I have spent months, literally, on the science of developing resilience in a toxic world. Som of us, where I live, for example, Dubai, are subjected to extremely lucrative, but extremely toxic environments.
But we can survive our environement—in fact, thrive in it, if we learn how to welcome stress instead of dread it and simply know that we CAN make the body strong enough to endure anything.
Psychological and emotional stress is an epidemic in the modern Western world.
Combine the stress of pressures at work, with an increasingly toxic environment, EMFs and technology flying into our faces at warp speed, work pressures, health problems, relationship problems, financial problems, political pressures, and worries of all kinds. There’s no question. We’re all pretty stressed out.
But are today’s times any more stressful to us than times gone by were to those generations? the Great Depression? WWII? – or are we merely becoming too pampered and fragile to bounce back from stress?
Have we lost our resilience?
• Today, 75% of American adults report levels of moderate to high stress most of the time with increasing stress as they grow older
• One-third (32 percent) of parents report that their stress levels are extreme (a level of 8 – 10 on a 10-point scale) and parents overall say they are living with stress levels that exceed their definition of healthy
• 69 percent of American parents say managing stress is extremely or very important) but few feel they are successful in their efforts
• 80% of workers feel they need help learning to manage on the job stress
• 43.4 million U.S. adults suffered with some kind of mental disorder in 2015, that’s 17.9% of all US adults.
• An estimated 442,000 individuals in Britain, who worked in 2007/08 believed that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill
• The number of people worldwide who suffer with depression: 350,000,000
• The number of adults who suffer from anxiety disorders in the U.S: 18.1% of the U.S. population. 22.8% of these cases are classified as severe anxiety.
• According to the American College Health Association’s most recent annual national survey, 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function”
• Approximately 7.5 percent of college students also reported earlier this year that they seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months.
Could it be that we’ve simply lost our resilience to stress by air conditioning and remote-controlling ourselves into fragility?
Or could part of the problem—or the problem be in the way that we view stress—the power we give it over us by seeing it as some negative force we cannot control? Is our very conception of stress negatively impacting our health? Or is it a combination of both?
Although this might sound unbelievable at first, what we are learning today is that stress can actually be beneficial to you if you embrace it as a positive energy you can use to become better, stronger, healthier, and faster.
It’s all about becoming resilient f to the kind of stress that negatively impacts health.
Before I get into how stress can benefit the system, we need to review some concepts—chiefly—what stress does to the body. Chronic stress and moderate stress, like exercise, have profoundly different effects upon the body.
Chronic psychological stress has been associated with increased biological aging and shortening of telomeres, suppression of immune function, impairment of brain structure and cognitive function (especially in the prefrontal cortex, which controls complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and social behavior, amongst other important functions),, and worsening of conditions like depression, heart disease, and some types of cancer, as I’ll discuss below.
But let me explain why.
Your body wants to keep you alive, always. So we have a built in protective mechanism to help us run from forest fires, saber tooth tigers—tsunamis. It’s your fight of flight system and it’s kind of like a gambling addiction. Yes, you survive to play another day, but you pay for it–with currency — but here, the currency is other crucial bodily functions like digestion, metabolism, balancing hormones, producing new neurons.
In short, your body will suppress all kinds of systems that will use up excess energy and direct all energy toward giving you the ability to survive—Stress empowers you to run, survive on your body’s glucose and manufacture even more glucose, and to even start living on your protein and nutrient-filled muscles should you not be able to eat for a time. It’s our innate survival mechanisms. Just as plants have bitter compounds to ward off predators, we have inborn mechanisms to run from them.
Let’s say you really do have to run from a beast. Let’s say you’ve just heard the growl of a mountain lion as you jog past a forest somewhere near you. First, your hypothalamus sets off an alarm – signaling your body’s CNS and endocrine system to prompt your adrenal glands to kick into overdrive. And they release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy so you can run faster and harder without immediate exhaustion. So you can live through this. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream and signals the brain to use more glucose to heighten senses and enable you to think fast and strategize escape scenarios.
