Digital Health

Biohacking: Optimizing body, mind and performance

Biohacking is health and performance optimization through the use of biological and technological tools. Two central questions often take center stage: How do humans function - and how can you influence yourself? //next author Markus Sekulla spoke with Teemu Arina about why he became a biohacker - and what digital devices he uses to track himself.

Foto: Biohacker Teemu Arina

Markus Sekulla: Hi Teemu, it’s such a pleasure to talk to you today. I’ve been following you online for a long time. On your website it says: "Biohacking is the art and science of optimizing your body, mind and performance with systems thinking, technology and biology – In other words, better living through science." Is that your definition of biohacking or would you like to add something?

Teemu Arina: Hi Markus, thanks for having me. Biohacking is health and performance optimization by using biological and technological tools. Just like a computer hacker might be looking at the computer system. How does it work and how it can be influenced in some way? As a biohacker, I'm looking at the human body or biological system, that like a computer system has different inputs, different processes, different outputs. And by modulating your inputs, by influencing the way the body is processing things, or what the outputs are, you can you can start to optimize the system. 

I take the view of cybernetics, just like cybernetic systems. There's an input, there's a process, there's an output, and there is a very key crucial component, which is learning. It's the way through which the system is modifying the way it responds to stimuli. It's the way how all organisms learn and grow. In a similar way, by using technology, for example, to quantify yourself, getting information about your behavior, your biomarkers or even your environment in which you are.

The goal: optimal health

For example, if we are talking about health optimization, then in in today's society, health is understood as the absence of diagnosed disease, but to me, there is optimal health. If you go for a lab test, you are looking at a reference range. If you're within this range in our current medical system, you're a healthy person, you're not outside of the standard deviation. But what is optimal health, is unique to you. That can be only understood by looking at your genetics, looking at your gender, looking at your biomarkers in general, looking at long term trends.

One of the definitions of biohacking is that it's about optimizing the environment within you and outside of you because we are not living in isolation. We are embedded in our environment. That could be your friends & family, the country you live in, the food you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink. And your lifestyle in the end is the way how you interact with your environment, how much sleep you get, what are your behaviors in terms of exercise, nutrition or substance abuse. By understanding this complex system in which you're embedded in and becoming a master of it, that's what biohackers strive for. 

Markus Sekulla: How did you become a biohacker?

Teemu Arina: My avenue to biohacking started with something that happened over 10 years ago, in 2011, I got an ulcer, a stress related illness, and I got a diagnosis with medication for it. But it became chronic, so I was chronically in pain and out of energy for a year at least. And halfway of that, I decided to look in the mirror and I refused to be the sick person. Biohacking was my way. It was the behavior modification that was supported by all the data that got me out of that inflammatory state. And in that journey, I realized that you are totally in control of your own health, your performance and all that if you choose. In today's society, we outsource that to doctors and other specialists, so someone else is going to tell us what's going on with us. But in the end, you have to become a master of your own health, you have to grow and become a master of your own performance. And that’s hard work.

A biohacker like me is taking oneself as a subject. Informed by latest scientific research, informed by top experts in your field informed by our own knowledge and experience of doing something. And combining all of those and testing them on myself. 

 

Markus Sekulla: Which digital devices do you use to quantify yourself?

Teemu Arina: There are a few different devices I use. There are devices that I use to measure and there are devices that I use to induce an effect.

For example, if we talk about exercise, I use an activity tracker. Right now, I’m wearing a Garmin watch that looks like a regular watch. I'm using it to get a better understanding of my stress response throughout the day. I'm using this specifically for something called heart rate variability. It tells me the moment when my sympathetic nervous system (my fight or flight system) has been on or the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system) has been on. A perfect balance here would be around 50/50 throughout the day. If I see that my statistics for the last week have been overly stimulated, then I try to take it a little bit easier this week

When it comes to tracking sleep, I use the Oura ring, which tracks your heart rate, variability, distress and a few things more and I like the form factor. It gives you an idea of your night's sleep. It tracks deep sleep, REM sleep, etc. but REM sleep is extremely hard to measure accurately, because you would need brainwaves to do that. I have a device that does is, it's called, Dreem, basically a headset that measures brainwaves very accurately.

Really important for me is tracking my deep sleep and compare it to the total amount of sleep. Because that’s when most of the recovery happens. And deep sleep is disturbed by stress, eating or exercising too late, and alcohol.

In terms of other devices, I have a one that is tracking my posture during speeches on stage. It's vibrating when I'm not in a good posture, a clue to straighten up.

For muscle tracking I use a device called Skulpt, which is looking at fat percentage. It also measures your muscle quality, so you can place it on different muscles and it gives me an indication which parts of the body I need to tackle more during my training.

For in this time of the year, when it's pretty dark outside in Estonia where I live, I use a blue light device that I can put over my eyes or a daylight to synchronize my circadian rhythm. In the evening, I try to block blue light – with glasses or software.

Markus Sekulla: What are the trends right now in biohacking?

Teemu Arina: Devices like activity trackers are already mainstream in a way or early majority. It's becoming less interesting what activity tracker you use. It's becoming more interesting what the algorithms are able to do with the data.

In the next phase it’s about artificial intelligence driven algorithms that are able to extract deeper knowledge and information than what is possible otherwise. I see that these things are entering the workplace. Several companies are developing platforms for businesses to take these types of data into their management dashboards, as an anonymous average of your employees. The management will have an (again anonymous) access to understanding the stress levels and health and performance of their staff. But in the end, this type of thing is data is completely useless without facilitation, it applies for the individual as well as for organizations. What is needed is a way that helps you to facilitate actual beneficial behavior change. 

Markus Sekulla: Dear Teemu, thank you very much for this interview!