Your eyes are glued to the screen… Your heart starts pounding and you get that giddy, alert, excited feeling. As you watch the thriller movie unfold, your body is actually responding like it does to any threat.
It’s called your stress response.
And despite what you may hear, this stressful moment can be actually good for you.
Now to be clear, stress can hurt your health if it persists over the long-term. This kind of ongoing pressure – called chronic stress – can destroy your health. But if it’s short-term, stress is actually pretty good medicine. While long-term stress can deplete your immune health, short term stress – like giving a speech or taking a test – actually boosts your immune system health. And it brings you some other health benefits as well.
Scientists call this phenomenon hormesis from the Greek word for “to urge forward” or “to excite”. Essentially hormesis means “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
German pharmacologist Hugo Schultz originally coined this term when he exposed yeast to small doses of disinfectants and noticed surprising results… the yeast grew. Further toxicology research revealed similar results – that small doses of some lethal toxins actually promoted growth or strengthened organisms.
While use of the term “hormesis” started in the realm of toxicology, it’s since been extended to other discussions on health. Here are a few examples of how you can put hormesis to work for you:
Make Your Body Strong With Tough Love
Exercise builds stronger muscles, a sturdier heart and better lung capacity. We accept this as almost self-evident.
But when you start to ask why, you can see hormesis at work.
The first time you go for 2-mile run, for example, it’s hard. Your legs get tired, your heart’s pounding and you run out of breath.
However, as you go running more and more, this changes. You can go farther before your legs hurt. Your breathing becomes less labored. And when you take your pulse your heart rate hasn’t climbed as high.
See, every time you run you actually damage your muscles at the microscopic level. Your body then repairs these tiny muscle tears making your muscles stronger. Similarly, the stress you put your lungs and heart under pushes them to increase capacity.
Every time you put your body through the stress of exercising, your body gets the message from you that it better increase its capacity to run.
If you had kept this kind of pressure up indefinitely, you’d probably collapse. However, when you give your body just a dose of this strain, it’s able to use the rest time to build new muscle, lung and heart tissue and upgrade your metabolism.
Taxing Your Body Can Reduce Stress
In fact, the stress of exercising is so good at helping you upgrade your body, it seems to help your body contend with stress itself better.
Research conducted at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, divided college students into 2 groups. One group hopped on an exercise bike for 15 minutes while the other group rested quietly. The researcher assessed their level of anxiety both before and after the 15 minute time period. Then both groups were shown grisly photographs that invoked the stress response. The researchers measured their stress levels again.
Both exercising and quiet rest helped reduce the participants’ level of stress initially. But exercising was the only activity that helped keep the participants’ stress response down after viewing the photographs.
To sum it up, simply by putting some extra pressure on your body by exercising, you can minimize your reaction to a tough situation later on.
Brain Strain Boosts Brain Health
Do a little research on how to prevent dementia and you’ll soon come across suggestions like learn a language, take up a new hobby, use the opposite hand when you brush your teeth… Doing challenging brain games like Sudoko have been linked to better brain health as you get older.
Why do these activities help? Because they tax your brain. They challenge it, requiring it to stretch and grow.
Two interesting studies on the onset of Alzheimer’s disease highlight this. Researchers found that people who were bilingual and had Alzheimer’s displayed a phenomenally slower rate of decline than people who only spoke one language.
As researchers explained, it seems that the challenge of switching back and forth between languages used parts of the brain single-language speakers don’t use. This challenging lingual feat pushed the development of new neural pathways and better concentration skills than speaking only one language did.
Furthermore, research has also shown that small doses of acute stress seem to provoke the brain to produce special chaperone molecules that protect the brain from damage.
Put Hormesis To Work In Your Favor
So don’t get stressed out about eliminating all of the hassles in your life. As you know now, some of it’s good for you. With strategic choices, you can preserve the good stress and get rid of the chronic destructive kind.
And as a result enjoy a stronger body, sharper mind and an increased capacity to get the most out of life.
Research has shown that this good stress may help you grow new nerve cells, reverse brain dysfunction, strengthen your heart and lung, and coach your immune system for better response.
The key is to maximize the power of hormesis by being strategic in how you take on stress:
- Break down challenges to manageable doses.
- Make sure you get plenty of rest so your body can recuperate, rebuild and get stronger.
- Nourish your body with good nutrition so it can respond to the toll on your body. I particularly recommend supplementing with strategic nutrition for stress like chlorella and eleuthero.
Bottom line, don’t get rid of stress completely. In moderate amounts, it’s good for you.
Good stress tells your body to adjust, adapt, grow stronger and get smarter.