Why do you work out? Most people will say they work out to look good, feel well, or perform at a high level; something along those lines. Those answers are just the outer layer of a much simpler answer:
You work out to optimize your life. In some capacity, it will always come back to this answer, no matter how many complex layers cover it. And that’s a good thing, because there are only so many things in life that we can actually control. For the most part, our quality of life is one of them.
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. If a workout lasts about 60 minutes for the average fitness fanatic, that barely takes up 4 percent of our day. The workout is definitely important, but it’s how you utilize the other 96 percent of the day that actually makes life changes.
Below are three changes you can make today to improve the quality of your life without lifting a single weight, prepping a single meal, or taking any supplements. They all take place in a location that you visit every single day, multiple times a day. Not the gym, the kitchen, the office, or the bedroom; these are three ways to optimize your health from the comfort of your own bathroom.
Poop Like Your Ancestors
Cuing someone out of bad habits on the deadlift is pretty easy. Cuing someone out of bad habits on the toilet, on the other hand, is not quite as simple. There’s never really an appropriate or comfortable time to have a discussion about poop, but this is a game changer, so it has to be said.
Do you sit down on the toilet to go number 2? If yes, you are moving your bowels in a less than optimal manner. In other words: You are pooping wrong. Squatting, not sitting, is the only natural defecation posture. Sitting on the porcelain throne may be standard practice in today’s society, but this method doesn’t allow your puborectalis muscle to fully relax, which can cause that muscle to create a kink in the inner passageways. This can cause a problematic disruption in the process, forcing you to strain during a bowel movement.
Straining, whether you consciously do it or not, has been linked to causing or worsening constipation symptoms, triggering painful hemorrhoids and may be linked to colon dysfunction. The only solution is to squat, not sit.
You’ve been doing #2 wrong all this time.
A 2003 study found that perceived difficulty of defecation was worse at sitting heights of 31-32cm and 41-42cm, compared to a squat posture.1 Furthermore, defecation time was drastically shorter in the squat posture when compared to sitting. In simple terms, sitting while you poop can be a pain in the butt! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Another study used advanced medical imaging to discover that squatting opens up the distance between the perineum and the pelvic floor by an average of 1.8cm more than a traditional, western approach. On average, 132° of knee flexion was used in the squat stance in this study, compared to a 92° in the average traditional position. The study concluded that a squat stance completely evacuated the bowels of participants with less discomfort than a traditional seated position.2
You may be thinking I’m full of crap (I really can’t help myself), but this is actually one of the most helpful health hacks you can make. It’s inexpensive to do, low-maintenance, and scientifically backed. But how do we squat instead of it when our toilets are fixed objects that do not change sizes or configurations? Please, do not go poop outside after you read this. Your neighbors will not appreciate such behavior.
Since most people have standard, elevated toilets, an implement is necessary to achieve the proper squat position described above. We need to “bring the floor up” to allow for more hip and knee flexion, like a deep squat. Insert a 7-9 inch platform where you’d normally place your feet. Instead of having your feet on the ground, they’ll be elevated on the platform, box, stepping stool, or whatever you choose to use. If you want to splurge, you can get a product called the Squatty Potty that is specially made to fit underneath your toilet so you don’t ever have to move it. Personally, I have a $1 plastic storage tub that is 9 inches in height and it works just fine for much less cash. You can go either route and reap the benefits of pooping like your ancestors.
It may seem awkward at first, but your health—from the inside-out—will tremendously improve from this small adjustment to your daily restroom visit(s).
Start Out Your Day Cold
If you’re a morning shower type of person, I have the perfect tip for you to get a jump start on seizing the day. Two words: Cold. Showers.
While a cold shower may seem like a dreadful experience or a situation that you only find yourself in when your roommate hogs all of the hot water, this is one of the single most beneficial things I’ve ever added to my daily regimen. Cold showers give you an immediate spark in the morning. The low temperature of the water causes a reaction from your body that elicits deeper breathing and leads to increased oxygen consumption. This also elevates the heart rate in an effort for your body to keep warm, and promotes a healthier circulatory response.
Exposure to cold helps activate brown adipose tissue.
