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The Benefits of Exercise You Didn’t Know About

Today we welcome guest author Tara Swart, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist, medical doctor, leadership coach, and bestselling author. She works with high-performing leaders to amplify their brain function, including stress and emotional responses, memory, and cognition. Her new book, “The Source: The Secrets of the Universe, the Science of the Brain,” offers actionable steps to make lasting changes in your brain’s pathways that result in more positivity and ease. 

The Benefits of Exercise You Didn’t Know About

by Tara Swart, M.D., Ph.D.

Photo of Tara Swart

Exercise energizes our body and brain, causing us to breathe more deeply which oxygenates cells throughout our body. It has also been found to improve neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change itself well into adulthood.

Regular exercise has a host of tangible health benefits for the brain. The combined results of 11 studies show that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30 percent.[ref url=””] It also makes your brain more agile. Those who exercise have better higher-brain functions like emotional regulation and flexible thinking and are better able to quickly switch between tasks.[ref url=”″]

Exercise helps grow new brain cells

In a study published in the journal Neuroscience Letters, researchers from the University of Texas looked at the impact of high-intensity exercise on a protein called BDNF, short for ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’ which causes new nerve cells to grow.[ref url=”″]

BDNF is involved in brain cell survival and repair, mood regulation and cognitive functions such as learning and memory. Low BDNF levels are associated with a host of mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Extra credit: enjoy the type of exercise you do

In the Texas study, all adults who performed a session of high-intensity exercise experienced higher BDNF levels and improvements in cognitive function. But, what about how you feel while you’re doing it? Believe it or not, when we do exercise that we enjoy we release more BDNF than we do when it feels like a chore. Intention appears to be important in brain activity: wanting to do something, characteristic of an optimistic, abundant attitude, makes it more beneficial.

Different types of exercise benefit specific brain areas and functions

Different types of movement involve different parts of your brain. Just as with a muscle, working a specific area of your brain makes that area stronger, building and reinforcing the pathways that you use regularly.

Walking and aerobic exercise for memory, learning, and emotions

Walking and other aerobic exercise has been shown to create changes in the hippocampus – the part of our brain that relates to memory, learning and emotional control.[ref url=”″] The increased plasticity in the hippocampus and possible growth of new cells caused by BDNF – and increase in blood vessels supplying oxygen to that area during aerobic exercise – actually leads to growth in the volume of the hippocampal part of the brain. This also prevents the natural atrophy, or wasting away, of brain cells over time. Even a brisk walk is a way of maintaining and future-proofing your brain.


Hand-eye coordination activities for social and emotional well-being

Taking up table tennis or any sport that involves coordinating multiple factors as well as a social element, combines hand-eye coordination and socializing, and has been shown to increase brain thickness in the parts of the cortex related to social-emotional welfare.[ref url=””] Exercise to build muscle that includes variety and coordination, such as dance, also has brain benefits.

Boxing to melt away stress

And finally, my personal favorite for the mind and body is boxing – it involves cardio, muscle toning and is the best stress reliever I have found in all my own experiments with exercise and mindfulness.

Air quality matters

Woman inhaling deeply

Finally, for many of us living in increasingly polluted cities, air quality is the elephant in the room when it comes to well-being, and a subject that we will all be talking about in the near future. It’s one thing we can’t personally control, so it’s often easier to ignore its impact. Exercising in polluted areas actually decreases the secretion of BDNF compared to exercising in a clean environment or not at all!

When we exercise, we breathe deeply, and choosing to do so at the side of a busy road means we’re taking deep lungfuls of highly polluted air filled with toxic microparticles. Monitoring of air quality in the UK (and it is likely to be the same if not worse in US urban areas) concluded that the levels of nitrogen oxide inhaled by pedestrians and motorists were equivalent to smoking four cigarettes per minute – so not promoting the growth or connection of new cells and possibly even inhibiting it.[ref url=””]

The good news if you struggle with maintaining good habits around regular exercise, know that inactive people experience higher levels of neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) when they start aerobic exercise than people who exercise regularly. Start today to feel smarter!

