I keep making subtle changes to biohack my life. I’ll start with my top 3 changes if you are short on reading time.
1. Decrease training volume and intensity to lower cortisol levels.
2. Fasting longer.
3. Moving and playing throughout the day.
Many authors espouse these ideals, but its most centrally proposed with the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. I am currently reading Primal Endurance, which further codifies what I’m doing. When someone with a sub 2 hour 15 minute marathon time and has won Ironman length races, I trust what he says.
Here are some explanations:
1. Insulin is key, but cortisol is a big player in this as well. Cortisol is not a one-to-one balancer of insulin since they don’t necessarily affect each other. But, cortisol does trigger release of glycogen from the liver thereby flooding the body with glucose. When glucose is present, not a lot of fat burning happens. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It shouldn’t surprise you that running very hard, intense workouts, relationship problems, work issues, and general worrying about things all cause cortisol to be released. This in turn creates the glucose response (no fat burning), can cause heart problems, elevates heart rate, decreases ability to rest and sleep, and causes overall body achiness. Doing a majority of your exercise and play at 180 beats per minute (bpm) minus your age as a maximum heart rate is key. This keeps you aerobically burning fat. When you go over that, you trigger cortisol and glucose release and begin to find that anaerobic mode that is not fat burning. As a Fire Breather myself, this was a difficult transition. But since I’ve been training more aerobically at this lower heart rate, my body Governor is set to that heart rate. I did a CrossFit workout yesterday and was actually going pretty hard, but my heart rate didn’t exceed 120 bpm. That tells me this is working.
2. Research shows that the benefits of fasting increase with the length of time. I started out with 13 hour fasts. It wasn’t difficult at all to move to 18 hours. So I’d eat lunch at about Noon, then dinner, then start fasting again. When you eat 3-6 meals a day, your body physiologically begins to expect those feeding times. The Ghrelins (hunger hormone) will start to peak at those conditioned feeding times even if you are not really hungry. So transitioning to 13 hour, then 18, then 20 hour and longer fasts take ghrelin out of the picture. Instead, I am usually not hungry at all. I eat because I feel like I need the nutrition, but not because of hunger. Its one reason more meals and snacking are the worst possible ways to live life. I mean, you can always feel like you need a snack, right? Wrong!! You never need a snack if you eat nutritiously with low carbs. The best part of setting my fasting timer right after dinner is it eliminates night time snacking. Those are the worst hours for people who try to diet. Now, I’m not tempted in the least. If you eat nutritiously with low carb and increased fat, you are good to go throughout the night and long into the next day. And, breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day. In fact, it is generally the least nutritious of meals. People are prone to high carbs (muffins, pancakes, cereals, energy bars, oatmeal,…) and sugars (sugary toppings, syrups, jams, fruit). Yes fruit!! Fruit is good for the water and some nutrition it provides. But fruit is bad because it is full of fructose. You can read about that, but it is only processed in the liver and you have to be careful about that. Fruit should be consumed in minimal moderation. It would be better to eat eggs and animal protein for breakfast to stay in ketosis, fat-burning mode. But better yet, don’t eat breakfast at all. Just drink coffee or tea. Why not get the benefit of more fat-burning without eating breakfast?
3. People really don’t move enough in this day and age. We live comfy lives. And for those who are stuck in an office all day, going to the gym for an hour is not enough at all. Instead, we should move all day long. Having movement breaks or combining with a stand-up desk are good ideas. Make sure you move at least every 2-3 hours. It can be a quick walk, some yoga moves, or maybe play outside for a few minutes. Getting your face in sun especially at sunrise and sunset greatly affects cortisol and thereby lowering stress and increasing sleep. The more skin exposed to the sun the better. Walking or slow jogging (slogging) for 10-15 minutes at a time is a really good option. Tai-chi and yoga have the added benefits of breath practice that is known to reduce stress (cortisol). Reducing stress and getting enough sleep are the two major areas of stress reduction. Learning how to worry less is key too. Having a great night-time routine is important by eliminating blue light (screen time on TV, laptop, and phones), not eating, no alcohol, no intense exercise, and staying away from the news or activism. Don’t do anything that gets your heart racing. Don’t get into fights with people or arguments with your spouse or partner. Instead, sit by the fireplace with a nice book and a dog on your lap. Its the best thing you can do for your health and longevity.