What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? That’s hormesis!
Hormesis is essentially a good type of stress. It’s having a positive response to temporary minor stressors. Having some stress is good, and is necessary to improve the body and mind to become more resilient and stronger, but not all stress is created equal or is beneficial. And obviously, having constant mental stress or physical stress can wreak havoc on our health and have no benefits. So what stress is good and how can we use it to benefit ourselves?
Exercise is a classic form of hormesis. When you’re lifting heavy weights or even light weight to the point of muscle fatigue, you damage your muscle fibers and they built back bigger and stronger. This also applies to endurance exercises as well.
One of the best types of exercise for boosting your resilience is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It has a particularly strong hormetic effect on your mitochondria — they become more efficient to deal with the stress, which increases your energy production and slows down aging at the cellular level.
Another great form of hormesis, is Intermittent fasting.
- It makes your cells more resilient to oxidative damage
- It protects your brain cells and improves cognitive function
- It burns fat like crazy
- It gives the body a rest from digestion so it can effectively cleanse itself
- It produces more growth hormone
- It helps you live longer.
The ideal window for fasting is between 16-48 hours. Shorter than that and you don’t see the above benefits as much. Longer, and you start to run into downsides, like dips in energy and muscle loss.
Extreme temperatures are also another type of hormesis. Cold exposure, for example, makes your cells produce antioxidants system-wide, protecting your body from inflammation and damage and increases immunity. Heat exposure makes the proteins in your cells more resilient to stress and slows down cellular aging.
Hypoxia is another example; when you cut off oxygen to your brain for a short amount of time, it gently stresses your neurons. They respond by creating brand new mitochondria, increasing your brainpower and helping you think faster and work smarter. You’ve probably seen the guys at the gym wearing the Darth Vader looking mask. They are doing hypoxia training.
Another type of hormesis is exposure to sunlight. We all hear warnings to stay out of the sun or cover up and slather on sunscreen to exposed areas because of the damage the sun can do. But the sun in right doses has many health benefits that we need. Sunlight in the right dose actually makes your cells stronger and helps them protect themselves from cancer. An appropriate dose of sunlight also drives your cells to produce more vitamin D, which affects more than 1,000 reactions across your whole body, including testosterone production, antioxidant production, and more.
But, to keep the body from being overstressed from our perceived stress/ mental/emotional; bills, relationship issues, traffic etc, physical stress ;overtraining, injuries, surgeries, or even chemical stress; viruses, bacteria, alcohol etc, our bodies can benefit from adaptogenic herbs as well as other techniques to keep the cortisol levels in check and not constantly elevated. Our stress is designed to help us when we need to survive, but if that switch is constantly turned to the “on” position, we never have time to recover from stress mode and go back to homeostasis, which can create a chemical imbalance. That is when stress does not benefit us; distress. There are many ways to combat that as well, but I will leave that for another post.