I highly recommend a cold-to-hot shower instead of an entire shower in cold temperatures. I would start off with the water as cold as possible, get in and rinse your entire body from head to toe. Once you’ve fully been exposed to the chilly environment, go ahead and crank it up to whatever comfortable temperature you’d like. You don’t want to hang out in the cold water for too long, you just want enough exposure to shock the body into that self-warming response.
As a part of the chain reaction caused by cold water, you may even find that you have an increased basal metabolic rate. This doesn’t replace an intelligent training program and healthy diet, but you might burn a few extra calories thanks to a few minutes of cold water in the morning.
A 2009 study observed the activity of brown adipose tissue in healthy men when activated by cold exposure. Brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, is known as the body’s “good fat” for its role in caloric expenditure. In the study, 96% of the participants measured positive for brown fat activation when exposed to cold conditions, meaning that tissue was actively burning calories.3 The study concluded by hypothesizing that if this brown adipose tissue can be activated consistently at the same rate as in the study, metabolic rate could increase by as much as 15-fold, which is enough for the average male to lose 9 pounds of fat in one year. Hypothetical, but intriguing.
Make this a part of your daily routine. Oddly enough, it starts to become something you look forward to in the morning. The absolute greatest part about a cold-to-hot shower is the instant gratification. Training and proper nutrition will yield excellent results over time, but this shower hack will provide immediate changes in your day.
Coconut Oil Pulling for Dental Health
This last tip is less about performance and well-being, and more about overall hygiene. You may have heard about oil pulling before, but here is a quick refresher: Oil pulling is an oral detoxification procedure achieved by swishing one tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for 10-20 minutes, and then spitting it out.
Full disclosure, this is not pleasant the first few times you try it. It does, however, deliver noticeable results. The texture of the oil literally melting in your mouth is odd at first, but it’s just a small mental obstacle to overcome that is outweighed by the numerous benefits of this health hack.
The research is still emerging on coconut oil’s role in dental health, with a measly seven published studies on this relatively popular practice. But from what we’ve seen so far, things are looking great. A 2015 study with 60 participants measured the effect of coconut oil pulling in plaque-related gingivitis. All participants were baseline tested, then reevaluated after using the coconut oil pulling method. According to the results, “A statistically significant decrease in the plaque and gingival indices was noticed from day seven, and the scores continued to decrease during the period of study.”4
While this and several studies show positive correlation between swishing oil and improved dental hygiene, they are very much in the preliminary stages of publication. It’s great to see the interest in the subject and there is no reason why you should not include this in your weekly routine.
I would suggest choosing one day of the week where you have a spare 10-20 minutes to swish around some coconut oil. Do it religiously every week. Make sure to use a high-quality, extra virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil that is unrefined and as close to its natural state as possible. This simple task can also help you prevent dry and cracked lips, boost the immune system, freshen breath, whiten teeth, and reduce oral inflammation.
Hack Your Bathroom, Improve Your Health
Add these three healthy habits to your toolbox. Remember, a clean diet and challenging training program are only two pieces of the puzzle. Taking care of yourself from the inside-out with these three simple lifestyle practices can give you the edge you’ve been needing to take your health to the next level.
Looking for more ways to hack your health and training?
1. Sikirov, Dov. “Comparison of Straining During Defecation in Three Positions.” Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Vol. 48, No. 7 (July 2003), pp. 1201–1205 (2003).
2. Rad, Saeed. “Impct of ethic habits on defecographic measurements.” Arch Iranian Med 2002; 5 (2): 115-117.
3. van Marken Lichtenbelt WD1, Vanhommerig JW, Smulders NM, Drossaerts JM, Kemerink GJ, Bouvy ND, Schrauwen P, Teule GJ. “Cold-activated brown adipose tissue in healthy men.” New England Journal of Medicine. 2009 Apr 9;360(15):1500-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0808718.
4. Peedikayil FC, Sreenivasan P, Narayanan A`. “Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis – A preliminary report.” Niger Medical Journal. 2015 Mar-Apr;56(2):143-7. doi: 10.4103/0300-1652.153406.