Adapted from THE SOURCE: The Secrets of the Universe, the Science of the Brain by Dr. Tara Swart, copyright 2019. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Healing From Trauma: Science-Backed Methods to Help You Recover

For decades, Lara Logan reported from war zones around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. But more recently, the 60 Minutes correspondent faced back-to-back traumatic events in her own life: She survived a brutal sexual assault while covering the Arab Spring in Cairo; a year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In a Bulletproof Radio (iTunes) podcast episode, the mother of two reveals how she worked through her trauma by staying true to herself and her core values. “Integrity, resilience, and consistency are based on knowing who you are,” she says. “Don’t give them more than they deserve. Don’t give them anything, if you don’t have to. Don’t be a victim.” You can listen to more of Logan’s inspiring story here.

If you’re currently dealing with the pain of a traumatic experience, it may be difficult to see a way out. Read on to learn about the three distinct phases of trauma, and the science-backed methods to help you heal.

What is trauma?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Life experiences like divorce, illness, and death can also be traumatic. You typically feel shock and denial following a trauma. In the long term, you may experience flashbacks, volatile emotions, and physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and fatigue.[ref url=””]

On an episode of Bulletproof Radio (iTunes), psychiatrist and psychological trauma expert Dr. James Gordon likens trauma to an injury.

“Something happens to us that throws us off balance. Throws us into a state of confusion and forces us to shut down emotionally, to withdraw and distance ourselves,” says Gordon.

He goes on to explain how the things that happen to you in your past may affect how you react to traumatic events in the present.

“Sometimes we don’t understand why we behave in certain ways. Why we’re afraid of certain things. Why we get angry so easily at certain things. If we take the time to reflect, to go inside and be a little introspective and maybe ask a few questions of our family members, we can find out what the source of the trauma is.”

While these responses are normal, they can make it difficult to move on with your life.

What happens in your body when you’ve been traumatized

3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_What happens in your body when you’ve been traumatized_cortisol

  • Trauma triggers an overproduction of stress hormones — namely cortisol. If you are constantly reliving a traumatic experience, stress hormones remain activated, keeping you in a state of high alert. [ref url=”″] You might experience trembling or an exaggerated startle response, especially to things that remind you of the traumatic event. These are called “triggers.”
  • You will enter the fight, flight, or freeze mode [ref url=””] whenever you feel triggered. What does this mean? You’ll feel compelled to either defend yourself against the trigger, run from it, or you could feel paralyzed. Sleep might be difficult and you may feel the need to avoid people or situations that you believe threaten your safety. [ref url=””]
  • Trauma affects three areas of the brain — the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex — and can create lasting changes in all three regions. Animal studies reveal that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead to significant changes in brain size and can impair brain functioning. [ref url=””] Over time, the excess cortisol produced by the fight or flight response can actually rewire your brain’s circuitry, creating psychological and emotional distress. [ref url=”″]

Trauma is linked to future health problems

3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_Trauma is linked to future health problems

Chronic stress following a traumatic event can have long-term health effects[ref url=””][ref url=”″], including:

  • Heart and liver disease
  • Addictive behaviors like alcoholism and smoking
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Cancer
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Feelings of despair, guilt, and shame
  • Emotional numbness
  • Cognitive impairment such as memory lapses, difficulty making decisions, distractibility, withdrawal from your typical routine, and even a lost sense of time

The 3 phases of trauma recovery

In her book “Trauma and Recovery,” American psychiatrist Judith Herman lays out three phases of trauma that you typically move through on your path to recovery. The stages are:

1. Safety and Stabilization  

The aim of this phase is to regain a sense of safety in the world. Trauma makes you feel unsafe in your body and wary of other people. It can take anywhere from days to months to even years to feel safe again, depending on the severity of the trauma and how you process it.

The first step is to identify which of your difficult emotions, like intense fear or rage, are linked to the trauma, then learn how to manage these emotions. You can do this with the help of a loved one or a talk therapist. There are also non-verbal ways to help you regulate your emotions. More on those methods below.

2. Remembrance and Mourning

The second phase is about processing the trauma and naming it. You begin to use words and emotions to put the trauma into context. Therapy is a key part of this step. Get the input of a reputable counselor or therapist in a group or individual setting. Take your time: moving too quickly might re-trigger you.

