In May 2017, I took the stage at TEDx-CU and asked whether the comforts of the modern age have made us weaker? Watch the video by clicking the link above. Or click here to see it on YouTube. Read more “TEDx-CU: How the Environment Shapes Human BIology”
What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength is officially out as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon and iBooks. It has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and in Men’s Journal and debuted at the #112 spot on Amazon in January 2017. I recorded the audiobook myself with the help of Marcello Lessa, one of the top audio engineers in the Denver area. It runs just shy of 10 hours and is exactly the sort of inspiration that you need to reach your highest potential. Come with me on an evolutionary journey to understand how the comforts of the modern age are making us weak, and what we can do to get a little of our ancestral strength back.
Download your copy today:
Here is what some of the early reviewers are saying:
Climbing a mountain in nothing but a pair of shorts seems idiotic to most, but for Wim Hof and his companions, it’s just another day. When investigative journalist and anthropologist Carney heard about Hof’s mind boggling methods and claims that he could “hack” the human body, he knew he had to venture to Poland to expose this fraud. But in just a few days, Hof changed Carney’s mind, and so began a friendship and a new adventure. Carney now chronicles his journey to push himself mentally and physically using Wim Hof’s method of cold exposure, breath-holding, and meditation to tap into our primal selves. Our ancestors survived harsh conditions without modern technology, while we live in comfortable bubbles with little to struggle against and wonder how they survived.The question is, What happens when we push our bodies to the limit? Carney calls on evolutionary biology and other modern scientific disciplines to explore and explain Hof’s unconventional methods. Fresh and exciting, this book has wide appeal for readers interested in health, sports, self-improvement, and extreme challenges.
“Damn fun and extremely well-researched, What Doesn’t Kill Us is a great addition to the canon of high performance literature!”
― Steven Kotler, New York Times bestselling author of Abundance and The Rise of Superman
“As a Navy SEAL, you live by the mantra, ‘what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.’ We would hear this phrase and repeat it, but we never had any proof that it was factual. Yet through comprehensive study, ScottCarney has brilliantly documented how engaging in environmental conditioning, breathing, meditation, and other techniques can actually make us physically and mentally stronger. What Doesn’t Kill Us is a fascinating book that will captivate all who read it and that will be of immense value to those in the military, those who are active in sports, and those who seek an alternate means of developing greater mental and physical strength.”
―Don D. Mann, New York Times bestselling author, Inside SEAL Team SIX
At first it is only a dark purple absence of stars in a pinpricked sky. Soon dawn sets the glacier ablaze like a beacon. Kilimanjaro. Africa’s tallest mountain rises up out of the sun-drenched savanna to a place high above the clouds. There, at nearly 20,000 feet, winds top 50 miles an hour and scour what is likely the only indigenous ice on the continent. It’s the first time our group of amateur climbers has seen it this close, and I can’t decide whether I’m excited or terrified.
Upwards of 35,000 tourists attempt to summit the mountain each year. Usually they spend time adjusting to altitude and then embark on a five- or six-day climb, wearing the most advanced mountaineering apparel — waterproof down jackets, insulated trekking pants. Our goal is to reach the peak in 30 hours, with no acclimation to the altitude, on almost no food, on little sleep, and without any cold-weather gear. I’m wearing boots, swim trunks, a wool cap, and a backpack containing emergency gear and water. My chest is bare to the frigid air. One of our Tanzanian guides watches me warily from beneath his full thermal getup until, finally, he can’t hold his silence anymore. “Please put something on,” he says.
He’s not the only one who thinks I’m crazy. Yesterday a U.S. Army scientist calculated that, given our pace, three-quarters of our group of 29 would come down with debilitating altitude sickness. What the researchers and our guide don’t realize is that the deprivations caused by cold, thin air are the point. I’ve been conditioning my body to environmental stresses for six months, dunking myself in ice water and learning a breathing technique that has given me an almost spooky control over my autonomic body functions.
I suck in 30 breaths of cool air and focus on the blazing orange rock in front of me. There’s no point in checking the temperature. It’s well below freezing, and I’m already burning up.
