Dr. Julia Jones published her new book, ‘Neuron’ which documents a 12-month experiment she ran on her brain and body, cancelling her gym membership, and purely using Smart Wellness techniques and habits based on the work and recommendations of many of the world’s leading scientists. Dr. Jones found that anyone can improve their health, fight off illness, lose weight, and sleep better without the outdated diets that have never worked, and the sleeping pills with bad side effects.
To learn more, we conducted an interview with Dr. Julia.
1. Can you tell us more about yourself?
I’m a neuroscientist and a coach. I grew up in Wales in the 1970s and 80s. In 1991, while studying Sports and Exercise Science, I was invited to visit a US Naval Base in California. That was when I was first introduced to techniques that now fall under the more recent term – ‘biohacking’. After graduating, I began using these breathing hacks and brain training principles with Great Britain Olympic squads and public health projects. I’ve been using these techniques ever since, both for my own wellness and performance and that of my clients.
2. Why are you called Dr. Rock?
My biohack of choice is music and sound. The ears lead to the brain and that makes music a very powerful tool when it comes to quickly influencing our mood, mindset, brainwaves and decisions. My postgraduate and PhD research examined the effects of music on our brain and behavior in various ways. I’m also a musician and a DJ. I advise elite sports, business leaders, and private clients on the use of music for wellness and high performance.
3. How do you help your clients improve their wellbeing?
These days I use a lot of technology and wearable devices. We’re living in an era where we can get substantial real-time information about the state of our body. This only used to be possible in the Exercise Science lab or medical facilities. Knowledge is power, so I encourage clients to use wearables to get to know their body status and baselines. Patterns start to become clear after a few months and this provides a baseline to recognize habits that are having detrimental effects on our biological systems.
4. How can music improve health and wellness?
In every way imaginable. Music is processed by almost every region of the brain. It can help boost positive neural plasticity and delay decline of brain tissue; reduce blood pressure; reduce cortisol; give relief from pain, and more. The list is long. Music is the most under-recognized, under-utilized, under-valued asset at our disposal. It’s mistakenly become positioned as ‘entertainment’ in recent decades, but it’s much more than that.
5. Is there some type of music that contributes to wellbeing more than another?
Personal music preferences play a major role in the effectiveness of the selected music. Generally speaking, music that resembles a safe environment (low volume, slow speed, gentle sounds) is likely to produce relaxation effects. In contrast, music that resembles a more dangerous environment (fast beats, loud volume, powerful sounds etc.) is likely to stimulate our arousal response. However, I also urge clients to use those general parameters as a guide to source the specific tracks from the songs they love. The effect is amplified further if you have a strong personal memory attached to the song or soundtrack. For instance, my go-to song for relaxation is ‘San Andreas Fault’ by Natalie Merchant because it reminds me of the first time I drove the Pacific Coast Highway in the warm sunshine, with the roof down, feeling great. It’s also a good tempo for me to slow my breathing down to.
6. What are biohacks, and how can we use them to improve our wellbeing?
Biohacks are super-efficient techniques that are intended to help optimize our ancient, evolutionary biological systems. At one end of that continuum, you have the serious biohackers who take this approach to the extreme: using vast daily quantities of supplements, implants and even stem cell regeneration procedures. At the other end of the continuum, you have more natural biohacks, such as exposure to daylight, cold water, sound/music, fasting etc. I refer to this end as ‘Smart Wellness’ because it combines knowledge of your biological systems (e.g. your brain’s in-built sleep timer circuitry), with efficient natural habits to optimize them, plus smart tech to measure and monitor them.
7. Can you tell us more about your book “Neuron: Smart Wellness Made Easy”?
Despite coming from an extensive Exercise Science background, it was clear by the early 2000s that the diet and fitness approaches weren’t proving to be long-term health solutions. They are not closely enough aligned with our ancient biology, so most people have to really force themselves to stick with these regimes. Five decades of huge diet and fitness trends and billion-dollar promotional campaigns failed to produce healthy nations and there’s a reason for that. I wrote the book to explain the science and demonstrate why ‘smart wellness’ is more likely to produce healthy nations. We need much less exercise than we think. The problem lies within our eating and drinking habits and stress levels. We’ve been showing people how to “get fit and stay fit” when we should have been showing people how to “get well and stay well”. Maintaining wellness simply means avoiding falling into illness. Fitness is something entirely different and involves taking people above baseline levels required for wellness.
The book presents a coaching program that I’ve recently launched for corporate employers. The first 250 participants just completed it and the feedback was amazing; 87% of participants said it has made them feel more in control of their wellness. Knowledge is power. This program quickly brings people up to speed regarding the latest science and tech and how to shortcut to a lifetime of wellness.
8. What are some shortcuts to a healthier life and slowing down the aging process?
Here are 3 example hacks:
i) Go outside as soon as you wake up. The sleep timer in our brain is activated when the cells at the back of our eyes receive natural daylight. This timer regulates the release of our sleep chemical, melatonin, at night so we fall asleep. Sleep is an essential pillar of wellness and we cannot function without regular high-quality sleep, so get early daylight to trigger the timer and avoid blue lights from screens and bright lights bulbs at night (they confuse the brain into thinking it’s still daytime).
ii) Use music frequently throughout the day to power down or power up as required. Your brain needs breaks. Even short micro-breaks have been shown to be effective in helping brainwaves slow down to alpha levels. To power down listen to slow music and practice slow breathing at the same time. To power up listen to high energy music and sing and dance. A burst of positive chemicals will put you back in the game.
iii) Practice intermittent fasting a few days every week and test your gut microbiome so you can start eating the right fruits and vegetables to maintain optimal diversity of your bacteria. This is a fast-growing area and there are now many companies offering gut tests. I now encourage my clients to take the test and then I send the recommended foods to their home so they stay out of the influential supermarket environment as much as possible. Getting a biological age result is also a useful marker to slow ageing and keep inflammation under control.
9. Is there a specific diet and/or specific foods that you recommend for optimal wellbeing? Why?
The blue zones are demonstrating that a daily intake of food that is dominated by plants, protein and good fats has long-term health benefits. That’s how our ancient ancestors ate. We should not be eating the processed food products that we’ve invented. Keep it natural. I also am a fan of intermittent fasting. It’s such as simple way to give our cells a break overnight so they can get on with their housekeeping tasks. I also recognized in my own gut microbiome results that I need to be paying much more attention to my intake of probiotics and prebiotics. My diversity when I first tested was pretty low. Interestingly, the exercise professionals we are testing are coming out with poor results for gut health and inflammation too. The route to wellness requires attention to all aspects of health, including sleep, rest, stress reduction, gut health, brain training etc. The old diet and fitness approach focuses too heavily on movement.
10. Where do you see health and wellbeing in the next 5-years?
There is already a fast-growing movement around biohacking and smart wellness principles. This approach is way easier than the outdated diet and fitness approach so people are more likely to embed these practices in their daily lives. I believe that these new simple habits, combined with the use of tech wearables, AI, lab tests such as gut microbiome analysis, and measurements of biological age (inflammation), will produce healthy nations.
Neuron Smart Wellness founder, Dr. Julia Jones, gained the nickname “Dr. Rock” because of her use of music and sound as a preferred brain tool to improve the health of her clients. She has spent a lifetime studying and applying neuroscience, cognitive psychology, behavioral science and “biohacks” that use simple techniques and tools (such as music) to optimize in-built biological systems. Neuron is grounded in this science. She continues to advise elite sports professionals, business leaders and government bodies today.
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