Biohacking: A Complete Guide to Becoming a Biohacker
If you’ve ever stuck with a fitness regimen that yielded improved strength, endurance, reduced weight, and a more positive sense of self, you might be a biohacker.
If you’ve ever implemented a schedule based around your sleep patterns that improved the quality of your slumber and made you feel more alert and capable during your waking hours, you might be a biohacker.
If you have ever addressed health problems, be they of the physical body or mental health issues, through proactive changes to your diet, getting better sleep, quitting bad habits, and on it goes, then you might be a biohacker.
Point made already, we assume, but here we go: you are already engaging in biohacking. At least you almost surely are, assuming you have made steps to improve any aspect of your physical and/or mental well-being in the recent past.
What is biohacking?
Biohacking is nothing more (but also nothing less) than taking conscious steps to improve the function of that human being you see there in the mirror.
Think of it like this: if you owned a high-performance sports car, let’s just say a Ferrari 488 Pista because why not, you would do your very best to take care of it, correct?
You’d use the highest octane gasoline and top quality motor oil, you’d clean the filters and swap the brake pads, you’d keep it clean, you’d protect it from the elements, and take all the other steps that go into proper car maintenance, because it’s a thing of great value, right?
Isn’t your body a thing of great value, too?
Optimizing your own biology
The human body is not a machine, of course, but it rather functions like that car in that the better the stuff you put into it, the better care you take of it, providing proper rest and exercise and stimulation and relaxation and all of it, the better it performs, and the better you feel.
That’s biohacking, that approach to life that involves giving your human machine system the best stuff. But of course that means the best stuff within reason. You wouldn’t pop a set of wings and a rocket engine or freakin’ laser beams onto that Ferrari, right? That would be overkill (and crazy).
The same is true for biohacking your own body. This is not about going to 11, as it were, it’s not about trying to make every single person an Olympic athlete, a chess champion, and a Zen master all in one. And it’s decidedly not about having RFID chips inserted under your skin or using crazy chemicals or supplements designed to give you owl-like night vision or let you skip sleeping for days one end.
Though some people call things like that biohacking, for our purposes today, we’re eschewing any such practices and considering them outside of our scope of biohacking. We are instead saying biohacking is about you striving for and drawing nearer to your own peak potential through positive changes you can make.
And with that striving will come ever greater self-actualization, satisfaction, and success.
Achieving peak potential: Common examples of biohacking
Perhaps the two most easily understood ways to hack (which is really just a buzzword for “improve,” by the way) your own biology are intermittent fasting and high intensity interval training, both of which have immensely gained in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Or reasons aplenty, really.
Intermittent fasting forces the modern human being to live more like our prehistoric forebears. There are myriad specific approaches to this way of eating and there are voluminous works you can read on the proactive approach to a diet (note it’s distinct from what we think of as “dieting”), but suffice it to say intermittent fasting involves eating at specified times and going for specified periods without consuming calories.
The practice trains the body to burn stored fats, to use the energy (food, e.g.) put into it efficiently, and it can help with weight management, fitness, sleep, and general wellness.
High intensity interval training, or HIIT is an approach to exercise where multiple different high-energy, very challenging exercises are banged out one after another, each one pushing a few muscles or muscle groups while also elevating the heart rate.
The results are improved strength, coordination, endurance, cardiovascular function, weight loss, and usually a boost in energy and self-confidence, and often with significantly less time invested in working out than you might otherwise have spent.
HIIT can be hard to do on your own in the garage or on the patio or whatnot, so consider trying a gym like Orange Theory Fitness or even enlisting a trainer for a few sessions. It’s worth the initial outlay of money to get your body hacked into best shape, as it were.
Treating the human body right
Other common biohacking activities? Let’s just go with the laundry list approach to show you that this really isn’t some spooky or hokey stuff here:
- Improving your sleep quality
- Going for a hike, trail run, or paddling on a river to increase blood flow
- Eliminating unhealthy foods from your diet to reduce blood sugar amounts
- Establishing and maintaining a work schedule
- Reading books that expand your thinking
- Listening to music that, by turns, relaxes or motivates you
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation
- Exercising regularly to reduce an unhealthy body weight
- Maintain a journal
The list goes on. And on. But we’re thinking the point is probably made: not only can and should you try your hand (and mind and the rest of your body) at biohacking, but in fact you probably are already.