I don’t like to suffer. Nor do I particularly want to be cold, wet, or hungry. If I had a spirit animal, it would probably be a jellyfish floating in an ocean of perpetual comfort.
That’s not just me; it’s most of us. The body craves homeostasis, the effortless state in which the environment meets our every physical need and the body can rest. So we jack up the heat on cold winter days, ratchet down the air-conditioning in the summer, and don sunglasses when it’s a little too bright outside.
But it hasn’t always been that way. Humans have had the same anatomical makeup for nearly 200,000 years. Which means your office mate who sits on a rolling chair beneath fluorescent lights all day has pretty much the same basic body as the prehistoric caveman who made spear points out of flint to hunt antelope. To get from then to now, we faced countless challenges as we fled predators, froze in snowstorms, sought shelter from rain, hunted and gathered our food, and continued to breathe despite suffocating heat. Variation and stress were the norm; comfort, the exception. To survive, we had to be strong.
Our modern-day struggles pale in comparison to the daily threats of death or deprivation that our forebears faced. But succeeding over the natural world hasn’t made our bodies stronger. Compare your pasty-skinned office mate to one of our prehistoric ancestors, and bets are good that the modern-day man is fatter, lazier, and in worse health. And it’s not just him. The last century saw an explosion of ”diseases of excess” in the developed world, or what happens when you have too much food and your lifestyle is sedentary. Obesity, diabetes, chronic pain, arthritis, and hypertension are all at record highs. We’ve even seen a resurgence of gout. Millions suffer from autoimmune diseases — arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s — in which the body literally attacks itself. It is almost as if our bodies have so little to struggle against that our stored energy instead wreaks havoc on our insides.
There is a consensus among many scientists and athletes that humans were not built for constant homeostasis. In the past, comfort was almost indistinguishable from safety. Now it’s something we take for granted. Human biology needs stress — and not the sort that damages muscle, gets us eaten by a bear, or degrades our physiques, but the environmental and physical fluctuations that invigorate our nervous system.
Our muscles, organs, nerves, fat tissue, and hormones respond and adapt to changes or threats from the outside world. And almost no environmental extreme induces as many changes in human physiology as the cold. Take a plunge into cold water and not only will you trigger a number of processes to warm up the body, but those adjustments will help regulate blood sugar, exercise the circulatory system, and heighten mental awareness. The problem is nobody wants to do that. The bulk of us don’t see environmental stress in the same light as we do, say, jogging.
But we should. Because stepping outside on a frigid day in only a T-shirt creates a cascade of physiological responses that deliver benefits similar to a workout.
To explain why, you need to look at the human circulatory system, a complex network of arteries and veins that carry blood and oxygen to and from every tissue. In a single day, roughly four to seven liters of blood travel thousands of miles. This blood superhighway is more than just a series of tubes; it’s an active and responsive system. Tiny muscles line the arteries and veins and help push the blood through the body, which is critical for circulation and regulating blood pressure. The second you step out and have a brush with near-arctic winds, these tiny muscles flex.
Exercising that system is important: Cardiovascular diseases contribute to 31 percent of the world’s mortality. A main way to trigger those circulatory muscles is to actually go outside to feel the cold. But living in a perpetually climate-controlled environment — in our homes, cars, and offices, or simply by being bundled up outdoors — means that those muscles are never challenged by the elements. Even a fit body with chiseled abs might be hiding weak circulatory muscles.
Experiencing cold can also spur your body to activate brown adipose tissue (BAT), also known as brown fat. The primary purpose of BAT is to pull ordinary white fat from storage and burn it to keep you warm. So as counterintuitive as it may sound, the more active brown fat you have, the higher the capacity you have to stay lean.
Everyone is born with about 5 percent of his body mass as brown fat. But thanks in part to years of artificial heating, many of us in the developed world have almost no active BAT left by the time we reach adulthood. The good news is that placing yourself in even moderately cold temperatures, such as setting a thermostat to the 50s or low 60s for a few weeks, can activate your brown fat.
