Hormesis can be a powerful longevity aid; it’s defined as small doses of stress intended to benefit us at the cellular level. The beneficial change comes when we adapt to the stress and move to a new, stronger state. Note: when challenging your body with stress, you should check with your doctor first.
First, it’s important to understand the concept of homeostasis which is our “health equilibrium.” Our bodies are uniquely designed to maintain and return ourselves to optimal health with necessary adaptations (such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses) and increased defenses (such as more life-force energy cell tissue which is also called mitochondria) — who wouldn’t want more of that?
With some easy strategies, we can tip ourselves out of homeostasis and as a result we get stronger and more resistant to illness and disease, which is the name of the game in lifespan (living longer) and healthspan (living better). Hormesis is our bodies’ natural stress adaptation response. We are challenging our bodies and minds to adapt and therefore grow stronger. Of course, if you never apply any challenges to your body — total comfort all the time — there will be no positive adaption; the outcome will be one of a quick onset of decay. We humans were designed to be tough; not that we need to go to extremes but, as the saying goes: use it or lose it.
What can we do to up our hormetic responses and longevity?
1) Exercise: Lifting weights, aerobic activities and HIIT sessions. Lifting weights imposes low levels of oxidative stress on our muscle fibers, stressing them with small tears that, when we recover, grow stronger. Aerobic activity helps impose oxygen demands, increasing vascularity and capillary growth throughout the body, including in the brain. The base would be 200 or so mins of moderate intensity aerobic activity a week, defined as zone 2 training. After about a month of aerobic workouts, you will have developed the start of a good aerobic base, and you can now add in 2 times a week High Intensity Intervals. This will increase your lung capacity and your ability to recover from activity. Lift weights 2-4 times a week; not the little tiny stretchy bands, but challenging classic strength training. This is probably the single thing people our age do not do that they should be doing. Done correctly, applying load will cause a hormetic adaption response of stronger bones, more effective muscle, and greater mobility.
2) Nutrition: Employing some delayed eating, also known as time-restricted eating or calorie restriction. Being a bit hungry creates a wonderful response called autophagy which simply means cellular cleanup as the body acts to remove damaged or inactive cells. Consuming bright-colored plants introduces mitochondrial stress from the plants’ own evolutionary defense mechanisms, while also supplying us with anti-inflammatories and antioxidants to ward off harmful stresses. Try eating within a window of time — say, 10 hours on and 14 hours off to start with — and get as many bright-colored plants into your diet as possible.
3) Heat and Cold Exposure: The exposure to heat allows our heart rate and blood flow to increase and blood vessels to vasodilate which speeds the delivery of nutrients to our tissues, aiding in repair. Heat exposure through sauna at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes 3x/week has been shown to have a remarkably positive effect on long-term brain health, heart health and cancer prevention through the release of heat shock proteins. Deliberate cold exposure such as a cold shower, cold plunge or ice bath will boost your immune system, your metal acuity, and your mood. Cold can initially be unpleasant, but learning that it won’t really hurt us will also have a positive hormetic effect on our fear response. (For more on sauna and cold, listen to this episode of the SuperAge Podcast.)
4) Mentally Challenging Activity: Read, learn new things, solve problems, learn a language. Study hard material; the harder the better. You can do this. It will help with neuroplasticity, which simply means the formation and reorganization of our brain health. Joining new groups, meeting new people are also neurogenerative.
This is what YOU see on the hormesis checklist:
- Lift weights to build strength
- Aerobic activity
- High intensity intervals
- Delay and reduce calories occasionally
- Bright-colored fruits & veggies
- Try some heat and cold exposure
- Challenge your brain
- Explore new social interactions
This is the adversity that YOUR BODY sees:
- Oxidative stress on my muscle fibers
- Increased oxygen demands on my lungs
- Temporary nutrient deprivation, and autophagy cell cleanup
- Beneficial polyphenol stress
- Shock proteins from heat and cold
Our body strives to keep us in the middle of the road, but make it swerve with some adversity now and then and it will adapt and become more energetic and stronger, making us stronger and harder to kill.
Author: Brett Scranton