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11 Daredevil Stunts That Pushed Human Limits

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An Austrian daredevil named Felix Baumgartner plans to break the world record for highest skydive in August. After taking an air balloon to 120,000 feet, he'll step out of his helium cocoon at the edge of space and break the sound barrier on his way back to earth.

Sound exciting? It's already been done. Here's a list of eleven impossible stunts pulled off by very real human beings.

1. Joseph Kittinger

Kittinger was Baumgartner's inspiration and the current record holder. As the head of an Air Force program called Project Excelsior, Kittinger made several extremely high jumps to test new parachute designs. In August 1960 he made his highest ascent, to 102,800 feet. At 43,000 feet the pressure lock on his right glove failed. His hand, which was basically being exposed to outer space, swelled enormously. He carried on without informing his base, then jumped from the balloon once it reached target altitude. Fortunately, the hand returned to normal size back on earth. He went on to volunteer for duty in Vietnam, where he was shot down and spent almost a year in an NVA prison camp. Watch the dive video:

2. Reinhold Messner

Before Ben Folds Five unknowingly appropriated his name for an album, Messner was mostly known as the world's most famous mountain climber.

He was the first person in the world to climb every mountain taller than 8,000 meters, and in 1978 he pulled off a feat that was thought suicidal: he climbed Mount Everest without oxygen tanks. Hysteria ensued in the climbing community and, to silence his critics, he did it again in 1980. Alone. No one has repeated his feat since. Below, a clip from his and Peter Habeler's 1978 ascent of Everest without oxygen tanks.

3. William Trubridge

Trubridge is perhaps the world's best free diver, which is the art of diving without SCUBA gear. With only the air in their lungs while submerged, free divers see how far down they can swim. According to the official free diving website, Trubridge recently passed a landmark depth: he descended 101 meters in an unaided free dive. That's 331 feet down on a single breath. Watch the official video of the record-setting dive:

4. John Stapp

Stapp tested the limits of gravitational endurance by repeatedly exposing himself to G forces beyond what was thought possible to survive. He led a series of Air Force tests in rapid deceleration, the last of which exposed him to forces in excess of 40 g. His eyes bled, he suffered two broken wrists, and dust particles caused rashes on his body, but he sustained no permanent injuries. His work paved the way for the use of crash test dummies, and he later championed the inclusion of seat belts in automobiles.

Col. Stapp in a helmet that measures G forces. Image from the David Hill collection via The Ejection Site.

5. Philippe Petit

This French high wire artist was profiled in the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire (trailer below). After successfully tightrope walking the cathedral at Notre Dame and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Petit set his eyes on the newly erected World Trade Center towers in 1974. In a fascinating feat that was as much a heist story as it was a physical accomplishment, Petit and his team successfully bypassed security at the towers, then fired a rope from one rooftop to the other with a bow and arrow (they first used fishing line). Petit danced on the rope for forty-five minutes as a crowd gathered below, making eight passes in all. He was arrested as soon as he stepped off the line, but charges were dropped in exchange for another show in Central Park.

6. Jordan Romero

Romero has climbed the peaks of the highest mountain on every continent. That might not sound very outlandish until you hear that he summited them all before age 16—the youngest to ever do so. He climbed Everest before his 14th birthday. Controversy erupted afterward about whether people so young should be allowed on such a dangerous mountain. The Chinese government then imposed an age requirement (18) for all climbers. Romero's record isn't likely to be broken anytime soon.

7. Martin Strel

Strel has swum the length of the world's greatest rivers: the Danube, the Mississippi, the Yangtze, and, most notoriously, the Amazon. Aside from the challenge of swimming 50 miles per day, the native Slovenian had to contend with Dengue, sunburn, extreme currents, and Candiru—blood-sucking parasitic catfish that invade their host's urethra. Strel said, "I was attacked by piranhas a few times — at one point they were eating my back." His team's solution? Pouring buckets of blood in the water nearby, diverting their attention. To unwind from the enormous stress of the river, Strel drank up to two bottles of wine each day. He completed the Amazon swim in 66 days, as seen in Big River Man (trailer below).