Biohacking your biology from top to bottom
Alright, clarity time: when we said this was the complete guide there in the title, that may have misled some readers, depending on how you read it.
The fact is, no one article or even a whole book or series of books could ever cover every single possible biohack that can help the human body or brain. Rather this guide is intended to get your thinking completely primed for biohacking – it is intended to get your brain waves moving, because once you begin to feel the benefits kick in, there’s little chance you’ll ever want to stop.
Let’s talk through a few specific examples of things you can do, and we’ll literally work from top to bottom.
Taking proper care of your oral health is essential for your overall health. Your dentist has surely said that to you a million times and… they’re right.
Spend the extra minute flossing and rinsing out after brushing every day and not only will you not have to spend all the money and suffer the pain of restorative dental work later, but you may also prevent all sorts of other health issues in the nearer term. This is, by the way, assuming you are already brushing your teeth at least twice a day.
And when it comes to that most basic of body functions, breathing, do it through your nose. It’s OK to exhale through the mouth as needed, but best practice? In and out through the nose, slowly and steadily, every breath.
Like a consistent sound wave undulating in a gentle hum, breathing slowly and steadily will help your body have the ideal balance of oxygen and other gasses, it will help expand your airways and make breathing easier, even during strenuous activity. It will make sleeping easier.
If you want some serious motivation for nasal breathing, read the book Breath by James Nestor, an engaging and eye-opening (and nose opening) page turner.
Good posture is about more than how you look, though it does make you look taller, more confident, and even more attractive. It’s more about lung function, spinal health, and limiting chronic pain from your overall body.
Whether you are standing or sitting, proper posture primes your body to perform its best, keeping your bones aligned for ideal dexterity, balance, and strength. Make it a part of your routine to, every 10 or 15 minutes, do a quick self-check-in and make sure your chest is up, shoulders back, spine straight, and everything comfortable, not rigid.
Soon, you won’t even need the check-ins anymore, it will just be your standard.
Hand strength is greatly overlooked, even by fitness enthusiasts, but even worse by those who use their hands all day to do things like type.
Grip strength training is a great way to save off issues like carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress injuries, and can also improve everything from improving your guitar playing to your handling a kitchen knife to your driving to, of course, your exercising. And as all of those things improve, the returns come back around again.
The legs and feet
We were not meant to sit at desks all day, we were meant to wander the savannah all day. At least until we spotted some gazelles to hunt or a lion spotted us. So don’t sit all day. Use those legs and stand up at least once an hour.
Do some quick squats or jumping jacks as a part of your biohacking self-improvement routine. Ball your toes. Use those huge muscles in your legs to get blood pumping all around your body and you’ll feel better all around.
Nourishing your brain and body
Up until now, we have talked largely about tangible ways to improve your health and well-being through biohacking. In other words, we have been talking about things you physically do. But there are two other components to biohacking that are essential.
The first is to make sure the foods you eat, the fluids you drink (and any dietary supplements you may take) are the best possible things you can be putting in your body. When adopting a food-related technical mindset, assume that your brain and body are connected through the things you ingest, and that getting enough protein, enough healthy fats, enough carbs for energy (but limiting too much processed food) is a good thing. If you want to eat meat, for example, try a grass-fed butter steak instead of a McDonald’s hamburger and fries.
Eat plenty of raw foods and focus, having proper portion sizes, and of course paying plenty of attention to proper hydration. Remember, if you ever feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. (Also note that dehydration is a common cause of fatigue, so once you learn to stay hydrated, you may well stay more alert and energetic, too.)
And if possible, biohacking your diet means figuring out which foods are best for your specific body, a kind of personalized semi-genetic engineering that can give you more energy, improve your cognitive function, and eliminate troublesome health conditions. There’s no need to drastically limit calories and develop an eating disorder – just be more judicious about what you eat, that’s all!
