I know, I know. We are always talking about how much chronic stress is harmful to our health. It is something that is so critical to our health and why I talk at length about how to combat stress. But – and here is the big BUT there are also some stressors that are good for us. And so today, instead of talking about how stress can be bad for us, we talk about the benefits of stress.
What Do I Refer to With Beneficial Stress?
Let us make a very important distinction first: What do I mean when I say there are benefits to stress? I am talking about a physical stress rather than a psychological one. The stress I am talking about here specifically is called “hormesis”. Hormesis is basically a form of dose-response phenomenon. A low dose stimulation is followed by a high dose inhibition as a response. It is an overcompensation for mild environmental stress.
Why do we want beneficial stress?
Hormesis, or the benefits of mild environmental stress on your bodies, have long been recognized and studied for both healthy aging and longevity.
We have to remember that our bodies existed in times where we were not sitting in temperature-controlled houses, offices and cars. We had to endure a lot stronger weather conditions, as well as exercise a great amount in order to gather and hunt food. All of these ancient mechanisms have not really changed from today. When activated in the right way, we can use the power of stress in order to heal our bodies and activate these some specific pathways.
The Benefits of Stress
When we activate these mild environmental stressors we can do so many cool things. Amongst others, repair our DNA, decrease inflammation, boost your antioxidant systems and brain cell function, enhance your detox systems, become more insulin sensitive, and improve gene expression. All of these are mighty important in order to live a longer, healthier life.
How Do We Activate Beneficial Stress?
There are some really easy, relatively cheap and accessible ways as to how we can access this beneficial state of hormesis. There are some more, but I am focussing on the most easiest ones for the benefit of this post.
I know – this one sounds dreadful and not fun. And I agree – you do not want to starve yourself. But, we did tend to go through periods of eating and scarcity. Our bodies kick up certain mechanisms to keep us alive during periods of limited food. We discussed this a few weeks in my post called “What are Zombie Cells“, especially in relation to autophagy. Autophagy is the process of eliminating damaged DNA from the body and recycling those DNA parts that can still be of use. This self-cleaning process activates during times where there is a limited amount of food that enters your body.
Autophagy allows the body to repair DNA, make mitochondria, get rid off inflammation (inflammation largely increases if we do not get rid of broken DNA), improves insulin sensitivity, and boosts stem cell production. You do not have to literally starve yourself. A 12/13 or even 14 hour windown between the last meal of the day and the first one of the next one is sufficient in order to kick in this ancient mechanism.
Saunas and heat therapy are a super powerful method to support our bodies. Sauna bathing activates heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins contribute to the regulation of cell growth and cell survival, as well fix and recycle damaged proteins. In addition, it helps to activate our immune system, improves cardiovascular fitness, heart rate viability, insulin sensitivity, and regular blood pressure. And you get all these effects from passively sitting somewhere!! The same effect of heat therapy can also be achieved through a hot yoga class, or even a hot bath.
I have definitely been trying to include this one more, since I researched this article. When triggered with coldness, our bodies activate pathways that may heal you from both pain and injury. It also boosts endorphins, which also release stress and can improve your mood. In addition, it strengthens your immune systems, activates brown fat (a special type of fat that helps, amongst others, with the regulation of our core temperature). It also improves circulation and helps to reset your autonomic nervous system. Cryotherapy has become a super popular method, which can also be rather dear on your wallet… but you can get the same effect by standing under a cold shower for a few minutes (at least two…).
You know that I bang on about the benefits of exercise all the time and it comes up time and time again as one of the most important contributors to health, longevity, overall fitness, and your general wellbeing of living. Interval and strength training are super important in order to trigger hormesis. Exercise improves your cardio-vascular function, and may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. An increase in muscle mass (through lifting weights) does not only prevent injury, but it also ensures that you have an increased resistance to stressors. Your immune system increases, whereas your oxidative stress levels decrease. Note: This is from moderate and quick bursts of exercise not when you are overexerting yourself. Especially when you are female, be sure to work with your cycle.
I hope this article has shown you some of the benefits of stress (and not just the chronic, really-not-good-for us) and some easy methods how you can push your body into these. Which one of these tricks will you try out for yourself and/or are you most excited about? Let me know below!!