The last time I posted was in January and I was back home in Sweden having some time off and organizing things for my upcoming trip to Switzerland. Now I live here in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and have been for almost 7 weeks. For those of you who are unaware of what brings me to Switzerland I am participating in a European exchange program for engineering students called UNITECH. It includes an academic exchange and an internship with one of the corporate partners. During the fall I spent my academic exchange at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Now I am doing a 6-month internship in the Digital Transformation team at Georg Fischer Piping System here in the north of Switzerland in the city of Schaffhausen.
It took some time to settle in here but I have started to establish routines and found a good rhythm in my life. I have picked up some new habits and lost some old ones. Changes in our physical environment often facilitate changes in our behaviors. I have tried to capitalize on this to build some new good habits. But there are two sides to change and it can also lead to losing some habits you enjoy, like writing. Now I feel ready to resume writing more and posting here on the blog.
Today's blog is going to focus on these three insights:
- Humans were designed to move around – Find a physical activity you like and get moving.
- Every great adventure starts with action. Don't sit around waiting for them to happen to you, go out and create your adventures!
- Stress can make our bodies more resilient – Cold and heat therapy are great ways to test this, try them on their own or contrast them if you want to.
Below I will share how I came to these insights and what they mean for my life here in Schaffhausen. These are all things I am trying to incorporate more and that feel meaningful to me. Hope you enjoy reading about them!
I Love Physical Activity and More Importantly, My Body Craves It
For most of my life, I have been interested in physical activity and participated in it quite actively. Growing up I always played team sports, most of all football. Then at age 15 I found American football and got hooked. American football opened my eyes to lifting weights and the gym. I started doing barbell lifts in the gym, rapidly increasing my strength. Ever since I have had a love for lifting weights, but I have had varying consistency with it over the years. But in general, my normal life would include some kind of weightlifting.
Then Covid came and all of a sudden we were told to avoid the gyms and public places. This combined with university studies and problems with my back lead to a more sedentary lifestyle. I began losing my identity as someone that works out. Not identifying as an "active" person had a negative effect that compounded. I started to move around less, I made worse food choices and slept worse. All of them were bad in their own right but together they became an even worse combination. I was snowballing small bad habits into an overall unhealthy lifestyle.
It did not click for me until I was listening to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, on The Tim Ferriss Show about how fitness was his core habit. It is the thing that starts the snowball of life in the right direction. All of a sudden you go to bed earlier because you are tired from working out, and maybe you take the stairs instead of the elevator and you create a positive snowball effect. Humans were made to move around and be active, but modern life makes it easy to become sedentary.
How I have changed my behavior based on this insight
Realizing the importance of physical activity and fitness I invested in a CrossFit membership at CrossFit Schaffhausen. It is expensive, but I figured it would be worth it and that a big investment would yield a big commitment from me too. Currently, I go to classes 2-3 times a week and maybe 1-2 or two individual sessions of either strength or cardio. In addition to CrossFit, I try to do more walking when I can too. I enjoy CrossFit a lot, it gives me some of the camaraderie that I have missed ever since I stopped playing team sports.
We have all heard about the recommendation to get in 8,000-10,000 steps/per day and I am trying to do at least 10,000 steps a day. I found evening walks have been a great habit both from a mental and physical perspective that contributes to this goal. Movement in the sunshine is an incredible mood booster for me. Additionally getting sunlight in the morning and evening is important for your circadian rhythm. Walking more is a great way to start moving more without putting too much stress on the body. I also find walking great for mental clarity and creativity, it gives me time to truly think things through.
Adventures Must Be Actively Pursued and Created
Adventures don't come to those who sit and wait around for them. You have to go out and create your adventures. This is a lesson I continually teach myself throughout life. Sometimes I feel like life is just happening to me and I have nothing going on. It can feel like I have no agency, a feeling I loathe. It is easy to find yourself annoyed or irritated about something without working to change it. The truth is this is something I have the power to change. If I want to meet a friend, call one up, don’t wait for them to call, or if I want to go on a trip, I should start planning and booking it. It is easy to let life happen to you but it is much more valuable to play an active role.
During the fall in Ireland, I found myself being a little passive and letting time pass by without having too many trips or adventures. I think subconsciously I was waiting for the adventures and memories to come to me and I felt like I missed out on doing more exploring. Coming to Switzerland the goal was to change that. The plan was to ski on the weekends, hike mountains and explore central Europe. But I started to feel like I was falling into the trap again of believing that these things would happen to me by just living in Switzerland. This was false. Adventures must be created.