It’s a lesson that hasn’t been lost on Ray Cronise, a former NASA scientist. He spent 15 years conducting experiments at the Marshall Space Flight Center that assessed how the body changed in extreme conditions, but his career took a turn when he decided to create a way to shed weight that wasn’t focused on counting calories. Cronise prescribed himself daily hourlong walks in sub-60-degree temperatures, along with regular exercise. In six weeks he dropped almost 30 pounds. During the process, he developed a deeper theory on health.
“We’re overlit, overfed, and overstimulated, and in terms of how long we’ve been on Earth, that’s all new,” he says. We’re living in an “eternal summer” and missing out on what Cronise calls “metabolic winter,” a time when the body adjusts to discomfort and scarcity between times of plenty. As he wrote in a 2014 paper published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, “Our 7-million-year evolutionary path was dominated by two seasonal challenges — calorie scarcity and mild cold stress. . . . We solved them both.” The inevitable result of losing seasonal variation, he says, is obesity and chronic disease. As proof he points not only to the population of his home state of Alabama, which ranks second in obesity levels in the U.S., but also to the fact that even our pets are fat. “There’s a connection,” he says.
The key to fixing the problem, according to Cronise, is to bring cold back into our lives. Doing so can add just enough mild stress to reinvigorate our evolutionary programming, improve our circulation, and kick our metabolism into high gear.
I can vouch for the benefits of a little environmental suffering. Back in July 2012, I was at a personal low point while living in Long Beach, California. I had been sitting in a desk chair in front of my computer for almost eight hours straight. Palm trees gently swayed outside my window. Despite my relatively comfortable perch, my legs throbbed from underuse and my back ached. I told myself that since I was now approaching my mid-thirties, it was perfectly normal for my stomach to sag over my belt. I figured a moderate amount of exercise and an occasional dip into the organic aisle of my grocery store should suffice to maintain a level of decorum.
That was when the internet coughed up a picture of a nearly naked man sitting on a glacier somewhere north of the Arctic Circle.
His name was Wim Hof, a Dutch adventurer and biohacker who proved he could raise and lower his body temperature at will and influence his immune system with the power of his mind. He ran a training camp in the snowy wilderness of Poland, where people from around the world converged to study his secrets. He promised that he could teach someone to survive in arctic environments with almost no gear. He said he had invented a breathing method that allowed any one to tap into his own biology to strengthen endurance and to put certain autonomic processes — like constricting blood vessels and producing body heat — under conscious control. What’s more, it took only a few days to learn. It all seemed crazy to me.
I was sure Hof was a charlatan, so I booked a ticket to Poland to test his “method.”
At his training center in Przesieka, Hof introduced me to the basics of body hacking. First he taught a breathing routine that alternated between controlled hyperventilation and breath holds with empty lungs. Cycling between these helps expel CO2 and fully saturate the blood with oxygen. With a little practice, the routine allowed me to hold my breath for three minutes at a stretch. The point of the exercise, Hof said, is to reprogram the way the nervous system responds to the stress of not breathing. Will yourself to hold on a little bit past the point at which you’d normally gasp for air and you gain a measure of conscious control over a function that’s normally automatic. Hof explained this breathing process would help you to withstand environmental stressors, too, helping you to stay warm — even get hot — in very low temperatures.
Which brought us to the second half of the method, which is brutally simple: Get used to being cold, and suppress the urge to shiver. Shivering is an autonomic method the body uses to warm up. Hof taught us that simply relaxing and taking calm breaths would help quell our shivering and force our bodies to switch from using muscle movement for heat to burning fat.
Every morning I woke up and made my way down from the second floor of Hof’s dilapidated training center to a makeshift meditation room full of rumpled sleeping bags and well-worn yoga mats for the morning breathing routine. For almost an hour, the five of us on the retreat alternated between rapid breathing cycles with face-contorting breath holds. At the end of the session, we tested how the method changed our ability to do pushups. Even after one hour of training I could bang out 50 reps on a single breath, whereas just a week earlier I could barely manage 20 pushups while breathing the whole time. I think it was that moment when I realized my body was changing, and I went from being a skeptic to giving the method a chance.