It also increases the availability of substances like GH and IGF-1 that repair tissues in case of wounds and injuries, in case you fall, get bit—get shot—all of that. You’ll hear more about this later, but your body does seek to immediately supply your skin, the most vulnerable and first affected area of your body if you do get injured, with all kinds of healing compounds.
Cortisol is what signals the body to power down other bodily processes like the immune system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes in the brain and body.
So you outrun the lion – what then?
The body’s stress-response system is self-limiting. If the threat vanishes all systems are go again and the stress hormones calm and return to baseline.
Like exercise—exercise is a self-limiting stressor. It is a stressor that causes the release of all those hormones in the body, yes, but then you rest, repair, recover, and move on. This is why exercise is beneficial. Without that rest and recovery, however, exercise will injure your heart and negatively impact your system overall.
If you were to become more resilient, let me interject, you will bounce back from these kinds of moderate stressors and they will impact you less negatively in the first place.
But what happens if your stress is chronic and you cannot turn it off?
Your fight-or-flight mechanism stays on. Cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline keep coursing through the system to power your entire body through danger—and to keep signaling the body to not direct energy toward immunity, growth, and other important functions.
This is why chronic stress is so deadly.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems.
Chronic stress has been shown to:
• accelerate cancer progression by inhibiting protective immune responses, enhancing harmful immune responses and increasing blood vessel growth factors and proteases (enzymes that break down proteins) that enable tumors to grow and metastasize.
• produce long term inflammation and oxidative damage that can exacerbate other medical conditions,and leads to the development of all kinds of autoimmune diseases, including diabetes, and hormonal diseases, like Grave’s disease.
Chronic stress basically causes deterioration throughout the body from the gums, to the heart, to the brain, to the nervous system, and has also been linked with
• Liver disease and cirrhosis
• Type 2 diabetes
• gum disease and periodontal disease (stress suppresses the immune system, which stops fighting bacteria in the mouth—if you want a quick explanation on that one).
Really, the list goes on and on.
What we need is more of the moderate stressors, we are now thinking, to prevent and armor us against chronic, negatively impacting stress—that by strengthening ourselves with moderate stressors, we’ll bounce back from all kinds of toxic stressors in our lives and in that process become more resilient to stressors that damage our systems, like disease, inflammation, infection, and toxins.
It’s called the science of resilience and it’s about overcoming manageable adversity—manageable stress, as a way to strengthen your body and mind against a world of toxic stress.
Our Changing Conception of Stress
Throughout recent history, stress has been viewed as the enemy of health in all kinds of ways, by doctors and psychologists alike.
So we’ve been busy talking about how to get stress out of the body through meditation, relaxation, deep breathing, yoga . . .
Indeed, we’ve focused so much on how to get stress OUT of the body—that we’ve never thought about actually welcoming it into the body.
But . . .
What if stress is really not the enemy and that we’ve been going about this whole problem THE WRONG WAY—completely?!?
Many doctors and psychologists today are beginning to change their approach to treating stress by asking their stressed patients to view stress as positive energy instead of some negative force they are the victim of.
For example, in a recent, perception-altering study of 29,000 individuals that explored the connection between our perception of stress impacts our actual experience of stress, researchers found that
• The risk of premature death was increased if people who experience stress believed that stress would adversely impact their health.
• Those who reported experiencing high stress and who believed that stress adversely affected health had a 43% increase in the risk of premature death.
• Those who experienced high stress but didn’t believe it to be harmful were at the lowest risk of dying – even lower than people who didn’t experience a lot of stress.
See we’ve learned in our studies of how stress shortens telomeres that psychological stress actually injures us at a cellular level, we already learned that back in 2004. Now we are learning that our perception of stress is equally damaging.
So, yes, we need to change our perception of stress.
Part of that is to stop thinking that we can “meditate” stress away. Why?
Well, for one thing—much of the chronic stress we have coming in is from toxins. In fact, part of the very problem is that a. our body cannot distinguish between chronic toxic stress from toxins and chronic toxic stress from relationships—it’s all stress.
