Ask The Dr.: Biohack Your Way To Better Health

Sixteen empowering, science-backed ways to feel better and live longer.
Exercise, one of the greatest hacks of all, boosts mitochondrial production and energy levels. Photo: Morgan Maassen

By Dr. Frank Lipman

Safe to say, these days, “hacks” are a hot topic, making headlines on the homepages of countless publications and filling our social media feeds. And, given the difficulties of the past few years, it’s easy to understand their popularity. Hacks are, in simplest terms, clever solutions and shortcuts that enable us to better manage life’s must-do’s as efficiently and effectively as possible. When we tap into our hacking groove, not only do we improve our lives and crush our to-do lists, we also free up more time and energy to spend on the things that matter most to us. Frankly, it’s hard not to love a good hack!

While many hacks are geared toward automating life’s more mundane tasks—better ways to cook, get your steps in, grow more vegetables, etc.—the kind of hacking I’m most interested in is biohacking, as in, the kinds of hacks that focus on smarter strategies to improve health, wellness and, ultimately, longevity. Here’s an introduction on why biohacking matters, and how to put this idea of fine-tuning aspects of your biology into practice:

What is biohacking?

When you hear the term biohacking, images of creepy cyborg wannabes implanting microchips into their arms may spring to mind. And while “human enhancement” with implanted devices and limit-pushing experimentation is par for the course for a small minority of biohackers, for the rest of us, it’s most definitely not.

When I talk about biohacking, it’s about applying safe and sensible practices—drawn from the latest discoveries from the worlds of biology, nutrition and neuroscience—to support and enhance your physical and mental performance now, and for decades to come, minus the scary stuff. And yes, depending on your needs and goals, there may occasionally be a device involved. They’re the kind worn on the body—not in it.

A quick look at biohacking’s rise.

It’s tough to pinpoint the moment when it all began, but the basic idea of biohacking has been simmering since the early 2000s when hard-charging Silicon Valley types and amateur DIY biologists began exploring ways to more actively control their biology, their energy levels, and their physical and mental performance.

And while some on the fringes of the biohacking culture have taken the philosophy far beyond what most of us would consider reasonable—take, for example, the California biohacker who currently holds the world record for most implanted technological devices—for the rest of us, biohacking is really about taking a multidisciplinary, evidence-based approach to health and longevity, as efficiently and safely as possible. It’s also worth mentioning that you’re probably already doing a good bit of biohacking whether you realize it or not (but more on that later).

What’s under the biohacking umbrella?

Fringy practices and treatments aside, you’ll find diet and supplementation hacks, lifestyle hacks, plus biomarker testing and genetic testing and tech tools like wearable health tracking devices. It’s an impressive toolbox that few of us could imagine being able to access just a few years ago. 

In my practice, the fundamental idea is to keep hacks simple, doable, safe and well tested—and avoiding the more outré options (i.e., implanted devices, physical alterations or gene-editing/CRISPR therapies), some of which can trigger autoimmune reactions, infection, inflammation and even death. What’s more, some items like DIY gene therapy kits are actually illegal in some states, so certainly steer clear of them too—you could be playing with fire.

Time to hack your way healthy.

As I mentioned earlier, chances are you may already be doing a few hacks, like tracking activity levels on your phone, getting more morning light to help regulate circadian rhythms or enjoying infrared sauna sessions. If you are, then bravo! If not, well, what are you waiting for?

The hard truth is that aging makes itself noticeable by the time we enter our 30s and 40s, when those first fine lines around the eyes and forehead may be our initial wake-up call. (And that’s only a glimpse at the cellular aging going on inside.) Tried-and-true hacks for your outsides might include collagen-stimulating laser treatments, red light therapies and cold (or cryo) therapies. But there are so many other hacks to embrace if caring for your insides and putting aging on the slow track is what you’re after. So, let’s take a look at a few of the easy-to-incorporate options, plus a few higher-level hacks that can offer real solutions to some of aging’s tougher bits:

Dr. Lipman’s 4 Extra-Easy Everyday Faves

No pain, no gain? Au contraire! When it comes to these “fab four” hacks, my advice is do them every day, no excuses. Best of all, they’re easy, the benefits are legion and they make you feel great too:

Hack your nights

Sleep, as in seven to eight hours every night. Fail at sleep and over time your cells start to suffer, aging your whole body more rapidly. At night, your system gets busy repairing cells throughout the body and brain, taking out the cellular garbage, which, if it hangs around too long, can drive neurological decline—and it ages the skin to boot. In other words, sleep is a hack that really matters.

Shake a leg—frequently

Regular exercise is a major health hack that among other things, encourages mitochondrial production and stokes your energy levels—all to the good. But don’t stop moving just because your spin class ends. Take it a step further, and keep moving throughout the day to hack your way to better health and potentially a longer lifespan. Even when you’re stuck at the desk, take every opportunity to move! Walk in place during phone calls, sit on a balance ball while you work, step out to get lunch, etc.—just move. Even small movements like toe-tapping, foot-wagging or even just plain fidgeting can help hack health by having a positive impact on blood vessels and blood sugar levels.

Daily meditation and relaxing music are simple, powerful biohackers. Photo: Sagar Kulkarni

Hack your stress

One of the best, simplest and possibly oldest hacks in the book? Meditation. Just five to 10 minutes once or twice a day will help de-stress your body and mind, which in turn helps improve memory, processing speed, focus and creativity. You’ll also lower your blood pressure and anxiety, reducing reliance on pharmaceuticals. Score!