As I began to trust Hof’s teachings, I found that my body was capable of mind-boggling things. On the first day, I could stand barefoot in the snow for only five minutes before excruciating pain forced me to retreat inside. But after breathing with Hof on the second day, I managed to will myself through 20. On the third day, 45 minutes in the snow wasn’t a problem. Then Hof took us to an icy waterfall behind his house, where we meditated on the banks until the snow melted around us. We sat in the near-freezing water for minutes at a stretch, and then in a final feat to put Hof’s method to the test, we spent eight hours walking up a nearby ski hill wearing nothing but shorts and hiking boots. The combination of intense trekking and Hof’s breathing technique left me sweating despite subzero winds. And though I hadn’t gone on the trip with the intention of losing weight, at the end of the seven days, I had shed seven pounds of fat.
The Poland trip is why, four years later, I find myself shirtless and marching up Kilimanjaro. I wanted a new frontier to prove, at least to myself, how far human resilience can really go. I’m with Hof and a handful of other intrepid climbers, and during the course of the last day we have busted past every established protocol for safe and slow ascents. Hof’s method, I discover, does not make a person completely immune to the elements. We pause for a few moments in one gusty exposed area, and it’s difficult to generate the heat I need to fight the cold. So I drop my backpack and pull out a thin merino-wool shirt to provide my skin with a little protection. It’s a temporary measure to handle the cold while I focus on battling the altitude.
As we continue up, the rhythm of the march sometimes lulls me out of my conscious breathing. My mind starts to wander, and I take in only as much air as my brain might see fit, and I forget to use Hof’s technique to lead and control my breath. That’s when the high altitude creeps in. The world dims imperceptibly, and every footstep seems to fall just a little heavier. I start the breathing method when I realize I’m fading, and it creates an immediate effect. I take 30 rapid breaths, and the world brightens as easily as if I were taking off sunglasses. My steps are lighter, and I have the energy to continue.
We reach Gilman’s Point, roughly 700 feet below the true summit. It’s about 5 degrees, but I would later calculate that the magnifying effect of the wind on skin brought the real temperature down to –24. That’s enough to cause frostbite in a half hour of exposure. I’ve been shirtless for the bulk of the journey, caving into covering my skin with the merino only as I neared the lip of the volcano. We check our watches, subtract away our departure time, and find that we’ve more than beaten our 30-hour goal — we’ve crushed it. It has been 28 hours and 6 minutes since we left the park entrance. To the best of our knowledge, it is the fastest-ever unacclimated ascent to Gilman’s Point by amateur climbers.
I breathe in the success in Kilimanjaro’s thinnest air. I take 30 breaths and I’m hot. So I take off my shirt to enjoy the cold.
This excerpt was created from Scott Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us is available January 4.
Originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of Men’s Journal
For the last four years I’ve been investigating the limits of human endurance in harsh environments. After all, our ancestors crossed frozen mountain ranges and endless ocean miles without a whisper of modern technology. So why can’t you? This trailer is just a taste of the incredible journey that took me to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro without a shirt, meditating on the banks of snowy rivers in Poland and into the training gyms of top athletes, all to understand what makes us human.
Available everywhere January 17, 2017. Pre-order Today
Here’s what early readers are saying:
Read more “Announcing the What Doesn’t Kill Us Trailer”
What Doesn’t Kill Us traces our evolutionary journey back to a time when survival depended on how well we adapted to the environment around us. Our ancestors crossed the Alps in animal skins and colonized the New World in loin cloths, seemingly impervious to the elements. Modern humans have lost their biological link to the environment. Now we hate the cold. We suffer from auto-immune diseases. And many of us are chronically over weight. What Doesn’t Kill Us uncovers how just about anyone can reclaim our species’ evolutionary strength by reimagining how our bodies fit into the world and then slowly conditioning ourselves to unfamiliar environments.
Want to know more? Watch the trailer for What Doesn’t Kill Us introduce how I went from thinking a strange Dutch fitness guru in the mountains of Poland was a charlatan to understanding that his method would change my life.
