THE ARTICLE IN SHORT
Staying healthy as well as improving my fitness have been important pillars in my life for years. Similar to sports, in life we face stimuli from which we have to recover. Even if we pay attention, sometimes we fall prey to bacteria and viruses. When it comes to recovery, no matter if it's from illness or a tough training period, I've identified 5 major categories on which you might want to focus a bit more or educate yourself on a bit further. It has definitely helped me to shorten my recovery period and bounce back quicker and stronger.
It’s easy to get lost in the world of self-optimization and biohacking. Even more so when it’s in the complex field of health and wellbeing. I’m not an expert in medicine, recovery or sports. Just a mere student with the goal to improve and constantly get better. What I can do is relate to my own experience and share my results so you can learn from it. You will have to embark on your own journey to discover what's right for YOU. But here are my top 5 categories when it comes to better health and recovery. With countless illnesses overcome and lots of study (books, podcasts, youtube), I found those 5 categories to have the highest impact on how long I can last without getting sick, as well as how fast I recover.
My number one category for maintaining good health and improve recovery is movement. It doesn’t have to be a full workout or even a mid-intensity run. Just a walk or some stretching might do the trick. In nature, everything alive that doesn’t move dies. If you fix your arm to your body, not moving it for a long period of time, eventually your muscles will degrade, blood flow will be limited and the arm becomes immobile. What isn’t moved, will lose its ability to do so.
Of course our modern lifestyles are opposing the healthy habit of staying in motion. We neither have to walk often nor very far as we have cars and public transportation. If you’re working in the office, you’ll most likely sit for 1-2 hours before getting up to grab a coffee or walk to a meeting room. At least that’s my typical work day. We have escalators, elevators and the newest craze: e-scooters.
We try to make it easier for ourselves without thinking about the downsides. We become weak. Our muscles and bones will conform to the new lifestyle, as nothing in nature is maintained without a reason (impulse). Picture this: In nature, you cannot NOT move. You have to. If you don’t move, you die (because you are not getting any water or food). Lack of movement is one of the major causes of illness.
Not just our bodies are positively affected by movement but also our brains. New synapses are formed when learning new movement patterns and stress is relieved during playful motion. That's why kids should move around a lot! Also our immune system is supported by keeping the lymphatic fluid in circulation. In my experience, recovering from an illness is faster when you are moving, or forced to move.
Even if I didn’t feel like moving at all as I caught a cold on a business trip to New York City. My company had spent all this money to fly me to the US and push our market entry. I would certainly not hang out in the hotel room, feeling sorry for my bad cold. So I forced myself to check different locations in Manhattan, ending up walking around for 6 hours before I really felt weak. I was confident this would totally kill me the next day. But quite the opposite happened. By the time I was back home in Austria, I felt better already. Better than I usually do on the fourth day of a cold. I wasn’t sleeping a lot, so it wasn’t the relaxation that got me there. I also didn’t eat very well, as I wasn’t that deep into nutrition back then. Given that this was my first business trip overseas, my stress levels weren’t low either. So the only factor left that could have helped with recovery, is movement.
Since then I try to get out of home, just walking around a bit, even when I’m quite sick and feel like lying around. If you are seriously sick and movement is not a good idea, you will know. A bit of movement and fresh air definitely helps my recovery.
Minimalist Biohacker approach:
> Stand up and move or stretch at least once every hour (an Oura Ring or tracking watch can remind you)
> Start doing any kind of sports a few times per week
> Look into the Movement approach to see the big picture (check out one of Ido Portals videos here)
Since learning more about the bulletproof diet and with that diving deeper into the topic of biohacking and nutrition, I’m absolutely convinced that even though my diet seemed almost overly healthy to me and my friends, I still didn’t eat enough vegetables and greens. Where I grew up, meat is a mandatory part of almost every meal. If you go to a restaurant and ask for something vegetarian, you might get a can of peas and carrots. So for me it was a total game changer once I reduced my meat consumption and replaced it by more vegetables. I’m very far from being vegetarian but convinced that less meat has had an enormous effect on my performance in terms of training, brain power and overall well-being.
To get this clear: I’m supporting a balanced diet and am rather opposed to any extreme form like veganism, paleo or whatever there is. For me nutrition has to be scalable, meaning that a lot of people have to be able to live a certain way without harming themselves or the environment. Diversity is extremely important in terms of nutrition, not only for our body and performance but also for the environment.
I’m trying to think long-term. What has been proven to support people for thousands of years (e.g. wheat and therefore bread) can’t be bad all of a sudden. Maybe we have done something in the chain of production (like fertilizers, chemicals, other forms of pollution) which makes it harmful to people NOW, but it’s not generally bad, like stated by certain groups of nutritionists.
The most basic but effective measures are easy to translate into your own life. The important thing is to stock up on things that help you perform better and throw out the garbage that is keeping you down. Stick to real food as closely as possible (not processed food), buy a lot of vegetables and cut down big time on sugar consumption as well as a bit on your meat consumption. I guarantee you will feel a big impact on your health and performance. For me it felt like I’m lighter and things like sports suddenly became easier.
When recovering from sickness, it is especially important to feed your body with the right nutrients. A good chicken soup with vegetables is what your grandma would give you in that situation. Why? Because it contains great nutrients in a form that is easily digestible and doesn’t put stress on your body. You will feel its positive effects on your recovery process.
