one fasts for 16 hours (including overnight) and eats in an eight-hour window, is one of the most common ways to activate autophagy. But using this practice alongside a keto or keto-like diet will only increase these benefits.
“Your brain is a lot more efficient at running on ketones, but no one's really experienced that yet in our society, because we've always eaten carbohydrates," says Manning. "We've always been running off of glucose."
In her New York Times bestselling book Glow15, Naomi Whittel also recommends boosting autophagy with certain polyphenols she describes as “power-phenols.” These foods include green tea, bergamot, and cinnamon, all of which she notes are great for activating autophagy.
2. Cold Water Therapy
Cold water therapy is another great biohacking technique that can reduce inflammation and improve your body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory, and digestive systems.
One 2014 literature review published in the North American Journal of Medical Science linked cold water therapy to reduced frequency of respiratory infections in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as to lowered fatigue and improved physical recovery following exercise.
Cold therapy might even increase brown fat production, which most adults don’t have nearly enough of. These fat cells are packed with mitochondria and actually burn white fat, which stores calories. One 2009 study found that people with low BMIs have higher amounts of brown fat, suggesting a potential role of brown fat in the human metabolism.
How to Hack
While some point to expensive cryotherapy as the best way to take advantage of this biohacking technique, Manning notes that adding cold therapy to your daily routine could be as easy as taking a cold bath or 60-second cold shower.
3. Hack Your Sleep
Very few of us are getting enough good-quality sleep these days. Keeping artificial lights on way past the time our bodies naturally want to go to bed (and taking a mini, interactive flashlight – our smartphones – to bed with us) means that most of us aren't producing the melatonin we need to fall asleep naturally.
"By disrupting melatonin production, smartphone light can disrupt your sleep cycle, almost like an artificially induced jet lag," writes Business Insider. "That makes it harder to fall and stay asleep — which could lead to serious health problems."
These issues can range from eye irritation to impaired memory to metabolic disease and even increased the risk of depression and certain cancers.
“We all know that sleep leads to better hormone balance and if our hormones are balanced, that leads to increased weight loss and fat loss,” says Manning.
How to Hack
Blue light blocking glasses can block the specific type of light found in phone screens, LED, and fluorescent lights, among others, that was linked to sleep issues in a 2015 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Another way to help is to set a regular bedtime (and stick to it). In her book, Whittel notes that it’s important to find out the natural length of your sleep cycle (her book offers tips to do this) so that you ensure that you’re getting the right amount of sleep.
“I need five sleep cycles, and my sleep cycle is about 90 minutes," she says. "So 7 1/2 hours is way better for me than 8 hours.”
4. Grounding and Forest Bathing
Getting out in nature is also an excellent way to hack your system, particularly with regards to stress – and the production of stress hormones.
Our bodies evolved to react to high-stress situations – like being chased by a bear – by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are beneficial in high-stress situations, as they maintain blood pressure and repress some inessential body functions, like digestion, for the duration of the stressful event.
While these hormones are very useful if you’re fleeing a predator, it’s not so useful to have them coursing through your system every time you’re under a work deadline or trying to find a parking spot. The constant presence of these hormones can have detrimental effects on immunity, blood pressure, and metabolic health.
But getting out in nature has been clinically proven to help cortisol drop, allowing essential involuntary processes, such as digestion, to take place properly. The practice of forest bathing has even been linked to reduced risk of metabolic disease, reduced inflammation, and improved mental clarity.
How to Hack
Get outside! Research has shown that 40 minutes at a time is ideal to reap these health benefits, but you can start small if you need to. Those living in urban centers can reap these benefits in a park, while those living near woods or mountains might choose a hike instead.
The one thing you don't want to forget? Take off your shoes.
“It's really important to help your body kind of get acclimated to your surrounding nature and being outdoors,” says Manning.
Meditation is yet another great biohacking tool for reducing stress (and stress hormones) and the resulting inflammation they cause.
Studies have shown that meditation can help people reduce high blood pressure, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, ease anxiety and depression, and aid in insomnia. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health even recommends meditation to cancer patients experiencing symptoms and treatment side effects.
How to Hack
For many Western people who did not grow up meditating, Manning says, the practice can seem hard to wrap your head around at first. He recommends trying a free app with guided meditations to begin to learn these techniques and begin your biohacking journey.
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