What would happen if the United States legalized the sale of human organs? Economists will note the seductive market logic: with regulation, proponents of legalization suggest the organ shortage will disappear, the market will arrive at a fair price for human tissue and new laws will regulate away criminal elements.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the U.S. would be able to create its own equitable system. What would happen in the rest of the world? Whether we like it or not, we live in the era of globalization, and if the U.S. legalizes the market for body parts, there is no reason to think that international economies won’t play a role in how a patient decides to procure transplant organs.
According to the National Foundation for Transplants, a kidney transplant costs about $260,000. In the illegal organ markets in India, Egypt and Pakistan, the same procedure rings in at just shy of $20,000 — certified organ included.
Immunosuppressant drugs have come so far that a broker can arrange a transplant in as little as 30 days. The only thing stopping the typical American transplant patient from going abroad and buying an organ is the difficulty of making contact with a broker and the threat of what might happen if they get caught.
In the real world, kidneys don’t have a fixed price. Instead, the market for human body parts is a lot like the one for used cars: They’re only worth what someone is willing to sell them for. In the age of cheap international travel, where state-of-the-art hospitals abut the most impoverished slums on earth, hundreds of thousands of people are available and willing to sell their flesh for pennies on the dollar. Some of these areas are so well known among organ traffickers and brokers that they’ve earned the name “kidneyvilles” for their plentiful supply of willing “donors.”
Between 2006 and 2010, I made India my home while researching the global trade in human body parts. India is notable in the organ trafficking world because of its advanced hospitals and plentiful supply of extreme poverty. In 2004, after a tsunami ripped across South Asia and slammed into the eastern coast of the country, hundreds of thousands of people wound up in refugee camps. These desperately poor people had few options for work or making a livelihood, a perfect opportunity for organ brokers. It was a buyer’s market, and everyone sold.
Typically, the brokers promised $2,000 per organ, but only delivered the advance, always finding one excuse or another not to pay the rest of the money. Even so, husbands sold their kidneys and then pressured their wives to sell theirs. The price for a kidney fell to as low as $600.
When I visited one camp called Ernavoor outside the bustling metropolis of Chennai, I met 80 women with foot long scars across their abdomens. These were not the equitable arrangements that proponents of organ markets advocate for. This was a symptom of extreme poverty. Of course, none of the people in that camp could ever expect to receive an organ should one of their own fail. The one rule with organ markets is that human tissue always moves up — and never down — the social hierarchy.
Still, that was an illegal market. What would happen if the trade were well regulated abroad? To answer this, it’s helpful to review what happened in the market for human surrogate babies. In the U.S., it is legal to pay a woman to carry a child, so long as the money is called “compensation” and not coercion. Even so, an American surrogate might cost as much as $100,000 in such arrangements.
Once the market was clearly defined in America, other countries, with looser definitions of human rights, fought for their share of the market. In 2002, India became the go-to destination for procuring a budget surrogate womb. To the surprise of no one, the Indian industry soon began to cut corners. Women were housed under lock and key in houses known to the press as “baby factories.” Because U.S. patient demanded to know the condition of their child during the entire course of the pregnancy, surrogates became virtual slaves under the doctor’s perpetual surveillance.
The factories multiplied and soon tens of thousands of international customers reasoned that if it was legal to hire a surrogate at home, why not save money abroad? In some cases, when a pregnancy didn’t go as planned and the doctor had to choose between the life of an unborn surrogate baby and the life of mother, the mother did not always survive. Late last year, India finally outlawed surrogacy tourism after non-stop incidents and official inquiries into the surrogates’ wellbeing. Now the commercial surrogacy boomseems to be moving to Cambodia where regulations are still loose.
Still, the rise of surrogacy scandals is a warning about what might happen if we legalize organ sales in America. Even if the trade appears to work at home, there is no way to ensure that American customers won’t look for better deals abroad. We cannot solve our own organ shortage by exploiting the poor and helpless people on the other side of the world.
Explore these other perspectives from the Washington Post’s In Theory blog which, this week was talking about government compensation for organ donors.
