Think sports and business are unrelated? Think again.
Biohacking refers to practices meant to optimise your health and body to make you a better performer. This applies not only to sports, but to other parts of your life too. In addition to exercising better, biohacking also concerns nutrition, performance optimization of the brain, regeneration, and more.
We spoke to Bonnie Dornhecker, a personal trainer specialised in helping people become high performers. She explained how increasing the amount of activity you do and selecting how you exercise wisely can make all the difference.
How Sports Can Help Optimise Your Brain
This sounds like magic, doesn’t it? Well, the human body kind of is!
Bonnie explained that the principle of biohacking relies on neurogenesis, or “the ability of the hippocampus (an area in the brain) to form new brain cells”. The larger the hippocampus is, the better your brain can store memories and learn new things, for example.
The thing is, the hippocampus needs a lot of oxygen and energy to function. So how can we get more oxygen to our brain? The answer, as Bonnie stated simply, is sports! Aerobic exercise maximises the blood flow to our brain, she explained.
This is why studies have shown that athletes have a better blood flow and less brain damage over time compared to people who are not regularly active. “In order for the blood to reach the brain, the heart needs to be strong,” Bonnie told us. And in order for that to happen, you need regular exercise.
We were fascinated to hear that different types of sports affect your brain differently, according to Bonnie. “Different kinds of sports activate different areas of the brain,” she explained, and broke it down as follows:
- Aerobic endurance sports, which depending on how fit you are can go from a walk to running a marathon, help to create new brain cells through neurogenesis. During aerobic exercise, the volume of grey matter in your brain increases, as do the number and variety of synapses.
- Weightlifting helps to improve reasoning and complex thinking, as it activates your frontal cortex.
- Practices like yoga or tai chi improve the integration of body and mind, and can help to deal with emotions.
- Complex movements sports such as basketball or volleyball help to improve your attention and task-sorting process, which is especially applicable to management and leadership positions.
How Much Exercise Should You Do on a Regular Basis?
While there is no definite answer to that question, there are some guidelines to help you figure out just how much you should be exercising.
The World Health Organisation recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes of intense activity a week. “Roughly, moderate exercise means you can talk but not sing a song during it, and intense just means you shouldn’t be able to speak,” explained Bonnie.
Bonnie emphasised that a lot of people who believe they are physically active actually fall way below the recommended amount of exercise. “A normal office worker with a passive lifestyle in terms of exercise has a negative health benefit,” she said. If you’re only training once or twice a week, you’re just about leading a “healthy lifestyle”, but it’s only regularly training 3 to 4 times a week that really makes a difference, and at about 5 times a week where you get the most benefit.
Another key to success is variation. Doing different activities such as yoga, walking or tennis means you get the additional benefits from each type of activity. For example, Bonnie recommended a breakdown of three walking/running/cycling sessions and two strength training sessions a week.
While it can be tempting to go all in once you start, the personal trainer warned of the dangers of overtraining. Overdoing exercise can lead to injuries, fatigue, and stress, which defeats the point of exercising in the first place.
How to Start Training?
As a busy entrepreneur, you might not have time to go swimming, running, cycling, or weightlifting on a regular basis. The choice can also be overwhelming and lead you to training too much or in a disorganised way.
Bonnie stressed the importance of assessing your current health and fitness abilities by speaking to a doctor and checking your body’s function and capabilities with a personal trainer. That way, you’ll avoid going too far and risking getting injured.
“The basis of everything is breathing,” she explained. “If you don’t breathe, no oxygen comes into the body.” Once you’ve mastered breathing, you can test the rest of your mobility, and build core stability. “From there, you learn how to push, pull, bend and extend!” This is the point where you can build on strength, endurance, power and agility.
Another mistake a lot of busy entrepreneurs make is buying a lot of equipment, using them each for a couple of weeks, then giving up. “This is a typical problem for wealthy people. They think they can buy health,” she sighed.
In fact, you don’t need a huge amount of kit to get started on your fitness journey. Bonnie listed the following as good options to get some whole body training done:
- A mat
- A barbell, weights, a kettlebell to do some weightlifting
- Bands to activate your muscles
- A skipping rope, or exercise machine (rowing machine, exercise bike) for endurance
Bonnie also revealed her top three methods to incorporate healthy exercise into a busy day. “If you’ve got a stressful occupation and you’re only sleeping four hours a night, please don’t do high intensity interval training,” she pleaded. “That puts a strain on your nervous system.”
Instead, try one of the methods below:
- Walking meetings. The brain works better when walking rather than sitting, and this counts as aerobic endurance training.
- The Grease the Groove method. The best way to make the most of your work day is to incorporate exercise into your breaks. Short, game-like exercises put less strain on the nervous system and can deliver great results. If you’re trying to do pull ups, for example, try doing a couple in the morning, some at midday, and some in the evening.
- The Scientific 7-Minute Workout. Popularised by the American College of Sports Medicine´s Health&Fitness Journal published by the New York Times, it consists of 12 exercises done for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of break in between. All the basic functional movements of the body are included: jumps, stability, pushing, pulling, etc.