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I was at a health and technology conference in Helsinki recently, where we had ice baths and saunas to use during the conference. Even with snow on the ground, people were using the ice pool all day.
In a land of two million saunas, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
But what do saunas and ice baths have to do with health and technology?
‘Biohacking’ is the process of using any tools and technologies available to ‘hack’ our health, fitness, and overall performance. At the Biohackers Summit in Helsinki, we had a range of speakers and exhibitors talking about the best and latest in biohacking to improve health and fitness.
In many ways, Finland is ahead of the rest of us. It leads the world in education with its implemented standardised testing. Its technology culture is thriving, bringing us Nokia, Angry Birds, and a rash of IT start-ups.
Maybe they’re ahead of us with new ways at looking at health also?
Biohacking isn’t new, it’s been around for thousands of years.
The Roman SPA, short for salus per aquam, or ‘health through water’. Coffee has been around far longer than ‘bulletproof’ coffee. Meditation has been improving mental focus and calming people’s minds and for a very long time. These are biohacks that have continued through the millennia.
And then there’s the common sense ‘biohacks’ we can all use a lot more of in the 21st century: exercise, eating healthy, de-stressing and disconnecting from our city lives and the ‘9-to-5’ grind.
The biohacking movement is taking all of these, and much more. It’s taking what we’ve known for thousand’s of years and updating with the latest in science and technology.
— Biohacker Summit (@BHSummit) November 18, 2016
How Can Saunas Improve Health?
Saunas work by stressing the body to improve health and fitness. Introducing a hormetic stress to the body forces positive changes in the body.
Hormetic stress is also what builds muscle in the gym.
Dr Rhonda Patrick was the keynote speaker. Rhonda has a PhD in biomedicine and has done extensive research on cancer, ageing and nutrition.
Rhonda talked about the latest research and science, research that show’ed people using saunas three to five times a week in Finland were more healthy and lived longer than those that never used them.
DNA analysis and blood analysis backs this up. Research that studied the effects of heat shock on worms showed that, on average, they lived 20% longer.
Cold therapy also works, but in different ways – burning fat, improves heart health, strengthens immunity among other things.
Biohacking our Brains
Meditation has been around, of course, for thousands of years, improving people’s stress levels and mental focus.
Speaker Ryan Munsey, host of the ‘Optimal Performance Podcast’ talked about how brains, in general, shrink 10-25% by the age of 65. That is the case for most people, but not those with a long meditation practice. Ryan himself has a long history of self-optimisation, using Biohacking tools to overcome
Neurofeedback devices are being used successfully to treat ADHD. Ryan talked about how they can also be used for the rest of us to improve focus. As a ‘biohack’, neurofeedback is bringing the same results in two to three months of use as twenty to thirty years of meditation.
Jessie also talked about natural aids. For instance, green tea extract with caffeine does wonders for mental performance and lemon balm is a great mood enhancer. Jessie also noted that while meditation and smart drugs do work, exercise and clean diet are the best things we can do for our brains.
— Justin Lawler (@justin_d_lawler) November 18, 2016
Biohacking with Nature?
Every summer, the cities empty as Finns escape the cities. There are over five hundred thousand cabins in the countryside for a country of 5.5 million people.
City living and the 9-to-5 grind brings many problems for health. It’s not just bad for stress and sitting for 8 hours. Our circadian rhythms get out of sync with natural daylight hours. Shift workers get it worst, but Finns – with their long days during the summer and short winter days – suffer. And now in these winter months, it’s all office workers, getting to and leaving work while it’s still dark.
Smartphones and tablets only make this worse, throwing blue light into our eyes just before bed and resetting our internal clocks.
One ‘biohack’ for the smartphone light problem is wearing blue-blocking glasses in the evenings. Swanwick, a seller of blue-blocking sunglasses, were presenting. Many conference goers were wearing blue-blocking sunglasses also..
Biohacking Food – Naturally
Soylent liquid meal replacements are all the rage in Silicon Valley right now for busy time-strapped tech workers. Soylent, made up of a list of unpronounceable ingredients, won’t appeal to everyone.
Finland’s alternative is Ambronite. Ingredients are all natural, including wild berries, spinach, and almonds. It tastes great, as well!
Many Finn’s forage for wild foods. Finnish wild mushrooms have many health benefits, and any Finnish supermarket will have a wide selection. The organisers of the conference talked about the benefits, going into detail about these wild foods in their book, The Biohackers Handbook.
What biohacks can we use now to improve our health?
There are so many hacks I’ve personally taken since discovering biohacking. And it’s not all about the latest wearable’s or supplements. Not using my smartphone in the evening has helped me sleep better. Giving myself an excuse to go for hikes more often has helped me with relieving stress.
The word ‘biohacking’ can seem scary, but it’s only making use of what we’ve known about for a very long time with the latest science and technology. Mostly its safe, very well tested and it works.
We don’t have to reach for the smart drugs just yet. A walk in the sunshine every morning is a great way to start the day, bulletproof coffee optional.
- An article in the Guardian on how saunas help us live longer.
- The Biohacking Summit next summit will be in Helsinki in October 2017.
- Interviews with all speakers at the conference were interviewed on the podcast here. Episodes include benefits of saunas, improving mental function, and living in the Antarctic.
- Biohackers Handbook is available here.
- Article on the Finish education system.
Quantified Self and Biohacking in Dublin
Justin is co-organiser of Dublin’s Quantified Self Meetup, where we discuss the latest in biohacking, self-tracking, health and technology.
The next Quantified Self meetup will be on tracking diet changes.