I love geeky terminology. Only geeks would get away with converting a term straight from horror movies and making it a daily term. Body hacking conjures up images of horror slasher movies with limbs and organs flying off at regular intervals. But the body hacking of today is a far more digestible activity and one that may even help you become a fitter person.
Your days are numbered: In this era of the Quantified Self, body hacking is nothing more than putting a number to everything that you do. From what and how much you eat, your level and depth of sleep, the duration and intensity of your workout, steps you take, distance you travel, the number of stairs you climb, calories you burn, your weight and fat percentage, your posture, how your body reacts to an activity – everything can be charted, compared, recorded and challenged by yourself and with others. Welcome to what the world is about to get obsessed with. I already am.
The Quantified Self movement: Quantifying everything is a fascinating space to be in. It can be a true motivator to develop new habits and break away from old harmful ones, and a chronicle of how you can reinvent yourself one number at a time. For instance, tracking your sleep and realising that you got your best sleep and most deep REM whenever you didn’t have a heavy meal the previous night can make you quit dal makhni and butter chicken for life.
Or realising that your most intense workout was when you’d gone for an early morning run and had endorphins coursing through your body even before you hit the gym. Or that giving up on that custard-filled double chocolate doughnut every day has given you more energy to go through your day and made you lose four kilograms this month. But it’s not all good with body hacking. There is, as always, a dark side.
Activity: The Holy Grail of the entire Quantified Self movement. Devices that will make you more active, hit about 12,000 steps a day, alert you to inactivity, make you take the stairs, estimate the distance you’ve travelled all day, calories you’ve burnt and the number of active fitness level minutes in a day.
The biggest motivator is when you challenge yourself with these numbers with friends and families. I’ve seen revolutionary changes come about in people who use these trackers and use the numbers seriously.
Best devices to track this metric: Fitbit Force, Misfit Shine and the Nike+ Fuelband SE.
|Weight and Body: A machine that can track your weight changes on a daily basis and (at a medical grade level) tell you about your fat, muscle and water percentages in the body can be a life changer.
The magic lies in tracking this daily to see how your body reacts to different situations. Not working out for three days and seeing how the numbers change, a food that you ate that led to more water retention, a regular decline in your body fat levels over a period of 10 days – all this can tell you more about your body than any medical test.
Best devices to track this metric: Fitbit Aria, Withings Smart Body Analyzer.
Sleep: The insight you can get about this part of your day is beyond startling. Good sleep and the right duration of sleep have changed people’s lives. The entire body reboots, heals, repairs and rejuvenates with a certain amount of sleep of the right kind. The effect of this on the brain and the mind is only being understood now. Poor sleep triggers urges to eat sugary and junk food, and good sleep lessens your need to work out and exercise by more than 50 per cent. If you can track and nail your sleep every night, you’ve almost achieved nirvana.
Best devices to track this metric: Basis Band, Withings Aura and Beddit Sleep Tracker (it’s best to avoid phone apps that track sleep as they need your radiation-emitting phone to be next to your head, and are very poor at recording real sleep numbers) .
A new army of cyberchondriacs: All this data coming at you at the speed of light can feel overwhelming and lead to information overload. You’ve got to be able to use all that and still make sense of it. It can also make you into a bit of a ‘cyberchondriac’ (yes, one more geeky new term for those that misinterpret this information and panic about their medical condition).
I’ve been a slave to body hacking now for quite a while and my final realisation is that there are some things that are vital to track, some that need to be tracked once in a while and some that are completely useless to quantify.
And the Ho-Hums: There are many other metrics people are hacking into: diet, what you eat, calories consumed, amount of water consumed, your heart rate as you work out, specific exercises and the effects of those on your heart and your body, how much you sweat during an activity, and about a dozen others. There’s nothing wrong with tracking these, but each is too niche and person-centric. If any of these are important to you, then track it. For me, this was the perfect way to get overwhelmed to the point of depression, becoming a slave to numbers and spending more time in putting things and not getting any true return on that time investment.
Body hacking is an incredibly powerful new tool available to us all. It’s entirely up to you how you make use of it. You could make it your life-hacking tool or your body slasher with your limbs and organs flying this time. Body Hack – do it, but do it well.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, February 9
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