Work with experts
You can work with a doctor and a registered dietician (note that dieticians require specific training and certifications, whereas the term “nutritionist” does not require or imply these things) to determine the best possible diet for your health and well-being. You may also find out which foods to avoid for such.
When it comes to your brain, the benefits of meditation are hard to overstate, but they are also hard to understand until you have practiced it. And indeed meditation, far from being just sitting still thinking about nothing, requires practice. Thus the reason there are apps, books, experts, centers, and on the list goes.
Meditating regularly can help you reach a state of mind that is more balanced, more stable, more open, and happier, and as you will learn once you start meditating regularly, the practice is less about the time you spend engaged in actual meditation, but more about all the other hours you spend in your life. It can even lead to things like filling in a gratitude journal, or taking gratitude walks. Meditation, in other words, is not all about sitting in silence.
Meditation can help you remain calm and logical in stressful moments ranging from an argument with a friend or loved one to a fraught business negotiation. It can help you remain committed to goals like sticking with exercise or abstaining from a bad habit. It can help you, to use a common metaphor, see the forest for the trees.
This is especially true when you have achieved a near perfect calm and centeredness every day of your life (or many days, at any rate) through meditation. You can use that state of being as a touchstone even when it is not what you are extrinsically experiencing at a given moment.
Biohacking also means not putting certain things into your body
As you have probably gleaned by now, a big part of successful biohacking involves self-discipline. And while that involves sticking with your fitness routines, sticking with your meditation practices, sticking with your sleep schedule, and on it goes, often the hardest part of self-discipline is consistently not doing things.
Like eating foods with processed sugar. If you are going to make one meaningful change to your diet, removing processed foods high in sugars is the change to make. According to the Addiction Center, sugar is as addictive to human beings as drugs like cocaine.
And according to Healthline, scientific research has shown that sugar is horrible for your health because it contributes to the development of heart disease, the risk for Type II diabetes, it leads to weight gain, and it may even increase cancer risk, among other things. And with a bit of care as you shop for food, cook, and eat, it’s so easy to avoid.
Other things you should avoid? You know all this, but let’s hit the heavies: alcohol (save for in moderate, infrequent servings), tobacco (completely), drugs (unless the doc says), processed foods (wretched for nutrition writ large), excessive caffeine (one cup of coffee is good for you; three cups? Not so much), fatty foods (think cheese and bacon, not olive oil and avocados, as not all fat is bad), and on the list goes.
When you remove these foods (and drugs and other substances) with a little DIY biology hacking, you may initially feel worse than ever. That’s called withdrawal, which can be a scary word and an unpleasant reality. But it’s temporary, and once you’re past it, you’ll begin to feel better than ever.
A good biohacker approach to fighting through the withdrawal is to change your scenery as you change your diet and habits. Head on a multi-day trip to the mountains or a foreign city or even just go stay with friends or family – just get out of your familiar space – and leave all the junk behind. (Or better yet, throw it all out before you go.)
You will not have the same associations formed with the sugar or cigarettes or booze or whatnot when you are in that different space, thus making it easier for the space between your ears, the taste buds on your tongue, and the very chemistry of your body all to reset some.
Block out the noise. And the light. And get some rest
Anyone who says they are a great multitasker is actually great at something else: BS. Humans get quickly overwhelmed with too much sensory input, which is why we turn down the car radio when trying to navigate new directions or parallel park, for example.
As much as possible, you should keep your environment quiet and calm in life, no matter what your activity, unless you are listening to pump-up workout music, on a drive in safe environments, at a concert (of course) or other logical settings. There’s never a need for excess noise, in other words.
Nor is there a need for excess stimulus from screens, which can be as addictive as the sugar noted before. Reducing your screen time in general is good for you, and especially before you try to fall asleep.
Your sleep patterns can be significantly thrown off by those blue light wavelengths as your brain perceives them as daylight and will try to get you to wake up instead of wind down. If you must watch TV, look at a computer, or be on your phone shortly before bed, at least treat yourself to a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.
Because after all, getting a good night of sleep as many nights as you can is arguably the most important biohack of all. Without proper rest, you cannot properly function. With consistent good sleep, just maybe you can’t be stopped.