And while meditation may help you is it enough of a “healing process” to recover from the stress of a world that is literally saturated with toxic stress?
The truth is –that we live in a world so soaked with toxins that nothing can “relieve” our stress.
What we need is more energy left over from our daily battles with stress for recovery and repair—enough to be able to bounce back from all our daily stressors.
But how do we get THAT?
If we cannot make stress go away, WE have to become stronger to become resilient to all the stressors.
We need to become stronger in the face of the stress. That’s the only way.
We need to use stress as you would small doses of a poison in case you are subjected to a poisoning (or chemical warfare) in the future . . .
In fact, the very key to managing stress lies in stress itself.
The cure to stress is STRESS.
Resilience has been defined as “successful adaptation or the absence of a pathological outcome following exposure to stressful or potentially traumatic life events or life circumstances. Thus, it involves both the capacity to maintain a healthy outcome following exposure to adversity and the capacity to rebound after a negative experience.” (emphasis mine).
Of course, there is a significant difference between merely recovering from stress and deriving from stress an even greater capacity to withstand future stress.
Today, what we are learning in numerous studies, especially in the work of scientists like Richard Dienstbier, David J. Lyons and Karen J. Parker, Donald Meichenbaum, Michael Rutter,, Carver, Metin Basoglu, and Todd Becker is that developing “toughness” in the face of adversity, developing resilience through exposure to moderate stressors, can actually have a positive toughening effect –an armoring effect—for us in the face of all kinds of stressors.
Challenge the body, strengthen the mind and vice versa.
For example, Dienstbier’s basic argument, as restated here, is that
Toughness leaves individuals more likely to appraise situations positively (i.e., perceiving them as more manageable), more emotionally stable, and better able to cope psychologically and physiologically with difficult stressors and minor challenges, relative to nontoughened individuals. Once toughness develops, it can permeate across all domains.
I hope you were paying attention to that last sentence. “Permeate across all domains.” Because that’s what we want.
A toughness against all kinds of stressors from BPAs to pesticides to those harsh cleaning chemicals used in your place of work, not to mention the mold and other contaminants that are in many workplaces.
We need to armor ourselves against smog, pollution, fragrances everywhere on and upon everyone and everything. Toxic heavy metals, toxic water, toxic people.
We cannot avoid stress.
And nor would we want to completely.
As Dienstbier reminds us—constant exposure to chronic stress, like exposure to NO stress, are equally debilitating to individuals, with both leading to fragility and a lack of toughness.
In Dienstbier’s studies (1992, 1994), he finds that
“both sheltering from all stressors and continuous exposure to stressors leads to lack of toughness. Although sheltering from stressors may temporarily protect against distress, it would not result in long-term advantages. Sheltering provides no opportunity to develop toughness and mastery and is unlikely to persist indefinitely, so when stressors are eventually encountered, individuals are likely to be ill equipped to cope with them.”
You’ll find these studies on stress and resilience under different names depending on the researchers:
• The science of psychophysiological toughness (Dienstbier)
• Stress inoculation therapy (led by Meichenbaum, later by Lyons and Parker)
• “Steeling” against stress (Rutter)
• Resilience through thriving (Carver)
• Stress immunization (Basoglu et.al.)
What all of these approaches share is this:
a common belief that exposure to moderate, controllable stressors has a strengthening effect upon individuals, as long as exposure to stress is limited and one feels a sense of mastery and control over the stress.
For Meichenbaum, for example, the goal of stress inoculation therapy is to help individuals develop a new attitude toward stress of “coping” rather than being overwhelmed by stress—that the very feeling that one has control over the stressor enables them to cope with stress without its negative impacts upon their psyche.
They are no longer debilitated by it psychologically or frozen in dread at the thought of taking the Bar Exam, for example, if they suffer severe test anxiety – or climbing a ladder if they fear heights.