It doesn’t matter what you call it, but the pursuit of that divine force has inspired some of the world’s greatest civilizations, its most enduring architecture, foundational philosophies as well as the wars that have time and again sought to tear all that down. But can any of us mere mortals truly understand the hidden clockwork of the universe? If we assume that it exists at all, then the actual state of transcendence poses an interesting problem. What are people supposed to do with the rest of their time on earth once they’ve gained that ultimate knowledge? Revered gurus who teach that status and power are meaningless in the ultimate reality, nonetheless have to muck about in the mundane world. They gather followers, build institutions and dispense knowledge from lofty thrones. Is it hypocrisy when enlightenment simply reproduces familiar hierarchies? Another way to put it is how does a Buddha remain in the world, but not of it?
The journalism business is about to change forever.
On October 19th at 8:00 a.m. WordRates.com will bring transparency to the publishing world by allowing freelance journalists to compare rates between publications, review contracts and rate editors, magazines and websites. Called “a Yelp! for journalists,” WordRates will give writers a crowdsourced periscope into the industry in order to help them better target their stories to publications and negotiate competitive rates for their work.
In addition to the ratings database, WordRates will also launch “PitchLab,” which uses a revamped literary agency model to represent feature writers to magazines. PitchLab will pair writers and their story ideas with “mentors” who will sell those stories to mainstream magazines. The mentor team features award-winning writers from The New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, Rolling Stone, and Bloomberg-BusinessWeek, including Trevor Aaronson, Vince Beiser, Erin Biba, Charles Graeber, Jonathan Green, Jon Lackman, Robert Levine, Jason Miklian, Luke O’Brien, Neal Pollack, Paul Tullis, Joel Warner
WordRates was made possible after a successful Kickstarter campaign in May raised almost $10,000 from 246 freelance journalists around the world. These journalists, and others like them, have noticed that for the last 20 years pay to freelance writers has remained stagnant. Despite the internet’s promise to level the playing field for content, and potentially allow anyone a chance to find an audience for their work, the profits, by-and-large, have stayed within the large publishing houses.
According to their own figures, magazine publishers like Conde Nast and Wenner Media pay less than 2% of the revenue they make from advertising to their writers. Meanwhile, publishing contracts have gotten worse and made it increasingly difficult for writers to get fair terms on the film rights, reprints, translations and book deals that have long been important revenue streams for creative professionals. WordRates envisions that a little transparency and some healthy competition will change that.
There has been a lot of anticipation in the media for WordRates in the last few months. Here are a few of the highlights: Read more “Countdown to Revolution: WordRates to launch Oct 19th”
After almost five months of development after a successful Kickstarter campaign I am pleased to announce that WordRates & PitchLab will go live on September 8th, 2015 (barring any unforeseen last minute design SNAFus) at WordRates.com.
If you haven’t seen it, WordRates has gotten some amazing press, with Fast Company musing that after September 9th “We’ll begin to see just how powerful accountability and agents can really be.” And the Columbia Journalism Review throwing in it’s two cents.
We have 12 world-class mentors who are going to evaluate pitches and take them out to the best publications they can find as well as a completely re-thought way to rate magazines and editors on how easy they are to work with. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see it live. Keep your eyes peeled for updates over the next week.
Anyone who gave to the initial Kickstarter Campaign will get a complimentary membership to the site once it is live.
There’s some big news in the wide world of WordRates. In the last month or so there has been a ton of work going on behind the scenes figuring out how to best structure the project. Here’s a quick update: WordRates is now an LLC in Colorado. We’ve brought on the Rao Law Group to handle the legal side of things. The website is being put together by the Colorado-based design company Lime9web, in conjunction with Umar Ilyas of eJuicy Solutions in Islamabad.
We have a group of 9 mentors who have signed up to tackle PitchLab. Together they’ve published more than a dozen books and contribute to the top publications in America includingVanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, Bloomberg-BusinessWeek, the New Yorker, Atlantic and Conde Nast Traveler.
We are still in the very early stages of design and managing the back end of the site. But here’s some very rough sketches of what the site will actually look like when you start to use it. I’ll start posting more refined designs as we get them ready
Here is roughly what you will see when you log onto wordrates.com:
Individual reviews of editors and magazines will lead to a page that is laid out like this:
And every member will have their own profile: