Tracking Your Environmental Signaling

We are launching a free tracking method to help assess cycling through various bodily states, and tie them how you feel and perform. It gathers a number of data points, weights them according to their impact and calculates a variance between the two ends of the paradigm.  Our logo works well to highlight what will drive higher scores; the green shows a higher distance, or variance, between the high and the low compared with the red.

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Temperature

As all the entries on the metrics page look to exploit, exposure to varying environmental extremes produces powerful signals to the human body.  Temperature extremes (the word extreme used here to mean strong deviations from norms, not go try to get frostbite somewhere) are simple non-drug ways to utilize pathways in the body drug companies are spending millions researching to put in pill form.

Saunas have been used for many years and studies are showing now just why they provide such a powerful experience.  The systems influence by sauna bathing are lengthy but summarized here based off of this article by Rhonda Patrick:

To recap and drive the point home: acclimating your body to heat stress by intermittent whole-body hyperthermia via sauna use (“hyperthermic conditioning”) has been shown to: 

Enhance endurance by:

  • Increasing nutrient delivery to muscles thereby reducing the depletion of glycogen stores.
  • Reducing heart rate and reducing core temperature during workload.

Increase muscle hypertrophy by preventing protein degradation through the following three means:

  1. Induction of heat shock proteins and a hormetic response (which has also been shown to increase longevity in lower organisms).
  2. Cause a massive release of growth hormone.
  3. Improving insulin sensitivity.

Hyperthermic conditioning also has robust positive effects on the brain:

  • Increases the storage and release of norepinephrine, which improves attention and focus.
  • Increases prolactin, which causes your brain to function faster by enhancing myelination and helps to repair damaged neurons.
  • Increases BDNF, which causes the growth of new brain cells, improves the ability for you to retain new information, and ameliorates certain types of depression and anxiety.
  • Causes a robust increase in dynorphin, which results in your body becoming more sensitive to the ensuing endorphins.

The other end of the temperature spectrum also produces powerful signaling.  Cold exposure by a variety of means (ice baths, cold showers, cryotherapy, etc) can produce beneficial results in many areas.  Dr. Patrick also put together a comprehensive document on that, here are the highlights for cold:

  • Can be neuroprotective.  Potentially helping in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Can have and anti-depressant effect
  • Increases norepinepherine which is anti-inflammatory and also a target of some anti-depressant medications
  • Can have an analgesic effect
  • Can improve immune function
  • Increases conversion of white fat to brown fat.  Brown fat produces heat and can increase metabolic activity.  White fat by contrast is in many cases inflammatory in nature and associated with the troublesome viscreal fat (beer belly).  Converting to brown fat also could lead to weight loss.
  • Can help with exercise and training recovery, IF timed properly.
  • Can increase the number of mitochondria via a process called mitochondrial biogenisis.  More mitochondria =  more energy production.  Who doesn’t want more energy?
  • Increases antioxidant production

So, in our daily survey of your health metrics, we ask how many minutes of each hot exposure and cold exposure were experienced.  While there are many different types of hot and cold environments, that isn’t differentiated in the question.  Sauna or hot Epsom salt bath vs cold shower or a Pacific NW ocean swim all count the same for our purposes.  The more minutes logged in each result in a higher score as the score is computed is a variance between the two extremes.  The highest scores will be generated by spending time in both hot and cold environments during the day.  What we hope to be able to correlate then is if doing so make a positive difference in your energy score.  Ok, now go sweat and/or freeze!

Circadian

Meal Timing

Our daily rhythms are influenced by multiple inputs. Most people rightly associate the sunrise and sunset as being a driver of our circadian cycles.  This is definitely true, but it is not the only influencer.  A great many factors operate on a rhythmic basis; digestion, repair, inflammation to name a few. Meal timing has a major role in signaling the body which period of the cycle we are in, which provides us with a reliable opportunity to positively aide or correct issues of circadian imbalances.

The meal timing portion of our metrics tracker gathers the two most important inputs we control with regard to food; (1) how many of the hours we do/don’t eat and (2) how long before bed we stop eating.

