We know that stress is extremely detrimental to our health, especially when it is drawn out and chronic – but did you know that small bursts of stress are actually beneficial for our health and longevity? These intermittent bursts of stress, called “hormesis” or “hormetic stress,” likely contribute to a longer and healthier life. Research has defined hormesis as “a phenomenon in which otherwise harmful substances [or stressors] give stimulating and beneficial effects to living organisms.”
How does this happen?
Hormetic stress triggers the activation of various longevity pathways that typically slow with age. These pathways work to repair cellular and DNA damage(autophagy), combat oxidative stress, support blood sugar, enhance stress resilience, reduce inflammation, and eliminate toxins. Altogether, this ‘cellular housecleaning’ encourages the slowing of the aging processes and the enhancement of overall health.
These stressors also increase the production of our mitochondria, otherwise known as the “energy powerhouses” of the cell. Mitochondria are responsible for turning food and oxygen into energy. Hence, our organs and bodily systems rely on functioning mitochondria to carry out their responsibilities. Mitochondrial health is increasingly important with age to maintain function, but also because mitochondrial function tends to decline throughout the lifespan. No surprises here: mitochondrial dysfunction is considered one of the 9 “Hallmarks of aging”, otherwise thought of as characteristics that define aging.
All in all, hormetic stressors encourage our bodies to rejuvenate and activate repair systems, starting at the cellular level.
How can you activate hormetic stress?
Tune into hormesis by adding some of these beneficial practices into your health regimen.
- Intermittent fasting – The body perceives nutrient deprivation as a state of stress. Intermittent fasting hacks into this temporary stress and impacts longevity processes – it activates autophagy, or ‘cellular clean-up’, and inhibits mTOR. To start an intermittent fasting regimen, read “16-Hour Fast FAQ.”
- Cold showers or cold walks – Cold showers and exposure to cold temperatures encourage cellular repair, and increase the production of mitochondria and cytotoxic T cells that work to boost the immune system. Take a walk in the cold or spend 30-60 seconds in a cold shower.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) – HIIT, intense bursts of exercise followed by short periods of rest, is one of the fastest ways to reap the benefits of hormesis. During high-intensity intervals, the muscles are temporarily starved for oxygen, which encourages the production of new mitochondria. For a short 5-minute HIIT regimen read “Health Coach Tip – 5-minute HIIT Workout.”
- Explore the sauna – Sauna usage boosts the expression of longevity-associated heat-shock proteins, enhances the generation of new mitochondria, and activates autophagy. Enjoy the sauna when possible – spend a maximum of 15-20 minutes per session. Research shows that more frequent sauna usage weekly delivers the most benefits.
- Eat polyphenols – Phytonutrient and polyphenol-rich foods encourage hormesis, which when plant-induced is known as “xenohormesis”. Many of these foods activate detox pathways such as Nrf2. Consume colorful produce: cruciferous vegetables, rich in sulforaphane, turmeric rich in curcumin, garlic rich in allicin, onions rich in quercetin, and green tea rich in epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
Remember to not over-do it, moderation is key. Use the practices listed above to create a sustainable hormetic routine!