How I have changed my behavior based on this insight
Last weekend I started by going to the nearby town of Stein Am Rhein, famous for its well-kept medieval city center, by myself. Exploring the town and following the Rhine back towards Schaffhausen for a good 12 km before I gave in and took the train. It gave me a chance to explore the nature around Schaffhausen and test myself with a longer hike. It was a great day trip and I was exhausted at night from a few hours of walking with my backpack.
Going forward I went skiing in Austria this weekend with my friend Jens who lives down there. Next weekend I will be visiting my friends Gabriel and Simon down in Milano. During the weekdays I am trying to walk more to explore more of Schaffhausen, there are still many parts I have not seen yet. Some planning and actively looking for adventures will create excitement in your life! So if you are like me and sometimes despair over not having exciting things happening in your life, here is a friendly reminder to go out and do some awesome shit. Life is as exciting as you make it.
Hot and Cold Exposure Feels F***ing Amazing
If you have ever gone swimming in cold water and then gotten into a sauna you know what I am talking about. Saunas are a fairly common thing to find in Sweden and growing up I always enjoyed saunas as something relaxing. I would occasionally go in the sauna after the gym or if I went swimming. I remember once rolling in the snow in between sauna sessions, but mostly I would do cold showers to allow you to spend longer in the sauna. Back then saunas were not something I associated with health benefits.
I started learning more about the benefits of heat exposure for your cardio respiratory health and overall health on podcasts like "The Tim Ferriss Show" and "The Drive With Peter Attia" a few years ago. This triggered an interest in more heat exposure but did not create any lasting habits. Watching Limitless with Chris Hemsworth the other day Peter Attia stated that getting into the sauna reduces the risk of death from cardio-respiratory diseases by around 50% and death from Alzheimer's disease by around 65%.
I was introduced to cold plunges through the work of Wim Hof, “The Iceman”. I remember reading "Own the Day, Own Your Life" by Aubrey Marcus and learning about the benefits of Wim Hof breathing combined with cold showers or cold plunges. It stated that we in today's world face too little acute stress and too much chronic low-level stress. The book presented this as a health issue and a remedy could be acute stress, like cold plunging, to "flush your system" of stress hormones. Additionally, I read about a Swedish study linking cold exposure to the creation of brown fat in the body. Brown fat is different from white fat which is what we normally think of when we hear "body fat". The function of white fat is to store energy, the function of brown fat is instead to keep us warm. To accomplish this it breaks down fat and glucose to create heat. These combined things led to me experimenting with some cold showers in the morning which I enjoyed and felt gave me energy and is something I still incorporate sporadically.
How I have changed my behavior based on this insight
What inspired this point was listening to Andrew Huberman's advice on his podcast the Huberman Lab. He laid out a routine that gives you the benefits of both heat and cold exposure. Huberman states that getting a cumulative minimum of 55 minutes in a sauna and a minimum of 11 minutes of cold immersion during a week unlocks a majority of the benefits. During my time in Switzerland, I have done some cold plunges in the Rhine in Schaffhausen. It gets pretty damn cold in the river, I once also almost got into a fight with a swan who did not like my presence at the beach.
For saunas, I found Rhysauna here in Schaffhausen when my girlfriend Elin was here visiting. It has multiple saunas and allows you to jump into the Rhine. Now I have gone there three times and I try to spend 20-25 minutes in the sauna followed by 3-5 minutes in the cold water and repeat this at least three times leading to me reaching the threshold for heat and cold therapy. I think this is an excellent form of active recovery and I try to do it on a day when I am not working out. Leaving Rhysauna to go home my body feels great. Having gone into the sauna leads to a great night of sleep for me.
If you are interested in cold and/or heat exposure I would recommend starting somewhat slow. For cold exposure, I would recommend starting with some cold showers just to see how you like it. For heat exposure, I would recommend trying a sauna. You should try to find one reaching 80 degrees Celsius at least to get the most benefits, but anyone is good to start. I hope you try it out!
I look forward to the following four months I have left in Switzerland. I am being challenged at work and also trying to challenge myself outside of work. Spring is coming and I am planning to take advantage of that by hiking in the beautiful Swiss nature and going on more adventures. Life is what you make it, and often you are surrounded by great things you just have to learn how to appreciate them. We have a finite time in life so spend it wisely, scrolling social media can feel great in the short term but going on an adventure is something you will treasure for years. I hope you found it interesting and please share any good habits or insights you have gained over the last few months!