With regard to the hours of eating, a higher score is achieved by having a fasting period greater than 12 hours.  What we are looking to achieve here is ensuring the body has time to go into repair mode, which isn’t possible unless digestion activities have ceased.  The common term for this is Time Restricted Eating (TRE).  A smaller window in which non-water foods and beverages are consumed leads to a healthier metabolism, weight loss, and a reduction in inflammation. Aiming for a 10-hour eating window and working an 8-hour window is a good plan.  With our tracker, we can then be able to assess how that impacts your energy score.

The time before bed measurement is how many hours we stop eating prior to sleep.  Quality sleep is far more than what many believe as a passive state.  The body and brain go into a very active repair process that is very sensitive to disruption.  If we eat a late meal or drink alcohol right up to bed, or very close, the priority will be digesting and dealing with that food or alcohol. This focus in shift comes at the expense of process involved in repair during sleep. A higher score will be achieved with a higher number of hours before bed where eating and drinking anything but water is logged.

Light

Another major factor in our circadian rhythm is exposure to light. The guiding light, pardon the pun, is the sun.  Both in the spectrums of light and intensity patterns throughout the day.  For this section of the metric tracking, we are just looking at light intensity.  While there is a lot of new information on the light spectrum including the problems with isolated and prolonged blue light exposure, in this section the assessment focuses on times of the day in different intensity environments.

One way to measure light intensity is called the lux.  It ranges from a few lux in very dim light up to many thousands in direct sunlight. The data is broken down into broad ranges of typical lux environments.  It is very educational to realize that many office type lighting setups only get to around 200 lux or so when evolutionarily we are used to getting 20,000 or more during the day.  If you have an iOS device and want to measure the lux in your environment, myLuxRecorder is a free app that uses the lens on the camera to provide real-time data. On the other end of the spectrum, if we take that same lighting level at home with bright LED lights and big screen televisions plus phones/tablets it turns out to be very common for us to get between 100-200 lux exposure all day.  This manifests in the absence of appropriate light signaling input to your circadian rhythm, which in turn is a contributing factor to many chronic health challenges.

The metric looks at the variance between your more intense light exposure and the low level achieved at night.  The higher the number the better.  

Macronutrient Variance

There are a multitude of diet plans out there; an understatement for sure!  For our purposes of assessing general diet in the role of optimizing our health in this metric, the goal is to highlight cycling and macronutrient variety.  Further, it is important to watch out for fuel overload, as that can precipitate various chronic health deficits long term.  

The data gathered here is a simple 1-3/low-high assessment of each of the macronutrient categories; protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  The calculation counts carbs and proteins in the same bucket as they both tend to promote growth and inflammation in certain cases, where fats (the right kinds) and fat burning mode (ketosis) can be anti-inflammatory.  So, higher scores will be on days with a high fat intake compared with a lower protein and carb intake as well as on days when higher protein and carbs are consumed with a lower fat intake.  A zero will be obtained if all categories are high or all are low.  The scoring is a based on achieving a good variance between the fuel sources. We can also dive deeper, upon client request, into data later to look at trying various macronutrient intakes to your energy level.

Activity

Physical activity is important in many areas for optimal health. Our metric is mainly focused on gathering the different types of activity and setting it against rest or inactivity and looking at the spread between the two. The different entries (exercise, chores, standing) are all waiting based on the general intensity. A higher score will be obtained the more activities are logged.  This will provide insight over time how much various activity levels impact your general energy levels.

Stress

Life is stressful no doubt.  We all are exposed to various stressful inputs regularly, and most Americans are professionals at racking up the inbound stress most of the day. Stress in and of itself is not bad.  Contrarily, like exercise, it can produce positive responses naturally in the body.  The key to having a healthy relationship to stress is not purely avoidance, it is achieving a healthy balance or variance between stress and relaxation.

Many people have heard meditation is helpful, and it is, but there are other elements that factor into relaxation and stress recovery.  So, rest assured (get it?), we don’t have to assume the look of a monastery at home to achieve optimal health.  Part of the strategy is learning that activities that you are open to inbound stimulus (calls, texts, phone notifications) need to balance to some degree with detachment. This is where times without phones or other media are very useful and are accounted for in our metric nicely. Meditation is weighted the highest, then exercise (does not need to be re-entered from the activity section, it is automatically factored in) and other reflective type activities such as prayer, journaling, and even filling out the other metrics, on down to just enjoying time with family and friends. A higher score will be obtained by accumulating more hours in the relaxation categories to offset the stressful world in which we live.

 

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