Indeed, to prepare such individuals for those kind of challenges in life, he would have the subject work up to a big test with small, challenging tests, small stepladders, slowing working one’s way up to the top of the Empire State Building for a look down, and such exercises.
Today, scientists are using Meichenbaum’s work to study how stress inoculation therapy (SIT) can be used to armor individuals toward an array of life stressors, helping individuals to see stress more as an opportunity to experience a physical benefit—heightened energy, for example, that will give that us boost in performance we all want.
Moderate stressors, mind you. Moderate stressors one can control.
We are even learning how just exercise – voluntary treadmill running, for example — can set off cascades of positive reparations that make surgery and cancer therapies more effective.
One key factor is, of course, challenging ourselves in a way that does not traumatize the system.
For example, we want a cold shower at 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, not to submerge ourselves in dangerous subzero waters.
We want to run five miles not fifty. We don’t want trauma. We want strength.
We need moderate stressors, not constant stressors – not overly traumatic stressors to become more strong and resilient to other stressors.
Stress may actually prolong life, if you view stress as a healthy experience instead of a deadly one.
In a recent Ted Talk, Firdaus Dhabhar the leader of a recent study on how stress can improve immune responses in patients undergoing surgery, Dhabhar shared what he and his team had learned from 15 years of study in how stress impacts the immune response in humans.
What Dhabhar and his colleagues suggest is that for years, we’ve been hearing about the negative effects of stress upon our health and psychology, but those studies focused only on long term stress.
On the contrary – our fight or flight that kicks in during short term stress set off a cascade of effects such as the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, which are the same hormones released during lovemaking, kissing someone, and getting on a treadmill for example.
And set off positive effects in the immune system as well.
For example, after a brief period of stress, the body mobilizes its immune cells, sending them out from organs like the spleen to important “battle stations” in the body, like the skin—because we when we are wounded, we are typically wounded on our skin. The immune system also activates these cells and increases their potency.
What Dhabhar and his team are now focusing upon is how to strengthen the body to better bounce back after cancer therapy and surgeries by subjecting the body to brief periods of short term stress first.
As Dhabhar explains, “We want to harness the beneficial effects of short term stress for medical procedures like this so how can we do this?”
To welcome—not dread—stress!
In fact, a stress-benefits-me mindset may have lasting effects
The study: Employees were asked to take a test on their current “stress mindset” – their level of stress before and after watching 3 videos which represented stress as harmful to us or helpful to us.
In a second concurrent study, students were suddenly told they’d be randomly selected to give an oral presentation that would be taped. Then, researchers swabbed their mouths for a cortisol level test.
In a second study, students who had previously taken a survey on their stress mindset were told in class that five of them would be randomly selected to give a speech that would also be videotaped. For each student, mouth swabs were taken to measure cortisol levels. They were also asked if they’d like feedback on their performance.
The findings: In the first study, individuals who saw the video that approached stress as good and enhancing reported better work performance as well as less psychological complications than the group who saw the video depicting stress as negative.
As for the students, those who naturally saw stress as helpful had a more moderate cortisol response upon hearing about the speech possibility — and they were more likely to request feedback.
In other words, our biological stress response is largely determined by how we view stress, our mindset toward stress.
So, . . .
What all this is leading to is we’re making huge strides in learning how both viewing stress as beneficial and the experience of beneficial moderate, manageable stress can be for strengthening the body and mind and shielding us from the more harmful effects of stress.
So, we know now that stress can be beneficial if we view it as beneficial.
How can we use stress to become more resilient to life’s stressors overall then?
My answer is hormesis.
Moderate voluntary stresses that make us steely in the face of more negatively impacting physical, mental, and emotional stressors.
Hormesis: Adapting to Stress Makes Us Stronger
Hormesis—a process of introducing stressors like intermittent fasting, extremes of heat and cold, and exercise can help you become stronger in the face of moderate, manageable stressors that we control in strength and duration and our attitudes toward stress.
The whole concept of hormesis is that by introducing manageable stress “challenges” to the body like these, we set off reactions in the body that are extremely healthy.