The goal is not necessarily to relive the traumatic event, nor is it to escape uncomfortable emotions. You are aiming for a healthy middle ground. Also critical to the second phase is mourning what might have been lost due to the trauma. Give yourself ample time to grieve and express your emotions.

3. Reconnection and Integration

The goal of phase three is the birth of a new self and hope for the future. You don’t allow the trauma to define you; rather, you redefine yourself.

Like Logan, you take concrete steps to reclaim your personal power. You cease being a victim. Many people recovering from trauma find a mission they are passionate about, such as helping others, which can foster healing. Trauma recovery does not imply that you’ll never experience painful thoughts or feelings. You probably will but, like Logan, you won’t be controlled by them.

Ways to work through trauma

One of the first and most important steps following a trauma is to seek professional help. You may also want to explore the following methods:

Heart Rate Variability Training (HRV)

3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_Heart Rate Variability Training

Trauma triggers feelings of anxiety, which changes your heart rate and puts you in fight, flight, or freeze mode.[ref url=””] HRV uses technology to tell you when your heart rate is too high.This helps you to take a step back and use your thoughts to control your physiological response. So instead of physically reacting to a trigger, you can say to yourself, “I see what is going on here and I can exit this state.”

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR therapy helps your brain and nervous system respond more appropriately to specific triggers.[ref url=””] Trauma can change the brain system, and EMDR helps to recalibrate the brain’s circuitry properly by resyncing the right and left lobes.

During a typical treatment session, you’ll follow a light from left to right on an EMDR device. By moving your eyes back and forth at specific speeds, your brain circuitry is reset. You can then go back and review the trauma with an EMDR specialist.


3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_Neurofeedback

Image via Choose Muse

Traumatic experiences as a kid — like bullying on the playground — can scar you and leave an imprint on your brain. Dave notes from his experience working with 40 Years of Zen that neurofeedback is great for old traumas. “When people learn to let go of old traumatic patterns and loops, they become more effective human beings at everything they do.”

Neurofeedback is a technique that allows you to get real-time feedback on your state of mind by wearing a device like the Muse Headband. Like HRV, you can begin to move out of the trauma by consciously bringing yourself into physical and emotional equilibrium, especially in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[ref url=””]

Related Podcast: Dr. Valdeane Brown: Neurofeedback Technology

Holotropic Breathwork

3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_Holotropic Breathwork

Holotropic (“moving toward wholeness”) breathwork combines rapid breathing with sensory music. While lying on a mat with your eyes closed, you use the music and breath to enter an altered state of consciousness. [ref url=””] Listen to this podcast to learn more about the pioneering work of Stan Grof, MD, PhD, who developed the holotropic breathwork technique.

Psychedelic Therapy

3 Phases of Trauma and 5 Ways to Work Through It_Psychedelic Therapy

For psychedelic therapy, you need to be in a medically supervised setting, as well as a country or location where it’s legal. You then work with a practitioner who administers MDMA (aka ecstasy) [ref url=”″], a hallucinogenic brew called ayahuasca[ref url=”″], or LSD[ref url=””] to help you recalibrate your triggered brain.

Special note about birth trauma

Trauma at birth — like an umbilical cord wrapped around your neck — can create an early pattern of feeling unsafe in the world.[ref url=””] Because the experience is entirely somatic at that early age (you don’t have words to describe your experience) a non-verbal treatment like holotropic breathing and psychedelic therapy may be effective.


4 Ways to Grow Your Intelligence — at Any Age


  • It’s a common misconception that your intelligence levels are fixed, and you’re as smart as you’ll ever be. That’s a myth.
  • You might assume that your memory, cognition, and focus will decline as you age. Also, not the case.
  • There are brain-training exercises that you can do to stay sharp and even improve your brain power.
  • Key supplements protect your brain from oxidative stress, and even build new brain cells.


It’s pretty much accepted that brain health and all that goes with it — memory, intelligence, and complex decision-making — declines with age. But new research suggests this doesn’t actually have to be the case. Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas found that a cognitive training program used for one hour a week, alongside two hours of homework, reversed cognitive decline in older adults.[ref url=””]

The program, called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (or SMART for short), teaches you how to block irrelevant information so you can focus on the bigger picture without getting caught up in minor details. It also teaches you to analyze issues from different viewpoints, which helps with mental flexibility. Over the course of 12 weeks, these techniques helped the study’s participants (all over age 55) develop better focus and stronger reasoning skills. (Download the app here.)