Get chilly with it

Controlled cold exposure stimulates the body’s longevity gene pathways, while increasing mitochondrial production and reducing inflammation. How cool is that? Lower temps have also been shown to boost immunity, improve sleep quality and increase your brown fat stores, which in turn burn extra calories. To take advantage, DIY by taking cold showers (or, for newbies, just a 30-second cold blast at the end), ice baths or spending some time outdoors lightly dressed in winter.

Dr. Lipman’s Top 4 Edible Must-Hacks

Can you eat your way to better health and longevity? Absolutely! Eating well is a hack—and what you eat and the nutrients you absorb along the way are essential to digestion, energy, gut health, immunity, a well-functioning brain and so much more. To hack it up right, start with these tricks of the trade:

The “perfect plate” hack

Easiest hack ever: Eat more! Grab a big plate and fill it with veggies to crowd out the less healthy stuff. Focus on quality and don’t obsess over quantity. The perfect veggie-packed plate will fill you up and pack your body with loads of nutrients, while also countering the most common drivers of excess pounds: too many starches, sugars and inflammatory ingredients from processed foods and factory-farmed sources. Voila!

Break up with sugar

Sure, this one may sting a little but it’s 100 percent worth it—and you can find my list of 24 sugar-kicking hacks on my website that can help you free yourself from the highly addictive sweet stuff. Kicking sugar almost immediately boosts gut and brain function, while improving blood pressure levels. Better still, kicking the stuff quickly starts to cut the risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. There’s just no good reason to eat it, so go cold turkey, or start the tapering off process now.

Don’t eat around the clock

Time restricted eating is a simple, highly effective, metabolism-boosting hack that just about anyone can do. By extending the natural fast between dinner and breakfast, you’ll prompt your body to make the most of what you consume, resulting in decreased blood sugar and insulin levels, less fat accumulation and reduced inflammation – all of which does wonders for your lifespan and health span. Three or four days a week, start with 12 hours between your last meal of one day and first meal of the next, and work your way up to a 16-hour window.

Fill the gaps

No sugar? Check. Lots of veg? Check. What’s next? Hack the nutritional gap, and fill it with a few supplements, as some nutrients can be tough to get enough of exclusively from food. For most people, a probiotic with at least 20 billion live organisms, 1 to 2 grams of high-quality fish oil containing EPA and DHA, vitamin C, and D3 are good basics to help support optimal function of your body’s many systems. Adding B vitamins is also a helpful hack when energy and mood need a gentle lift.

Dr. Lipman’s 5 Happy Head Hacks

The most important organ to hack? Not to play favorites but I’d put the brain very high on the list. These five are fast-track hacks for a happy, healthy brain:

Tune in

Most any kind of music can be healing, but for hacking your brain health it’s hard to beat “brain entrainment” music, specifically designed to induce desirable changes in brain wave activity in real time. Opt for music made with embedded tones, aka binaural beats, which, depending on your selection, can help boost alertness or energy levels, promote relaxation, put you in a meditative state, boost focus, enhance mood and/or encourage sleep. Take your pick and enjoy the benefits—and the tunes.

Tune out

Get outside and experience nature, ideally in a green space. Time in nature is a powerful hack for the brain that quickly soothes the body and eases the mind into a peaceful, yet alert, state that’s thought to boost the production of crucial disease-fighting “killer T-cells.” You’ll also get a decrease in cortisol levels, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and giving your prefrontal cortex a chance to unwind and recharge.

Turn on

If you retreated into your shell during the pandemic, this hack goes double for you: Rebuild those social ties if you want to live well for longer. Studies show that strong (and, of course, healthy) social connections may reduce premature death by 50 percent. Also, genetic research suggests that social connection supports immune function, while isolation likely reduces it.

Hack your outlook

Optimism is more than just an outlook; it’s a powerful head (and heart) health hack. Research shows that optimistic individuals tend to have healthier hearts and brains, stronger immunity, and longer lives compared to those who are less upbeat. Not naturally optimistic? No worries. Optimism is also a practice, which, like maintaining a healthy diet or staying physically fit, you can get better at over time.

Thanks—for the hack!

Practicing gratitude is a hack that can lower blood pressure and blood sugar, improve heart health, and enhance immune function, so the more gratitude you can cultivate, the better for you, from head to toe. Gratitude also has a positive impact on the brain by triggering the release of mood-boosting neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin while reducing the release of cortisol—also known as the stress hormone. Additionally, expressing gratitude is linked to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, increased happiness and contentment, greater generosity, emotional resilience, and improved mood—talk about a win-win!

Extra Credit: 3 More Biohacks to Build On

One of the many aspects about biohacking that’s so cool is that new hacks emerge just about every day—there’s something for everyone, and if you want to go all in with health hacks, you can also consider these three next-level biohacking helpers:

Wearable tech

Bring the biohacking home, as an effortless way to gather data about yourself and understand how your body responds to various factors like food, exercise, stress and sleep. The constant stream of up-to-the-minute data offers a constant reminder of your progress and can guide you on where to make adjustments. Consider devices like continuous glucose monitors, smart watches and Oura rings. 

Genetic testing

This biohack tool provides valuable information about inherited health risks and arm you with risk-analysis data to guide lifestyle, nutritional and wellness changes that can help mitigate potential health risk factors.

Blood analysis

This is a lower-tech biohack alternative to genetic testing, which offers evidence about your present health by measuring key biomarkers and uncovering factors and deficiencies that may be contributing to illness.