Tips To Hack Your Health This Summer
June 03, 2020
June 03, 2020
Creating optimal health is a year round commitment to a life deeply connected to nature. Your ability to harness the healing power of the sun, disconnect from the artificial world, eat seasonally, and craft your day around the earth’s fundamental rhythms will set the tone for your health no matter the season. But the summer months offer a unique opportunity to reconnect with nature and build habits/practices that will be beneficial to your long-term health.
Make the most of the summer season and your functional health will thrive!
Here are some suggestions:
1.) Ditch the sunglasses.
What? Don’t wear my sunglasses! Correct!
The circadian cycle, which lasts approximately 24 hours, relies on messaging from the visible light spectrum present only at specific times of the day. This occurs through a critical photoreceptor called melanopsin, which is extremely sensitive to short wavelengths; we perceive this part of the spectrum as blue light. When present naturally and balanced by red, these signals are communicated to the master clock, the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), which sends the information to the pineal gland. From there, the information is passed down to other areas of the body and decoded into physiological action, the most important being melatonin secretion or suppression. Proper suppression or secretion of melatonin in conjunction with circadian timing is critical to protection of mitochondrial function and overall health. When we are out of synch, we are much more susceptible to low quality sleep, lack of cognitive function, and eventual loss of critical energy resulting in disease and dysfunction. In this way, the eye serves not only as our window into the world, but also as our body’s clock, a critical receptor of information and a vital piece of optimal mitochondrial function.
What do sunglasses do? They block the sun, which in turn blocks critical messaging. This disrupts our ability to receive information from the world around us and has detrimental downstream affects. The reality is we need the sun in our eyes for optimal health and chronic exposure to filtered light puts our health at risk.
If you are someone who experiences discomfort when not wearing sunglasses, it may simply be due to lack of exposure. Take it slow and try to gradually reduce the amount of time spent wearing them, especially in the morning when the sun’s UV is lowest and the messaging is the most critical. Over time, you will notice your eyes are far less sensitive and you have no need for sunglasses whatsoever!
2.) Choose natural light over blue light—a.k.a get outside!
The modern world is filled with artificial blue light emitted from screens, electronic devices and lightbulbs—we practically bath in it daily. Unfortunately, that has massive implications for our functional health and is likely responsible for many modern day diseases.
Blue light has a very short wavelength and produces a higher amount of energy as a result. In nature, blue light is always balanced by red light in the sun and rarely shows up in plants, animals, etc. (think about it). This is because nature intended to use blue light only for the signaling of biological processes and synchronization of the circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, modern technology almost exclusively uses blue light without any balance of red, which disrupts melatonin secretion, destroys DHA in the eye, inhibits proper metabolic function, creates epigenetic mismatches and most importantly, destroys mitochondrial function. As a result, the long-term effect of chronic exposure to blue light is almost certainly dysfunction and disease.
Although, it is important to be outside all year long, it is much easier during the warmer months. Get outside as much as possible and do everything you can to avoid blue light and technology. Be intentional and leave your phone behind whenever possible!
3.) Get up with the sunrise and get outside before 10 am.
Our evolutionary origins make waking with the sun and getting outside prior to 10 am a requirement for human function. If optimal health is your goal, then morning sun exposure is required.
As previously discussed, circadian biology is extremely important to long-term health and chronic disruption will inevitably result in negative health effects. The most critical part of the day for synchronizing your circadian clock to the earth’s natural rhythms is the morning when the sun contains a natural balance of blue and red wavelengths. Signals from the morning sun are what down regulate melatonin, up regulate cortisol, drive the secretion of sex hormones, boost dopamine levels, help control apoptosis and autophagy, determine gene expression, stimulate mitochondrial efficiency and improve sleep quality later on. In addition, morning sun exposure primes our bodies for exposure to the sun’s stronger UV light in the afternoon through the production of histidine and lowering of inflammation.
Missing out on morning sun puts you at a severe disadvantage for the remainder of the day—make sure you fuel your full day by making the most of your morning.
4.) Leave the sunscreen at home and don’t be afraid to expose your skin.
The skin, like the eye is constantly taking in signals from the outside world, which are then expressed as physiological responses. The sun plays a critical role in receiving the correct signals for optimal health and regular exposure of the skin to sunlight is extremely important. The biggest concern with sunscreen and clothing are their obvious ability to block and subsequently negate the sun’s benefits and messages.
This is especially important as it relates to Vitamin D, which is synthesized in the skin from direct exposure to UVB radiation and is the most widely acknowledged benefit of regular exposure to the sun. Vitamin D levels are intimately linked to all aspects of human health with cognitive function, bone health, and immune system modulation being some of the most important. By applying sunblock or wearing clothes, we all but eliminate our body’s ability to engage in this critical process and put ourselves at risk down the road. Ultimately, optimal health requires optimal levels of Vitamin D, so ensuring that you do not prevent its synthesis is critical. Additionally, the skin contains melanopsin, which we already know to be a critical component of circadian synchronization. Your skin is constantly taking in signals from the light environment and translating them into energy and biological processes. When we are not exposed to the sun or block it using sunscreen, our bodies can no longer detect signals from the environment, which can have negative health effects in the long-term.
While clothes, of course, are a necessity in modern society, make it a priority to get some consistent exposure and up the dose when possible.
If you would consider yourself someone who burns easily, leave the sunblock at home and instead work on developing your solar callus. Exposure to morning sun paired with gradually increasing time spent in the afternoon sun will make you far less susceptible to burning and allow for greater ability to utilize the sun’s benefits.