So why is this news huge? “Innovative cognition — the kind of thinking that reinforces and preserves complex decision-making, intellect and psychological well-being — does not need to decline with age. This study reveals that cognitive training may help enhance cognitive capacities and build resilience against decline in healthy older adults,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Center for BrainHealth founder, chief director, and lead author of the study.

Related: Reverse the Age of Your Brain With Dr. Daniel Amen

This study builds upon what’s already known about the brain — namely, that intelligence is not fixed. Numerous studies reveal that training, supplements, and even time can expand intelligence. That’s due to a big word called neuroplasticity – your ability to reshape your nervous system and brain. If you’ve caught yourself (or your parents) having “senior moments,” or just want to boost your IQ, here’s what you can do upgrade your brain function.

Use brain games to up your IQ

Besides SMART, there are other ways to stimulate your brain toward peak cognition performance. Dual N Back is a downloadable software program that requires 20 minutes of your time. They’re computer lessons that improve memory, problem-solving, imagination, and even REM sleep. If you’d like to read more, Dual N Back Training was the focus of our article titled “How To Add 2.75 IQ Points Per Hour of Training.”  Or perhaps you are interested in trying it right now. Check out Brain Workshop, where you can download it for free. Be prepared to give yourself a daily dose of Dual N Back for about a month. It may not be easy at first — it might be downright dreadful as those neuronal circuits rewire — but soon enough, your brainy superpowers will kick in and you’ll be reciting your favorite Shakespeare sonnet in no time.

Practice memory techniques

People use a lot of different techniques to remember something. If you ask someone for a phone number, you might repeat it in your mind until you dial it, then you immediately forget the number. If you’re studying for a test, you might make up rhymes or mnemonic devices to memorize items for quick recall.

Bulletproof Radio podcast guest and accelerated learning expert Jonathan Levi (iTunes) explains a technique he uses called “memory palaces.” It essentially involves visualizing things or people in a physical space that you’re familiar with, the same way we would visualize placing furniture in rooms.

“[Spatial memory] is a huge survival advantage that our brains do naturally, which is why you’ll never forget every home you’ve ever lived in. You know the layout,” explains Levi. “You have all these empty memory palaces, and all you need to do is start putting your memories in there.”

Sharpen your smarts with brain-boosting supplements

If sharpening your cognitive powers nutritionally is your MO, these supplements have you covered. The following are known to have supreme brain benefits:

  • Krill Oil (EPA & DHA): These two omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for proper brain function and development. They improve memory and thought processes. If you already have an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats from your diet, you only need to take about 350mg per day.
  • Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil: MCT oil helps your brain run more efficiently. It also happens to turn on your body’s fat-burning abilities. Start slowly with MCT oil, to allow your body to get used to this much energy this quickly.[ref url=””]

improve cognitive skills

Consider Nootropics, aka “smart drugs”

Nootropics, aka “smart drugs” are substances that improve executive functions, like memory, creativity, and even motivation. There are a host of nootropics to explore—from Aniracetam for memory, creativity, and stress to Huperzine A for memory, nerve growth, and possible protection against Alzheimer’s. Two other notable ones are:

  • Acetyle-L-carnitine (ALC): When crossing the blood-brain barrier, ACL acts on both acetylcholine and dopamine function, becoming a powerful antioxidant and cognitive enhancer.  It’s true that most studies have been done on rodents, though there is a gamut of anecdotal evidence to suggest effectiveness in humans.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine offers a massive boost in brain power. It improves short-term memory, alertness, and cognitive function. Caffeine improves the ability to perform simple math problems and organization and may improve mood. Upgraded coffee beans contain two potent brain anti-inflammatory agents, cafestrol and kawehol, which boost cognitive performance differently than caffeine. They are bite-sized brain winners for sure.[ref url=””]

For more on nootropics, read 13 Nootropics to Unlock Your True Brain.


