While there is definitely no way to cheat yourself fit, there are plenty of small tricks and health hacks you can add to your routine without making any big changes. As I try to work towards being the best version of me, I always try to incorporate new and improved ways to optimize my health. Who doesn’t love small changes that make a really big impact? From having caffeine before your workout to taking cold showers, here are some health hacks you should be incorporating into your life ASAP:
1. Use night shift mode on your phone (& computer!)
The body’s natural circadian rhythm (biological clock) was meant to sync up with sunlight. Now with the invention of the light bulb, there are many other light factors that come into play and can mess up the natural rhythm of your sleep cycles. Blue light, in particular, has been shown to reduce levels of melatonin produced by the body. A study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that, when compared with dim light, exposure to room light during the night suppressed melatonin by around 85 percent. That’s not a small number!
What to Do
To keep your hormonal release of melatonin in balance:
- Use night shift mode on your iPhone
- Keep your home lights dim (or use candlelight)
- Try this app for your computer that automatically changes your computer light from blue to red tones at night.
2. Take BCAAs before your workout
While BCAAs have been questioned over the years, more studies continue to show the benefits of this supplement.
In a 2006 study, a group of men were randomly assigned to a placebo pill, the others to BCAA supplementation. The group with the amino acid supplementation had less muscle strength loss and higher levels of testosterone, demonstrating that BCAAs could help against muscle damage and strength loss, particularly during high intense resistance training.
A 2006 Japanese study tested the effects of BCAAs on muscle soreness. Using both men and women in their test group, they had both the placebo group and amino-acid supplementation group perform a series of 7 sets of 20 squats per set. “The results obtained showed that BCAA supplementation prior to squat exercise decreased DOMS and muscle fatigue occurring for a few days after exercise.” A natural supplement that helps with soreness post-workout? I’m game!
What to do
Try this brand of BCAA, Kaged Muscle, for one of the cleanest versions of BCAAs I’ve found – free of color dye and other added fake crap you don’t need.
3. Use the Sauna
Talk about an easy add to your routine! While I’m sure you’ve found the sauna to be an enjoyable experience, I’m not sure if you know about the real health benefits of this heated practice. I love this article by Tim Ferriss with the help of Dr. Rhonda Patrick where they breakdown the numerous health benefits of heat therapy including increased cardiovascular endurance, increased muscle growth and studies even indicating improved longevity.
One of my favorite points in the article, is the release of Heat Shock proteins from heat therapy in particular and how that affects body. “HSPs can prevent damage by directly scavenging free radicals and also by supporting cellular antioxidant capacity through its effects on maintaining glutathione. HSPs can repair misfolded, damaged proteins thereby ensuring proteins have their proper structure and function”. Can it help repair muscles damage and scavenge free radicals just by sitting in a hot room? Heck yes.
What to do
Most of the studies cited used a 30 minute time period – so try to get in your dose of heat therapy a few times a week at that 30 minute duration.
4. Incorporate cold showers into your routine (or cold therapy)
On the opposite side of the sauna, we have the cold shower. Athletes over years continue to use ice baths to reduce muscle inflammation and sooth sore muscles after a workout. A 2014 study confirmed that cold water treatment helps in preventing muscles soreness. Could cold water showers be good for the brain too? This 2008 study showed strong evidence that cold showers could treat depression-like symptoms in 8 minutes. 8 minutes? I can do that. Life coach and entrepreneur, Tony Robbins swears by his early morning cold water immersions citing improvements to the immune system and alertness.
What to do
Here are some options when it comes to cold therapy:
- Incorporate cold showers into your routine (the study used 2-3 min 20 degrees C, preceded by a 5-min gradual adaptation)
- Take ice baths after an intense workout
- Try out cryotherapy (I’ve been to this Cryo Center a few times)
- Take a cold swim every morning / a few times a week
5. Drink caffeine before your workout
Like I need any more encouragement in the caffeine department. In this study on cyclists, caffeine was show to increase endurance performance. In a 2001 study, caffeine had positive effects on performance for exercises performed anywhere from 60 seconds to 2 hours. Well looks like my cup of coffee will help improve my 60-second gym session – I’m all about the 1 minute workout 😉 . In all seriousness, I know I find myself more alert and excited to workout with a little jolt of caffeine in the morning. This 2006 study also found an improvement in upper body strength in men who consumed caffeine vs. the placebo group.
What to do
- Like my health guru, Shawn Stevenson, Have some natural caffeine (from organic coffee or tea) before a workout
- Drink bulletproof coffee (coffee blend with coconut oil, grass-fed butter, or MCT oil)
While I incorporated exercise and healthy eating into my routine at a young age, meditation was never something I put in the forefront of my health routine. Yet study after study continues to show that Meditation and quieting the mind is key to maintaining a healthy brain. This 2011 Harvard Study showed significant increases in grey matter in the brain. What does that mean? Grey matter is the part of the brain associated with memory & emotion. People with depression and stress-related disorders tend to have smaller amounts of grey matter. Therefore, more grey matter equals a healthier more resilient brain. Additionally, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) part of the brain showed more activity in people who meditated vs. non meditators. This is the part of the brain associated with self-regulation and suppressing impulse-decisions. Meditators “demonstrate superior performance on tests of self-regulation, resisting distractions and making correct answers more often than non-meditators.”
What to do
- Try any of these guided meditations off YouTube
- Incorporate yoga into your routine (really emphasizing breath to movement and practicing a deep meditation during savasana)
- Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, sit with good posture and let your mind relax, thoughts flow & if needed focus on the breath. (work up to 25 minutes daily or stick to a 10 minute practice – what feels therapeutic to you.)
7. Listen to podcasts
How did I stumble across this useful and helpful information that I could easily implement? I started listening to podcasts. We spend so much time in our cars or on the go and while I love a good, juicy electronic sound track, it’s not always an optimal use of my time and frankly gets old. Here are some of my current health & fitness podcasts in rotation:
Shawn Stevenson – The Model Health Show (My very favorite and go-to podcast)
Because knowledge is power and the more you implement what you learn, the better you’ll feel.