8. Alain Bombard

This French physician crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a rubber dinghy named l'Hérétique that was equipped with a sextant, oars, a singlesail, and the works of Shakespeare and Montaigne to keep him company. Bombard tested his ideas about survival while stranded at sea by sailing 2,900 miles from the Canary Islands to Barbados in October 1952. After bidding his newlywed wife and baby girl adieu, he went to sea alone. He speared fish with a homemade harpoon and ate surface plankton that he caught with a net. For fresh water, he pressed water from the bodies of fish, sometimes mixing it with a small amount of ocean water in a cocktail he called "a very pleasant drink, not unlike Vichy water." When he arrived in Barbados 65 days later, he had lost 55 pounds. He and his wife had four more children.

Two of the covers for Bombard's 1958 French-language book about his experience, Naufragé Volontaire.

9. Charlie Engle, Kevin Lin, & Ray Zahab

In 2006, this trio ran from Senegal to Cairo—right across the Sahara desert. Their route took them over 4,300 miles through six countries. They ran to highlight the lack of access to clean water in North Africa. A documentary crew financed by Matt Damon accompanied them. They planned to complete the run in 80 days, but ended up taking 111. If that sounds like an underachievement, consider that it still works out to a rate of almost 39 miles a day, in 120 degree heat. Each runner used roughly 25 pairs of Nikes. Engle reported that he drank 1,411 liters of Gatorade. Aside from urinating in minefields and braving Col. Gaddafi's Libya, the trio ran along the "Highway of Dead Animals" in Mauritania, where roadkill littered the asphalt because drivers exceed 100 MPH. Watch their journey in Running the Sahara (trailer below).

10. Felicity Aston

Aston very recently became the first woman to complete a solo crossing of Antarctica. The 1056 mile journey took 59 days, with Aston carrying all of her gear behind her on sleds. Through it all she tweeted updates to followers about how the journey was going. After making it back to civilization and having her fill of cake and ice cream (she had lost 18 pounds), Aston tweeted about one of the biggest re-adjustments to normal life: "Having to remind myself of the rules now I'm not alone; no peeing wherever I stand, no talking to the sun, no snot or dribble on my face..." Below, the video she recorded when she reached the end of her journey.

11. Lewis Gordon Pugh

Pugh is the only person to ever log a long distance swim in each of the world's major oceans, and that isn't even his biggest accomplishment. In 2005 and 2007, he went for one kilometer dips at both the North Pole and off the coast of Antarctica. His attire? A Speedo, swim cap, and goggles. Through a neat trick he calls "anticipatory thermo-genesis," Pugh is able to raise his body temperature to 101 degrees right before a plunge in freezing waters. Despite this unique ability, his temperature dropped to 91.4 degrees immediately after his swim in Antarctica. Some swimmers fear sharks, but in Pugh's environment, his greatest fear is different: leopard seals. Below, the official video from his North Pole swim.

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The Brain Chemistry Behind Your Caffeine Boost
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Whether it’s consumed as coffee, candy, or toothpaste, caffeine is the world’s most popular drug. If you’ve ever wondered how a shot of espresso can make your groggy head feel alert and ready for the day, TED-Ed has the answer.

Caffeine works by hijacking receptors in the brain. The stimulant is nearly the same size and shape as adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down neural activity. Adenosine builds up as the day goes on, making us feel more tired as the day progresses. When caffeine enters your system, it falls into the receptors meant to catch adenosine, thus keeping you from feeling as sleepy as you would otherwise. The blocked adenosine receptors also leave room for the mood-boosting compound dopamine to settle into its receptors. Those increased dopamine levels lead to the boost in energy and mood you feel after finishing your morning coffee.

For a closer look at how this process works, check out the video below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
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You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.

1. EASE INTO THE HABIT.

If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.

2. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING.

Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.

3. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM IDEAL FOR SLEEP.

Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO PROPERLY WIND DOWN.

Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.

5. GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF LIGHT.

Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

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