The 5 Stages of Digestion

Today’s guest post is from Wade T. Lightheart and Matt Gallant at biOptimizers, who have been on Bulletproof Radio twice — in episode 515 and episode 611 — to discuss little-known truths about gut health, probiotics, the microbiome, enzymes and more. 

In this post, they explain how your food is broken down, also sharing how to optimize or biohack each phase so that you can maximize your digestion. 


Woman eating chocolate for gut health

Have you biohacked your digestion? Now is the time.

When Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said: “all disease begins in the gut,” he was referring to digestion. 

There are countless ways to enhance your gut microbiome health: you can buy probiotics, experiment with fermenting foods, or eat loads of vegetables high in resistant starch. But if you don’t digest your food properly, you won’t get far. The most powerful path to gut health, and whole-body health, will always involve fixing your digestion. 

To digest your food thoroughly, it’s critical you understand the 5 distinct stages and the essentials of each stage. 

Stage 1: Preparation

teen cooking skills_headerThis first essential stage involves smelling, tasting, touching, and chewing your food, with the goal of getting it ready to be further processed by the rest of the digestive process. Unfortunately, most people are moving too fast, multitasking too frequently, and are under too much stress to connect with their food and chew properly. 

But chewing is absolutely essential, because it determines which enzymes are activated in your saliva, including amylase, protease and lipase. Amylase, secreted from the parotid glands on the sides of your mouth below your ears, helps with carbs. The submandibular glands, located under your jawbone, secrete protease to help with protein breakdown.  Lastly, sublingual glands, which means “under the tongue,” help produce lipase, which aids in fat digestion. 

Again, it’s critical to connect with your food like our ancestors did and avoid eating while distracted or rushing. In a study, published in the Gastroenterology journal, researchers found that metabolism and digestion are meaningfully altered under perceived distraction and stimuli. 

Stage 2: Secretion

As you chew your food and mix it with saliva and enzymes, the process of breakdown begins. The initial mixture of food then moves through your esophagus, which is a tube-like organ that links your mouth to your stomach. 

Interesting fact: the process of peristalsis – the tightening and relaxation of muscles in the intestine to transport food and waste products – causes food to move in a single direction, downward only. This means that even if you ate upside down, food would ONLY continue to move through your esophagus to your stomach. 

Take our word for it – don’t try it. It’s easy to choke when you’re eating upside-down. 

As food enters your stomach through a muscular ring, which opens and closes in order to keep acid from coming up into your esophagus, gastric acid (HCL or hydrochloric acid) and enzymes secretion both activate. This process is especially crucial for humans, as we are the only animal that cooks its food. Cooking removes a lot of the enzymes present that would normally assist with digestion. 

It’s also why enzyme supplementation is so critical, as we discussed with Dave in Bulletproof Radio episode 611. As we age, our enzyme levels decline and digestion begins to slow down. We know that enzyme supplementation works: in fact, a double-blind, crossover study confirms the efficacy of digestive enzyme supplements in optimizing digestion.

Stage 3: Breakdown

Both enzymes and hydrochloric acid both play critical roles in the next phase of digestion, which is about breaking food down from its base form, into usable building blocks and nutrients. When your digestion works well, protein converts into amino acids. Complex carbohydrates break down into glucose (sugar) molecules. Grams of fat must become free fatty acids. 

Take protein digestion, for example. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which your body can use. So, it’s your digestive system’s job to break down protein that you eat into amino acids. When you eat protein, your stomach acid activates a substance called pepsinogen that will turn into the enzyme pepsin. Pepsin digests proteins by breaking the bonds that link amino acids together, a process known as proteolysis. This is how all of those Bulletproof proteins become free form amino acids that can build muscle or fuel your brain. 

Most people unfortunately produce too little hydrochloric acid (including those with conditions like ulcers and heartburn) and struggle to digest protein and carbohydrates. Taking betaine HCL with meals can be a very valuable biohack for assisting digestion during this phase — allowing the body to better absorb macronutrients and critical micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, peptides and other critical building blocks. 

HCL is also a natural disinfectant so that if there are any pathogens like parasites or harmful bacteria on your food, they are killed before making it further into the digestive process. If you’re not making enough, supplementing is essential. 

Stage 4: Absorption

As food enters the small intestine, the process shifts to absorption — and this is where your microbiome plays a critical role. Friendly microbes in your gut can actually further stimulate enzymes to help break down any food that wasn’t fully processed earlier. 

In fact, several studies have shown that these bacteria can multiply within 24 to 48 hours in the small intestine in response to consumption of high-fat foods, something very common on a Bulletproof or ketogenic diet. The findings from this work suggest that these microbes facilitate production and secretion of digestive enzymes into the small bowel.

Research has shown that sufficient levels of good bacteria in the right balance, will help nutrient absorption — from macronutrients like protein and fats, to micronutrients such as iron and magnesium. Human studies have shown that higher levels of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in the diet positively affect mineral absorption, bone mineral content, and bone structure.

As we discussed on Bulletproof Radio episode 515 with Dave, this is also why transient or “opportunistic” probiotics — which you might find in cultured foods or certain probiotic supplements — can be so valuable. Their role is not to colonize the gut, but rather, to assist in the digestion and absorption process.

Naveen Jain’s Viome testing has found that few, if any, probiotics successfully colonize or remain in the gut to repopulate with good bacteria after consumed. Our native probiotic levels are determined more by what we eat (and what we avoid) than the probiotic supplements we take. The best plan of action is to eat a variety of foods, especially vegetables for microbial diversity, and combine that with a probiotic based on how well it helps you breakdown your food. That way, your gut is better able to help rebalance itself. 

Stage 5: Elimination

The Ultimate Guide To Poop_If you’re constipatedOnce you have maximized the breakdown and absorption of your food, whatever remains is ready to be eliminated as waste. Here, any undigested food material enters the colon, where most of the water present in the foods consumed will be reabsorbed. This is also why consuming water-rich vegetables is helpful for digestion and overall hydration.

Probiotics continue to play a role in the colon, helping to further absorb nutrients and aid in the elimination process. Peristaltic movements, the same process that your esophagus uses to move food from mouth to stomach — continues to help move the semi-solid waste through the colon. 

At this stage, your rectum expands in response to storage of fecal matter. Have you ever wondered why you get the urge to eliminate when you do? The rectum triggers the signals that create that “gotta go” feeling. Using peristaltic movements of the rectum, waste is ultimately eliminated through the anus, completing the digestive process. 

The success of this process often has a lot to do with the stages before it — in other words, with adequate enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and digestion-enhancing probiotics — less undigested food will make it to the colon. Toxins are reduced. And elimination is cleaner and more complete. 

Digestion Biohacked

When you decide to take control of your biology, you spend a lot of time and attention biohacking different processes in the body, from energy production to muscle-building to sleep — and beyond. But the process of digestion is so central to your health and everything that happens in your body — it’s worth devoting time and energy to upgrading it. 

Understanding and mastering these five stages of digestion will help you upgrade your ability to breakdown food completely, absorb more nutrients, remove waste, and feel your best. 

It’s one of the most noticeable upgrades you can possibly make to your lifestyle and health. 

Want to know even more, have some questions that you’d like to ask? Join Wade and Matt at MEET THE HACKER NIGHTS, November 13 & 14th, which will be held at Upgrade Labs:

Meet the Hacker at Santa Monica: How to Fix and Optimize Your Digestion:

Meet the Hacker at Beverly Hills: How to Fix and Optimize Your Digestion:

If you can’t join biOptimizers there, stop by at their booth at the 7th Annual Upgrade XP conference March 27-29, 2020!

The Science of Motivation: How to Get & Stay Motivated

  • Achieving your goals, both large and small, takes hard work, dedication and, most of all, the motivation to stick with them, even when things get tough.
  • While staying motivated may seem tricky, there’s actually a science to it – and you can train yourself to approach motivation more effectively.
  • Set small, actionable goals that you can celebrate along the way. Instead of looking at success as getting to the finish line, acknowledge that any step towards it is progress.

Motivation is the driving force behind any successful dream. Bummer is, it’s also one of the hardest skills to master. Each year, millions of people decide on resolutions to improve their lives. Yet somehow many end up at the same place, with the same goal, time and time again.

