Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Electrical muscle stimulation, cryotherapy at –250°F, headbands that encourage blood flow to the brain—they’re all part of the new world of biohacking, a movement that aims to “hack” biology with the goal of quickly and dramatically improving performance, thoughts, behaviors, and vitality. In some cases, the practices are so extreme—magnets surgically inserted into the fingers, wireless tattoos that track vital body stats, mini computers implanted under the skin, injecting genes to promote muscle growth—that there’s talk of regulating biohackers. But you don’t need to go to those lengths; just try these simple tips that anyone can do at home.
1. Practice Earthing
Also called “grounding,” this practice involves walking barefoot for 20 minutes per day—even in the winter—as a means of connecting with the natural electrical charges produced by the Earth. It may sound odd, but research suggests that direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth can promote physiological changes and benefits that include better sleep, reduced pain, enhanced wound healing, improved immune response, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
The theory is that the slight negative charge from the Earth helps improve normal functioning of all body systems and resets the biological clocks that regulate body rhythms. Some earthing or grounding practitioners even walk barefoot in the snow for a few minutes, which hints at another common biohack: ice baths or freezing-cold showers are thought to decrease muscle pain, increase fat burning, and even improve mood and sleep.
2. Intermittent Fasting
This is especially helpful if you feel as if you’ve tried everything to lose weight, heal digestion, and balance blood sugar, and the results have been less than satisfactory. Intermittent fasting involves restricting or eliminating food in a very specific pattern, which creates a process called autophagy—the body’s response to perceived starvation. In autophagy, the cells appear to clear out waste more efficiently, the result being protection from disease, reduced inflammation, enhanced cellular energy, and even an overall resistance to aging. Studies suggest that intermittent fasting also improves digestion, balances blood sugar, promotes weight loss, and normalizes sleep.
One way to do it: alternate-day fasting, in which you fast or reduce caloric intake to 500 calories every other day, with normal eating on non-fasting days. Or try time-restricted eating, in which you limit eating to a set number of hours. For example, you might stop eating at 6 p.m. and then not eat again until 10 a.m. the next day. Of course, this method assumes that you’re following a clean, whole-foods diet based on abundant vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. It won’t work if you’re bingeing on hamburgers, fries, and brownies on your “normal” eating days.
3. Go Dark
Looking for a quick, effective way to improve mood, focus, and stamina? Sleep better. Not necessarily more—just better. During sleep, the body repairs cells, consolidates memories, and flushes out toxins associated with neurodegeneration.
Start by turning your bedroom into a sleep cave; total darkness affects melanopsin in the eyes, pigments in the retina that impact the circadian rhythm—the body’s biological clock that regulates sleep/wake cycles. Invest in blackout shades or curtains, install low-wattage light bulbs, unplug any electronics that emit LEDs, and be sure that the room is temperature-controlled—between 60 and 68 degrees is optimal.
Additionally, earplugs and an eye mask can help shut out light and sound, or use a white noise machine. Disengage from electronics at least two hours before bed—the blue light they emit has been shown to disrupt sleep—and dim lights. Studies show that exposure to electric light before bedtime suppresses melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. And try a sleep-promoting supplement stack that includes melatonin, tryptophan, GABA, and magnesium.
4. Shake It Up
The fastest way to boost your workout? Whole Body Vibration training (WBV), a system that involves sitting, standing, or working out on a machine with a vibrating platform. The intense vibrations from the machine activate motor neurons in the spinal cord and force the muscles to contract and relax dozens of times each second. The end result, according to some studies, is increased strength, improved stability, and possibly enhanced weight loss. A recent study found that WBV might be as effective as exercise at combating negative consequences of obesity and diabetes. It also suggested that WBV could help prevent bone loss. Most health clubs and gyms have vibration plates or machines, so work with a qualified trainer to set up a regimen that works for you. Or check out WBV machines for home use. Affordable options include the Pinty, Confidence Fitness, VibePlate, and Ollieroo.
5. Stack Supplements
Supplement stacking, long used in the bodybuilding community, is simply taking multiple vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or other compounds in a carefully designed combination. The idea is to enhance the effectiveness of each, while minimizing possible negative effects. In biohacking, supplement stacks usually center around nootropics—compounds that enhance brain function, balance mood, improve cognition, and sharpen focus.
The simplest stack: combine caffeine with L-theanine—a compound found in tea that enhances calming alpha brain waves—to increase focus and energy without jitters and anxiety. Boost that simple stack by adding vinpocetine, creatine, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), phosphatidylserine (PS), and/or acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) to enhance memory, clear brain fog, and protect neurons. To improve mood, try rhodiola, l-tryptophan, B-vitamin complex, GABA, and L-citrulline. And to calm anxiety and stress, consider L-theanine, bacopa, passionflower, magnesium, and lemon balm.
6. Stand Up
We spend countless hours sitting at our desks, in our cars, or on the couch. That takes its toll on the body—extended periods of sitting are strongly linked with chronic disease and increased mortality, as well as psychological concerns including depression and anxiety.
If your job requires long hours of sitting, consider a standing desk. High-end versions include treadmills, but you can get an adjustable standing desk for as little as $100. If you use a standing desk, be sure your posture’s good, vary your position, wear comfortable shoes, and consider an anti-fatigue mat. Also, alternate between standing and sitting, ideally every 45 minutes to an hour.
If a standing desk isn’t an option, try walking around every 30 minutes to keep blood flowing and give your back a break. Set timers to remind yourself.
To realign your spine after hours of sitting, try this simple exercise: lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle and your feet and calves resting on a chair or table. This allows your hip flexors and the muscles in your spine and neck to release. Let your arms fall comfortably to the side, palms up, and slightly draw your chin in. Take your attention to your back and let the muscles relax until you feel your spine settling into the floor. This is also a great time to practice meditation or deep breathing.
7. Hack Your Nervous System
Meditation has been used for thousands of years to reduce stress, improve sleep, and enhance productivity and creativity, and modern studies show that those results aren’t subjective. Practicing mindfulness meditation for as little as eight weeks creates measurable, structural changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
You don’t have to meditate for hours; 25–30 minutes a day is ideal, but even a
few minutes can calm the nervous system and slow heart rate.
Or try this simple practice: sit comfortably, close your eyes, and count to 10. Try not to be distracted (it’s harder than you may think). When you reach 10, repeat as many times as you’d like. Or don’t even worry about stopping your thoughts—just let them come, and watch them without latching on or getting involved. Imagine them as clouds, or leaves falling from a tree.
Deep breathing is another easy way to hack your brain’s chemistry. Studies show that slow, deep breathing resets the autonomic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and relaxes the body. Just sit comfortably, close your eyes, inhale into your belly to the count of five, pause, exhale for five, pause, and repeat.
Your Biohacking Resource List
- Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever by Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, and Martin Zucker
- The Earthing Institute online: earthinginstitute.net
- The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype—and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael J. Breus, PhD (thesleepdoctor.com)
Shake It Up:
- Whole Body Vibration: The Future of Good Health by Becky Chambers
- Varidesk (varidesk.com) for add-ons
- Evodesk (evodesk.com) for add-ons and complete desks
- For reviews of many brands and models, visit workwhilewalking.com.
Hack Your Nervous System:
- Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulnessstudies.com)