Of course, the dose makes the toxin in this scenario and we must consider the bigger picture to correctly utilize the sun’s healing properties. If you are somebody who has typically never been exposed to the sun or you experience a longer winter, then it is advisable to take sometime building a solar callus as described above. Additionally, if you are going to be out in the sun for a longer period of time, use you environment to regularly transition between direct sunlight and shade.
5.) Embrace the cold
Just because the warmer months are here, doesn’t mean you should skip out on the incredible benefits of a cold-thermogenesis (CT) practice. And no, your air conditioning doesn’t count!
CT has some remarkable effects on our health at every level including stimulation of thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), mobilization of white fat into brown fat for use as free heat, sensitized hormones, depletion of glycogen stores, increased insulin sensitivity, cellular repair, and much more. Basically, a recipe for optimal health.
The ideal temperatures for CT occur between 50-55 degrees, but anything less than body temperature is going to induce the sympathetic response and incur some level of benefit. Water is the most effective tool for accessing the benefits of CT. If you have access to water between those temperatures and have never gone in, take it slow and gradually increase exposure time. However, if you don’t have access, the ocean is likely your best bet for colder temperatures throughout the summer and offers the additional benefit of salt and grounding. You can also purchase large rubbermaid tubs from your local hardware store and fill them with water and ice—this is a great solution and you can make a day of it in order to get the most value.
6.) Get Grounded
Nature offers an abundant supply of free electrons that are readily accessible through direct contact with the earth. The only problem: our use of footwear makes this more of an anomaly than a norm.
Think of the earth as a massive battery. As energy is produced by the earth’s core and the planet’s exposure to solar radiation, the natural electrical circuit provides all living creatures with a boundless supply of free electrons. These electrons are negatively charged which neutralize and stabilize natural electrical functions and offer physiological benefits like decreased inflammation, stress relief, and improved sleep.
Any chance you get, take off your shoes and reconnect with the earth. Don’t be intimated by other’s perceptions—the benefits far outweigh the potential for a few strange looks!
7.) Eat plenty of seafood.
While the importance of eating a DHA rich diet all year long cannot be underscored, obtaining fresh, wild-caught seafood seems much easier during the warmer months.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an Omega-3 fatty acid and critical structural component of cells, particularly in the heart, brain and retina. Throughout human evolution, DHA has always been present as a critical part of our biology. DHA is obtained through diet and supplementation, with fatty, cold-water fish being the predominant source. Consumption of DHA allows for proper cellular signaling, brain function and reduced inflammation—lower levels of DHA can be closely tied to many diseases. Most importantly, DHA turns sunlight into a DC electric current to charge mitochondrial efficiency for optimal function. When there is increased amounts of sunlight throughout the day, as is the case during the warmer months, it is important to take advantage of this opportunity for optimal energy production and overall function.
Consider these DHA sources as great additions to your summer BBQ:
8.) Eat seasonally and locally.
The importance of eating a diet connected to its photosynthetic origins is critical—this means eating seasonally and locally. Unfortunately, most don’t stop to consider the role of geography in diet, but it is a critical piece of the equation and goes beyond enhanced taste and freshness.
Food is nothing more than its electron composition, which is directly related to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light into energy. Food grown in season is rich in electrons and energy—the opposite is true for food grown out of season or produced artificially. Life is a game of energy production and expenditure and our ability to do this efficiently and without disruption is the definition optimal health. The process by which our mitochondria turn food into usable energy is called Electron Chain Transport—as it suggests, it requires electrons as an input. Eating food void of electrons, which includes out of season and artificial food, is a poor input for mitochondrial energy production and will lead to inflammation and suboptimal function.
In addition, our bodies are constantly decoding the information provided by our environment and trying to match it with the correct physiological processes. These signals come largely from the sun’s solar energy and are received via the eye and skin. Choosing foods that do not align with the messages received from the sun creates mismatched physiological responses that further disrupt mitochondrial function and efficiency. Ensuring that your diet is seasonal and local is the most effective method for synchronizing your physiological processes with the season for optimal energy production.
What is the best way to do this? Plant a garden! There is nothing more rewarding and intimately local than putting in the hours to build and harvest from your own garden. If that is not an option, try to shop at local farmer’s markets or reach out directly to local farms to source your food!
9.) Take your workout outside and connect it to nature if possible.
Being outside is extremely beneficial for our functional health and so is purposeful, non-inflammatory movement. Combining the two offers additional benefits at the mitochondrial level and can help you maximize the positive effects of movement (Note: purposeful exercise means avoiding chronic, overexertion and prioritizing intentional recovery). Additionally, choosing to be outside avoids harmful exposure to the blue light present in most gyms. In fact, it could potentially even give your performance a boost as detailed in a 2008 study that found a natural lighting environment to have positive outcomes for muscular strength.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up and connect it directly to nature or functional movement. Going on a ruck with friends or completing some yard work are both great options and will force you outside and into the sun. The mission to take advantage of every hour of sunlight should not exclude your time spent working out!
10.) End your day with fire.
Fire has been an intrinsic, lasting component of almost every culture, providing warmth, light and healing. There is undoubtedly something primal to the use of fire and it has played an important role in our evolutionary history. Beyond its utility, fire is visible as red light and emits infrared (IR) radiation sensed as heat. IR light is proven to improve mitochondrial function and supercharge cellular water, storing energy like a battery. In addition, fire is proven to bring a sense of relaxation and calmness and the light emitted will not affect your internal circadian clock, making it a great solution for quality sleep. Consider using a fire or natural lighting source (like a candle or lamp) prior to bed in lieu of artificial light and take every chance you can to get friends gathered around a bonfire for your health and theirs.
This time of year offers endless opportunity for optimal health. But it’s up to you to seize the moment and make the most of each day. Don't miss out!