So, it’s the perfect kind of stress to make us resilient to harmful stress.
It’s stress that we choose – that we welcome into our lives– we can even pick the poison – say intermittent fasting one day and a good sauna the other.
We control it – if we panic or feel threatened we can end the stress at any time.
And if we do it right, it is just challenging enough to build resistance and enhance health as we adapt to the stressor.
In fact, we set off a reparative cascade of effects that strengthens the body and the mind in all kinds of ways, just as Dhabhar is trying to do with cancer and surgery patients.
See, you don’t just adapt in the face of stressors. You super-adapt.
This process of super-adapting benefits our mental and physical health in astounding ways that can make us more bulletproof to diseases of the body and brain and give us previously untapped stores of energy as well.
You might not know it but you’ve probably already benefitted from some kinds of Hormesis.
When you get a suntan, this is a form of hormesis. Your body is adapting to the sun, which is a stressor that will cause harm in more toxic doses. Just the right dose, however, and your body benefits from the release of vitamin D and becomes more resilient to the sun’s effects in the form of a tan, which acts to shield you against the sun’s more harmful rays in the future.
Exercise is also hormetic. In fact, exercise is actually a negatively impacting stressor on the body. It causes the release of reactive oxygen species, raises cortisol, causes some inflammation (that actually signals the body to repair later), and creates small tears in muscles and tendons but . … . exercise becomes healthy to us because it stimulates adaptations (like an increase heart strength, and blood vessel formation to deliver blood more efficiently, and stronger muscles, and stronger mitochondria, and these adaptations in our bodies are what confer the health benefits and disease preventing benefits of exercise.
Intermittent fasting is hormetic. Abstaining from food intermittently sets off reparative effects in the body that help us to reverse insulin resistance, reverse prediabetes and prevent diabetes, sets off beneficial processes of autophagy, and exerts neuroprotective effects in the brain.
So, hormesis is basically introducing an acute stress (lower dose stressor) to the body that stimulates the body to adapt and become more resilient to other more acute or chronic stressors.
By adapting to moderate stressors, the body can be shifted into a state of higher performance as it makes adaptations that benefit whole organism health.
But what about psychological stress?
If we can use Hormesis to benefit our physical heath through exercise, brief periods of sun exposure, and other ways such as intermittent fasting, saunas, and exposure to cold, the question is –can we also use psychological and mental stressors to become bulletproof to mental and emotional stress as well?
Well, remember –any kind of stress impacts the body as stress. You don’t have to seek out arguments with your boyfriend, for example, to prepare you for a breakup (although that might work . . . )
You can use experiences like exercise and IF to achieve psychological resilience and physical resilience—again, one leads to the other just as negative psychological stress can impact our health.
As Todd Becker explains
Voluntary, deliberate exposure to stress can be particularly effective in providing psychological benefits, including overcoming anxieties, obsessions and phobias, and vanquishing appetite cravings, addictions. Beyond overcoming such self-defeating tendencies, deliberate exposure works to unleash confidence and generate a sense of joy and accomplishment.
Today, we are learning that hormesis can help us to become healthier in all kinds of ways such as improving our eyesight and overcoming myopia, reversing aging, conquering allergies, preventing disease, reducing appetite, encouraging neurogenesis, as well as combatting depression, overcoming addiction, and helping individuals overcome PTSD, anxiety, and other emotional disorders.
And it has everything to do with the fact that you are voluntarily introducing stress to your system.
In other words, you have to be voluntarily fasting—not forced to endure starvation for this to work . . . because by challenging ourselves in these ways, we are not only unleashing all kinds of powerful healing mechanisms in the body biologically, but also psychologically, mentally, and emotionally through the powerful mental benefits we get from
• enduring challenges,
• from conquering hard to master tasks,
• and the release of compounds in the brain such as endorphins and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN) which help us experience new heights of mood and cognitive development as well.
The History of Hormesis: The Actually Goes Back to Greece
Hormesis is actually very similar to the Greek practice of “stoicism.”