Minimalist Biohacker approach:
> Eat more vegetables for fibers and micro nutrients (half your plate should be veggies)
> Eat much less sugar
> Eat less meat
> Eat more good fats
> Skip processed food (like sausages, instant meals,…)
The topic of sleep is greatly discussed and hyped at the moment and in my opinion, that’s justified. Since I can recall having any interest in higher performance, I was struggling with sleep. I often had the feeling that I’m a light sleeper, easy to be disturbed by sounds or movement. That’s also how I felt in the morning – tired and beat. I stumbled across an article on placebo sleep, which states that your perceived quality of sleep influences your actual state. For example when you wake up thinking that you slept well, you actually feel less tired. Once I was aware that I probably reduced my feeling merely by thinking negatively about how I slept, I felt better and more energized. Placebo sleep is a real thing in my experience.
However there were mornings when I jumped out of bed and others when I felt tired and heavy. I started to track my sleep with a tracking watch to find out the most important factors of better sleep for me. Then I upgraded to the Oura Ring, which is very accurate, to really dive deep into the different sleep states and what affects my sleep in order to improve it. As biohacker I want to optimize my sleep with the hope of sleeping better in less time, to have more time for the things that matter to me.
In my family it was always told that we need a lot of sleep when we are sick. That absolutely holds true for me. When my body is in a state of high stress due to sickness or too much sport, I get very tired. An important signal to listen to but as a driven person, extremely hard for me to do.
Minimalist Biohacker approach:
> Try to get around 8 hours of time in your bed each night (8 hours of sleep is often unrealistic)
> Appreciate sleep as the major tool for recovery (muscle building, brain-power restoration, etc.)
> Increase your sleep when under stress (at work or because of your health status)
> Dive deeper into the topic of sleep and how you can upgrade yours
This should actually be a no-brainer but even for a well-educated person, there might still be something to learn in terms of hygiene and how to improve it. I’m working in sales, often traveling internationally, meeting clients and shaking lots of hands. Places like an airplane, metro or public spaces in general, are notoriously challenging for your immune system, as there are lots of germs and viruses circulating around.
I discovered that I’m most prone to illness when I’m about to travel or right after. That might be due to stress (preparation, tight schedules, high cost involved etc.) or a combination of different factors. I’m also prone to small inflammations in the mouth, called aphtha, a bit different from a fever blister as it is inside rather than outside. By now I can link the appearance of these aphthae to one of my worst habits which I still couldn’t completely eliminate: biting nails. When stressed by traveling and important meetings, I tend to bite my nails. That in turn brings bacteria and whatever into my mouth, leading to these (very painful and annoying) inflammations.
I’m baffled by the amount of people I still see walking out of the toilets without washing their hands. It’s disgusting and unhealthy, so please make sure you do your part by washing your hands regularly.
Minimalist Biohacker approach:
> Wash your hands
> Don‘t bite nails (my worst habit)
According to my doctors one of the major causes of illness or in most cases a major contributor is stress. The data on my illness history (when traveling a lot and in the most stressful period of sell-in season) confirms this idea. The more stressed I am, the more likely I seem to get sick. However it is not a direct reaction – I don’t get sick during the high stress situations but rather before or afterwards.
My guess on this is that on the one side my worry of upcoming stress and pressure has a negative influence on my immune system and on the other side it’s the disappearance of stress that causes my immune system to shut down. A lot of people I know report of getting sick during holiday or shortly before.
Recently I stumbled across another interesting idea: By worrying too much about stress or about getting sick, I might be putting even more stress on my body. It’s like the TED talk "Make stress your friend" (watch the video here) where Kelly McGonigal states that it’s not the stress itself which is harmful to us but rather our perception of stress. If we see stress as negative it also influences us in a negative way. If we see stress as something productive, it won’t have the same negative impact. For me, this might certainly be true. I’m very good at worrying about an outcome of a fair or meeting, taking it very personal. I do my best to get things right, which often means putting a lot of pressure on myself.
Once we are sick, the way we perceive our health status might also have a big impact on recovery. With a positive outlook on the recovery we can overcome sickness much better than with a focus on the symptoms and all the negative aspects that come with it.
Minimalist Biohacker approach:
> Try to balance stress and recovery
> Stop worrying all that much and try to see the positive side of stress
> Your body is using stress to get your performing or to fight off harmful intruders. Appreciate it.
Movement, nutrition and sleep are the three pillars of health and recovery. Looking deeper into those areas of your life will provide you with lots of benefits in terms of performance optimization. To further improve your game, look into proper body hygiene and active stress management. For me it was movement that got me to the places I am today. Doing sports means social engagement, cultivation of discipline and overall health improvement. The deep dive into nutrition and sleep was something I had to force myself into a little bit. Especially sleep was something I didn't take that serious in the beginning.
A big realization for me was that usually, everything has its cause. If you take 3 days until you recover from a workout or a night out with friends, there might be something blocking your recovery. A lot of people shrug it off, saying something like: "I'm just getting older" or "I'm not 16 anymore". But if you look deeper, age is a factor but not a cause. It might be a lack of hormones, nutrition or simply a lack of rest. When you were 16 you didn't have to work more than 8 hours in a high-intensity corporate environment, right?
Everything has its cause and looking into those causes in a systematic way, changing and adapting, is biohacking. That's the way to optimized performance!