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Hormesis 101– An Introduction

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of Hormesis can be found here:

The principle of Hormesis or Hormetism in the context of this post is that you can train yourself to thrive on stress. Progressive and intermittent stress can help you overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges. The conventional discussion on stress is to avoid it and make our lives easier and more convenient. If applied correctly, the right stress such as proper exercise can strengthen us.

To correctly increase resilience in any facet of life, the stress must be applied repeatedly over a period of time, keeping in mind these principles:

  1. Simulation. The stress should follow real world stress as closely as possible. The more realistic, the better the result.
  2. Constraint. The stress should be focused to the aspect needing to be strengthened while preventing compensation that would reduce the stimulus effect.
  3. Intensity. The stress should put you beyond your comfort zone. The intensity of the stress varies inversely with its duration.
  4. Recovery. The stress should be followed by a period of rest or removal of the stress for a period sufficient to allow for adaptation.
  5. Gradualism. Until your goal is achieved, each session of stress should be longer than the previous session. Take small steps based on what you can tolerate.

Now that we have some theory out of the way, what are some simple examples that you can incorporate:

  1. Exercise. As mentioned in the introduction exercise is a simple example of this principle. We stress our muscles and joints in the hope that with proper direction and form we recover from this stress with increased strength and flexibility. The key is proper and adequate recovery to see the benefits of this type of stress. There are many methodologies for producing exercise induced stress, which is a Blog Post for another day. I do some form of exercise every day, the intensity varies and I always schedule rest and recovery days.
  2. Take cold showers. Start off by ending your shower with 10 seconds at the coldest setting. Slowly build your tolerance to longer lengths and slowly you won’t even have the shower that hot to begin with. You can also alternate between hot and cold a few times during your shower. You will begin to build a greater tolerance for cold. You won’t need to heat your house as much, you can wear shorts and t-shirts for more of the year (location dependent). If you have a Sauna or hot tub you can alternate between it and a cold shower, pool or cooler outside air. The benefit of running a little colder is that your body will burn brown adipose fat to warm you, so this is a fat burning hack. I follow this practice daily.
  3. Get hot. You can do this in a sauna (look for follow-up Blog post on benefits of Infrared Sauna), hot tub or hot shower. Exposure to heat higher than you are accustomed to produces Heat Shock Proteins (HSP). These proteins bind with enzymes in your body to help with vascular relaxation or vasodilation which is the widening of blood vessels. The flow of blood is increased due to a decrease in vascular resistance. This reduces blood pressure as well as the benefits your entire body including injured sites can get from additional blood flow. I try to practice this as often as possible probably averaging four to five times a week. As you probably figured out, this is a great one-two combination with point number two.
  4. Walk with bare feet. If you are at the park, beach or even your own house, take off your shoes or sandals and socks. Get used to walking on small stones or gravel, uneven surfaces, hot pavement or sand. Take it easy at first and be safe with your feet, but you can build a tolerance to the uncomfortable feeling. An added benefit is that without the crutch that shoes can be, you begin to develop the small muscles in your feet which can help with athletic performance and balance (which is important as we age). I live in a colder climate so I try and do this as much as possible outside during the warmer months and always inside my home. The benefit of grounding your bare feet to the earth is a topic for another day.
  5. Intermittent Fasting. This involves the periodic fasting of generally less than 2-3 days at a time. To be honest I cannot go this long, however I always try to fast for 10-12 hours between dinner and breakfast five days a week and a longer 13-16 hour fast on the weekends. If you have a satisfying dinner with the correct macronutrient ratio you should easily be able to not eat before bed until sometime in the morning. This should give you 8-10 hours of fasting easy. The benefits of this are an increase in the hormone leptin (satiety hormone), an increase in your metabolic rate, a reduction in fasting insulin and glucose levels, higher insulin sensitivity, improved lipid profiles and autophagy (the breakdown of non-vital contents of cells to ensure that vital processes can continue; think taking out your cellular garbage)
  6. Voluntary Discomfort. This is a deep topic that dates back to the Greek Stoics, so I will just briefly touch on it in this blog post. Training yourself to be uncomfortable in a controlled and managed way can help you push through mental and emotional challenges. This could range from forcing yourself to go introduce yourself to strangers or joining a public speaking club or working with and helping those from a different socio-economic, religious or racial background. For most of my life I was a very shy person, something I still actively work on. One small thing I regularly do to get out of my comfort zone is wear brightly coloured socks, which often match the shirt I am wearing. This almost always results in people staring at me when I walk down the street or even making comments directly to me. These comments are never mean, they are meant in good fun and they do not physically harm me. For me it is a simple exercise a few times a week in pushing my own mental boundaries of comfort.

We just touched the surface here on these topics. I look forward to delving deeper in future posts but for now try a few of these out. Send me a comment and let me know how they work for you to achieve your EXCEPTIONAL RESULTS.