Stoicism is a school of thought that became popular with the Greeks and later the Romans in the third century A.D.
Like epicureanism, which was popular around this time and focused on enjoying life through moderating one’s passions – not yielding to excess in food and drink, for example, stoicism is a philosophy focused on a mastery of one’s appetites, passions, emotions, and reaction to life’s challenges.
By welcoming challenges and embracing them—the Stoics thought, we can enjoy a higher quality of life and mastery over our passions that strengthens us in the face of life’s many challenges.
In a philosophical tract called The Discourses, Epictetus wrote “Difficulties are the things that show what men are. Henceforth, when some difficulty befalls you, remember that god, like a wrestling-master, has matched you with a rough young man.”
Epicetus, who had endured time in prison and as a slave and believed that what kept him alive was solely his attitude toward his imprisonment.
One of the more interesting techniques the stoics practiced what is called “negative visualization” – it was a form of meditation on the “worst things that can happen” as a way of controlling their negative impact on one when and if they do occur.
The Stoics believed that by imagining and meditating upon the loss of a loved one, the loss of a battle, and then mastering the sorrow that would accompany such an event, they could lessen the more damaging emotional and physical effects of trauma.
It was a kind of purging of fear of the worst life could bring through facing it head on.
In the same way, today, modern scientists are learning that when we embrace stress—no matter what kind it is, we can transform that experience into something that has positive effects upon our mental and physical health.
That by learning to approach a stressful experience — not with fear and anxiety (which then has negative impacts on our mental and physical health) – but with joy, a welcoming attitude, and a willingness to grow– one can enjoy the more positive, strength building, and hormetic benefits of stress instead.
So how can we use Hormesis to enhance our resilience and make us more bulletproof to aging, disease, and the toxic stressors of our environment?
Well, there are several ways you might want to try. The easiest ones to experiment with are exercise, intermittent fasting, and cold showers.
With Hormesis what we do is introduce just enough of a given stressor to set off positive effects in the body—positive repair effects and the protective mechanism the body kicks in when it’s threatened by stressors—think of the “mobilizing” effect stress has on our immune cells, as Dhabhar explained earlier.
Again, what we want is a moderate stressor. As Schofield explains,
[A moderate stressor] like exercise, offers a balance. You need the stress, but too much is toxic. Sunlight exposure is like this. Some exposure drives Vitamin D production. There is good evidence to show the antioxidant (ROS defeating) effects of Vitamin D, as well as the vascular effects and increased insulin sensitivity through nitrate availability, but if you go and get sunburned then you will see the opposite effect.
Food is a really interesting stimulus. I think what we want is both the hormetic effect of the occasional fast, which is known to promote a catabolic (repair) effect and reduce ROS, IGF-1 increases, and low insulin. Obviously fasting for too long might have the opposite effect through probably high cortisol production.
Hormesis is Nietzsche’s dictum that “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” in action.
In fact, eating certain foods is actually a form of nutritional hormesis, because foods such as berries and other plants actually contain bitter compounds which though toxic to predators (and us in large doses) set off beneficial adaptive effects in our bodies.
As S. Rattan explains:
Hormesis in aging is represented by mild stress-induced
Although the extent of immediate hormetic effects after exposure to a particular stress may only be moderate, the chain of events following initial hormesis leads to biologically amplified effects that are much larger, synergistic and pleiotropic. A consequence of hormetic amplification is an increase in the homeodynamic space of a living system in terms of increased defense capacity and reduced load of damaged macromolecules. Hormetic strengthening of the homeodynamic space provides wider margins for metabolic fluctuation, stress tolerance, adaptation and survival.
Hormesis thus counter-balances the progressive shrinkage of the homeodynamic space, which is the ultimate cause of aging, diseases and death. Healthy aging may be achieved by hormesis through mild and periodic, but not severe or chronic, physical and mental challenges, and by the use of nutritional hormesis incorporating mild stress-inducing molecules called hormetins. The established scientific foundations of hormesis are ready to pave the way for new and effective approaches in aging research and intervention.”