The truth is, we live in a culture that emphasizes setting goals, but isn’t too great at finishing them. A recent survey showed that just 9% of New Year’s resolution makers achieve their personal goals.[ref url=””]

The good news is that you can train yourself to approach your motivation more effectively. The difference may come down to the way you view your goals. Use this motivational guide to check in with your resolutions and upgrade your goals for maximum success.

Why effective goal-setting helps you stay motivated

motivation - how to stay motivatedIf this is the year you’re finally going to accomplish that goal, let’s make it a good one. Too many people make the mistake of seeing resolutions in black and white: if you step off track once, you’ve failed. Instead, focus on making sustainable progress in the right direction, and don’t treat a temporary setback as a failure. That way, your motivation will stay strong, and you’ll be less apt to feel discouraged.

Effective goal-setting make progress a routine, so set goals with follow-ups in mind. A review in the American Journal of Health Promotion[ref url=””] found that resolution-makers who incorporated support such as feedback, counseling or training were more likely to achieve positive results.

Related: How to Set Fail-proof Goals

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation

motivation - how to stay motivatedEvery goal is grounded in motivational factors to validate your mission. Depending on the situation, your motivation is driven by intrinsic (i.e. personal satisfaction, desire, curiosity) or extrinsic (i.e. financial reward, recognition, competition) factors.

Extrinsic motivation

Aim for Short Bursts of High Intensity Exercise Instead_man runningDifferent situations thrive with a different balance of motivational factors. External factors such as deadlines take some of the weight off your willpower by creating a structure for your goal.

At the Upgrade XP annual biohacking conference, keynote speaker and founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global Arianna Huffington shared a way that her companies motivate employees to do what’s important to them, not only at work, but also in their personal lives.

She shared that upon hire, HR asks employees what’s important to them outside of work. One employee expressed that it was important to make her 7:00 therapy appointment on Tuesdays.

“So we arranged somebody from her team to be her accountability buddy. At 6:00 PM, she literally takes her bag, her coat, takes her to the elevator and says, ‘You are leaving,'” says Huffington.

Not only did this employee start making her appointment on time, but it created bonding within the team. “Nothing is more important than supporting each other’s goals, not just within your career but within your life,” says Huffington.

You can hear the rest of her Upgrade XP fireside chat with Dave on the 600th (!) episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast (iTunes).

Intrinsic motivation

The external factors that motivate you are not always reliable and could change. Imagine that your competitor drops out of your next big race: without an extrinsic motivational factor (competition), you count on intrinsic motivation to drive progress towards your own goal.

Intrinsic motivation is working toward a goal for reasons within yourself. There’s nobody telling you to do it, no deadline to meet, no competitior to beat. It’s you vs. you. Developing intrinsic motivation involves learning to efficiently use your willpower, and to build out personal motivation factors, feedback, and rewards.

Related: How to Increase Your Willpower

Beat brain fog to stay focused

motivation - how to stay motivatedA sound goal takes a sound mind, and Bulletproof focus and motivation start with food.

A healthy diet isn’t just for losing weight, but is the foundation for your mental performance, stress levels, risk of disease, physical performance, and willpower. Even with your heart in the right place, your diet and environment could be sabotaging your motivation. Eat more of these foods to boost your mental clarity and willpower, and check out the top nutritional tips from Dr. Steven Masley, for a sharper, more resilient brain.

Decide what you want, and don’t settle

runners knee treatmentIn an episode of Bulletproof Radio (iTunes), former pro football player turned author, speaker, and leadership coach Bo Eason explains that it’s against human nature to want to be second best. He advises that you eliminate “Plan B” from your vocabulary.

“No kid has ever said, ‘when I grow up I want to win a bronze medal.’ But yet we accept a bronze medal years later when we don’t win the gold, or we settle for some mediocrity or some average way of being. So that is what I’m against. I want to go back to our roots back to our nature, where we said, ‘This is what I desire, this is what I want.’ And then there’s no way out of that option. That’s the only one you got, and those are the people who do win gold medals,” says Eason.

Decide what you want, then work toward it. Stop at nothing to reach your goal. It’s your most primal instinct to unapologetically go after it.