Virtually all forms of hormesis – from hypoxia (holding one’s breath or spending time in challenging altitude) to small doses of UV rays set off positive adaptive responses in the body.
Other than exercise, what other things act through hormesis? Here are some examples of hormesis:
1. Exercise (all subtypes)
2. Intermittent fasting
3. Intermittent nutrient cycling (i.e. carbs/fats/proteins)
6. Red and near-infrared light
8. Oxygen bankruptcy
9. UV light
10. Xenobiotics (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, many drugs)
11. Dietary phytochemicals (xenohormetins)
All of these have between dozens and thousands of studies showing proven health benefits.
Question for you to think about: How many of these do you think most people use? If you think about it, most people living in the modern world are lacking almost all of these forms of hormesis from their lives!
Today, I’m going to focus on four methods you can easily begin experimenting with to build resilience.
Plants contain toxic chemicals called phytonutrients. These chemicals help them to deter predators and keep from getting eaten (killed!) and protect them from oxidative stress because they give them a color that protects them from damaging UV rays—like our suntans do.
To organisms like insects and fungi, phytochemicals act as pesticides to ward them away. For human, these mildly “poisonous” effects set off an adaptive response in the body much as if you’d consumed a tiny bit of a poison—your body kicks in all its healing, adaptive mechanisms at a cellular level—leading to reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and all the other benefits that come with hormetins we’ve discussed above.
Examples of foods like these to get in your diet are blueberries, red wine, green tea, broccoli, turmeric, and dark chocolate.
The act of physical exercise is about inducing mild damage to the body – your muscles and cardiovascular system. Damage that you repair from and bounce back healthier.
Weight training is perhaps one of the most elegant examples of how hormesis works. When you lift weighs you create minor tears in muscles that you repair at night during slow wave sleep, thus, enhancing lean muscle growth.
If you examine biomarkers during exercise, you’d see all the markers for chronic stress because you are deliberately fatiguing your system and deliberately damaging muscle tissues.
During exercise inflammation goes up, reactive oxygen species go up, and you’re doing massive oxidative damage to the body—that’s why you’re panting like that. So, your body cries out for reinforcements—and that’s when all the good for you things happen like decreased future risk for inflammatory diseases, decreased oxidative damage in the future, and repair to torn muscle tissues.
In short, you set off a cascade of reparation.
Your cells go to work to repair your DNA
You release an army of anti-inflammatory compounds to treat sites of inflammation and repair tissues
You release heat shock proteins that protect you against molecular damage
You enhance brain function
So, you super adapt to overcompensate for stress.
I talked about all the benefits of intermittent fasting above. Intermittent fasting is about reducing the hours you feed every day. Time frames that have proven to work are restricting a feeding window to 12 hours or even better going 16 hours without food.
Calorie restriction (CR) and Intermittent fasting share overlapping benefits for health. The way it works is both fating and CR introduce a chronic, mild stress to the body—a brief period of famine, that has proven to activate heat shock proteins, increase antioxidant release in the body, exert myriad neuroprotective effects for the brain, and to induce autophagy—which helps your body get rid of more damaging cellular junk in your system.
How to Practice CR and IF for ultimate resilience
> Occasional intermittent fasts (16-24 hours)
>Can do a 24 hour fast up to 2 days per week (no more than that)
>Keep fasts no longer than 24 hours on most occasions to minimize drawbacks
>Can also use calorie shifting (days of higher calories and lower calories, in addition to overt fasts)
>Can also use time restricted (4 or 6 hours) feeding windows on some days (pairs wells with lower cal days)
>Amplify autophagy at night by drinking lots of good, filtered water (occasionally, not every day).
>Experimenting with occasional cycling of dietary fat, carbs, and protein also likely very useful— some days with higher protein or lower protein, some days with virtually no fat and lots of carbs, and some days with virtually no carbs and lots of healthy fats. (Always eating the SAME way is likely not smart!)
Getting cold is good for you (as is getting hot in saunas). Subjecting the body to very cold temperatures sets off all kinds of reparative cellular adaptions in the body that are very healthy for us. Just the process of shivering, researchers are now calling a form of exercise. In fact, a new studied conducted by NIH researchers found that shivering releases a healthy hormone called irisin, which is a myokine (cytokine produced by the muscles) which reversed diet induced obesity and diabetes by stimulating thermogenesis in studies on rodents.
Cold exposure has many other health benefits as well such as:
• Helps us to manufacture more brown fat and burn up white adipose tissue.
• Enhances insulin sensitivity
• Improves metabolism
• Improves hormonal expression
This list could go on and on. Cold hormesis therapy has a multitude of benefits.
How to bring cold therapy- the igloo spa, as I call it in the Energy Blueprint—into the home?
– Try cold showers—they’re really not as bad as you might think. To make them most effective, gradually work your way up to a cold shower in the morning. It might sound hard, but you WILL be able to do this.
– Also, try sleeping with the window open in the winter time, as long as temperatures aren’t so frigid they endanger your health or you risk frostbite, of course, you should sleep with adequate covers!
Biomarkers of Resilience: Measuring Our Adaptability to Stress
So how do and will scientists measure resilience? How can you?
Well, the immune cell assay response is yielding good results (see discussion of Dabhar’s work above) and also something important called HRV – heart rate variability (HRV).
While it might be difficult for you to experiment with improving your resilience, and measuring how quickly your immune cells rush in to exert protective mechanisms in the body, you can measure your own HRV.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about HRV in the future, so let me explain this well.
Heart Rate Variability refers to the variability of time between each beat of your heart. Our heart beat speeds of course, in times of fear, stress, panic, and we’re excited or aroused, and slows when we are calm, but never the less, there should be some variability between those heart beats. They are not, like a metronome, perfectly and rhythmically spaced, although they may sound that way.
In fact, if your heart beats like a metronome, with equal intervals in between beats, then you’d have a super low HRV, and this would be a sign of low resilience, low health, and susceptibility to aging and disease.
A high HRV indicates that your parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest phase of your recovery to stress is in good health. This means, you bounce back from stress speedily and recover well.
A low HRV indicates dominance of the sympathetic response, the fight or flight side of the nervous system which is strongly associated with chronic stress – the bad spectrum of stress that we want to avoid such as overtraining.
Low HRV is indicative that we are in a state of chronic stress- that we aren’t recovering from stress as efficiently as we could or that we are staying constantly stressed to the point our parasympathetic nerve system has no time to whisk in and do its “resting” jobs of healing you and gathering nutrients from your food, and initiating reparative mechanisms in the body.
Cardiologists use HRV to track the health and recovery of their patients, because HRV is a predictive indicator of overall heart health, risk of heart attack, and other cardiac events.
Overall, low HRV has been associated with
• Fatty liver
• Obesity and belly fat
• Insulin resilience and diabetes
• and a higher risk of coronary heart disease.
While a high HRV is associated with
• slower aging and enhanced longevity
• enhanced insulin sensitivity and reduced risk of diabetes
• lowing blood markers of inflammation, such as high sensitivity C-reactive proteins
• adaptability and resilience.,,
Why Track Your Own HRV?
Tracking your own HRV is a great way to measure how you’re growing in resilience through healthy behaviors like hormesis and exercise. You can use several apps today which help you calculate your HRV or buy a handy HRV monitor.
By regularly tracking your HRV, you can:
• Decide what exercise to perform that day, or if you need a day off
• Get real-time feedback on what improves or diminishes your HRV
• Be alert to excess stress, including overtraining
• Use Hormesis to raise HRV and see what best works for you. Tracking our improving HRV will let you know beneficial things are happening in the body and encourage you to keep up the good work.
Meanwhile, you’ll be becoming resilient to virtually every stressor in your life, enabling you to avoid debilitating disease and strengthen everything about yourself from willpower to your mindset to your immune system.