Keep your motivational energy on track

motivation - how to stay motivatedThe motivation that helps you jump-start a resolution in its early stages might not be the same type of motivation that carries you through to your goal. Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba found that as you progress towards a goal, your motivational energy changes from promotion-focused (i.e building habits or gaining skills), to prevention-focused (i.e avoiding relapses or establishing obligations).[ref url=””]

For example, if your goal is to improve your sleep, you might start by promoting positive changes such as buying a sleep tracker or setting a bedtime. Once you’ve established those steps, your focus might shift to preventing negative changes, such as limiting electronics after 7pm or avoiding foods you know impact your sleep.

“Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them,” says Olya Bullard, PhD, lead author of the study.[ref url=””]

These results suggest that in the later stages of a goal, you’re better off refocusing your will power on what you can do to maintain the changes you’ve already made


If you’re really ready to dive deep, give your motivation a mega-boost by learning how nootropic drugs can fuel smarter brain function, and help conquer your goals for good.

Read Next: How to Improve Focus


Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy and How to Get It

Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or light box therapy, has been around for 40 years – since the invention of lasers. What is it, specifically? Red light therapy uses certain wavelengths of light to restore, repair, and protect tissue that is either injured, degenerating, or at risk of dying. While varying wavelengths affect the body differently, as far as healing with red light is concerned, the most effective wavelengths range from 630-670 and 810-880.

How does red light therapy work?

Red light wavelengths affect bodily cells on a biochemical level by increasing mitochondrial function – the ability to produce cellular energy. The more cellular energy production, the better the body functions as a whole. When red light wavelengths are used on the skin’s surface, they penetrate 8-10 millimeters into the skin. So depending upon where the red light is deployed (head or knee, for instance), all of the surrounding skin layers, blood vessels, lymph pathways, nerves, and even hair follicles are affected.

What are the benefits of red light therapy?

Red light therapy works from the inside-out to enhance mitochondrial function in cells. This, in turn, leads to several skin benefits. Red light decreases skin inflammation, smooths skin tone, repairs sun damage, fades scars and stretch marks, and even builds collagen in the skin, which reduces wrinkles. It also heals wounds and can prevent recurring cold sores or herpes simplex. Red light works on the lymphatic system to improve your body’s detoxification abilities by increasing blood flow. It may even stimulate hair growth in your hair follicles.

Studies reveal that red light heals age-related macular degeneration of the eyes.[ref url=””][ref url=””] It’s also used to treat knee osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, cognitive dysfunction following brain injury, and fibromyalgia.

In an episode of Bulletproof Radio (iTunes), Scott Nelson, founder of Joov shared the results of a study involving Joov devices, showing the wide spectrum of hormone benefits.

“With the use of daily, full-body red and near-infrared light therapy with our devices, not only did [women] see really healthy progesterone increases, but they also saw balanced progesterone to estrogen ratios, which is really important, because estrogen dominance is really common as females age,” says Nelson.

Check out the rest of the podcast episode to find out how Joov lights increased testosterone, too.

What are the best sources of red light therapy?

  • You can undergo red light therapy with a qualified professional like a trained rheumatologist or dermatologist. Ask your doctor for a referral.
  • Some medical spas offer red light therapy for about $50-100 per session. Infrared saunas are unique from regular saunas in that they heat the body from the inside-out. Both red light therapy and infrared saunas enhance mitochondrial function, though in different ways. Unlike red light therapy, infrared sauna light is visible – though it penetrates much deeper into the body. You’ll have to experiment to see which works best for you. Learn more about the benefits of infrared sauna use here.
  • Reap the benefits of red light at home with a light therapy device like Joovv. Or, install red lights around your home – there are red lights on Amazon that sell for as little as $6. Use them in the early morning and later at night, as well as therapeutically to increase mitochondrial function and collagen production. Hold the light over an injury for a few minutes a day. You can also find LED colored lights with a brightness and color remote controller. (This lets you switch from blue to red, depending on what time of day it is.)
  • The newest addition to the red light family is actually getting it from your computer or phone screen. Color Tint is a new feature on the Apple iOS 10 that turns your entire screen red, which Apple notes has its own benefits. While they are not necessarily all health-related like a red light therapy box, it is possible that you’ll squint less looking at your screen in the middle of the night due to the red light.



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