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5 forms of hormesis to improve your health

Our body is continuously exposed to stress factors: air pollution, fast food, cold, muscle damage during exercise, and so on. You definitely want to avoid some stress factors such as toxic substances and heavy metals. Any amount of exposure to lead, cadmium, and mercury is harmful to the body. 

But other stress factors, such as strength training, provide a stress stimulus in the short term that actually makes you stronger in the long term: we call this a hormonal stimulus. However, this principle does not only apply to sports. Discover 5 other forms of hormesis to optimize your health.

What is a Hormetic Stimulus?

Hormesis is therefore the principle whereby you administer a stimulus or stressor, which offers a protective effect in small quantities. The art of administering this hormonal stimulus is finding the right dose. If you administer too little of the stressor, no effect is observable, if you administer too high a dose of a certain stimulus it has a negative effect or in some cases can even lead to death!

The favorable or unfavorable outcome of the application of the stimulus is therefore strongly dose-dependent. This is in contrast to other stress stimuli such as exposure to heavy metals, where any amount has a negative effect on your health. 

In the latter case we speak of a linear relationship: small amounts are a little harmful, large amounts are very harmful, but in any case there is no beneficial effect.


5 forms of hormesis to improve your health

The hormesis gene

A hormonal stimulus such as strength training has a clear effect on your muscles. By regularly lifting heavy weights you become stronger. And cold training ensures that you can tolerate the cold better in the future. The positive effect is therefore very specifically related to the hormonal stimulus that you have administered.

But in addition to this specific outcome, hormonal stimuli also have a common effect on a specific gene: the NRF2 gene. This is a kind of general health switch that is activated with any type of hormesis.

Hormetic stimuli via the NRF2 transcription factor not only have a specific “local” effect, but also a general health effect on your entire body. Hormetic stimuli via NRF2 have a positive influence on your detoxification system, your energy metabolism, cell repair mechanisms and anti-oxidant response.

5 forms of hormesis

The more often you apply hormonal stimuli to your body in a smart way, the better. Ideally, you also combine different stimuli with each other, this has a reinforcing effect. But if this is all new to you, just start with one of the 5 forms of hormesis that appeals to you the most.

  1. Short-term cold

Humans are warm-blooded. A constant body temperature is vital for all our body processes. A very cold environment is therefore very "dangerous" if we were not able to withstand it. Fortunately, your body has devised all kinds of mechanisms to warm itself: the distribution of blood in your body, increasing your cell metabolism and movement.

If you always dress warmly and set the heating to 21 degrees, you will always be pleasantly warm in the short term, but in the longer term, your body is no longer able to efficiently produce heat.

Short-term exposure to cold, such as cold showers and ice baths, speeds up your cell metabolism and ensures a conversion from white fat to brown fat. White fat mainly serves as a storage space for energy, and brown fat mainly serves as fuel for the production of heat.

  1. Heat and sauna

The whole mechanism to maintain your body temperature also works in the opposite direction, of course. To prevent overheating, your body will expand your blood vessels and produce sweat.

But in addition to this specific protection against heat, so-called heat shock proteins are also produced. These proteins not only arm you against future heat but may even protect you against atrial fibrillation. They could also induce the immune regulatory response and play a role in protecting against allergic diseases.

  1. Hypoxia

A lack of oxygen is, of course, fatal. And an efficient oxygen supply is essential for optimal health and good energy. By occasionally exposing your body to oxygen deficiency for a very short time, it will prepare itself to cope better with low amounts of oxygen.

Certain specific breathing exercises in which you give your body a little less oxygen ensure, among other things, the production of natural EPO (erythropoietin). This is a protein that ensures the production of more blood cells. It is best to do these exercises under expert supervision.

  1. HIIT training

Sports should of course not be missing. It is the most well-known hormonal stimulus. Working up a sweat in the gym will make you stronger and fitter, provided you have a good recovery.

It is a good example of hormesis where it is clear that too small an amount of stress has no effect. Walking for 10 minutes once a week or doing the same exercise over and over at the same intensity has little added value. Lifting too heavy weights too quickly, on the other hand, leads to injuries .

The art of an athlete is to find a stimulus that is intense enough to do mild damage to the body, but still light enough to recover from it and become stronger. Whoever understands these principles and feels his or her body well, will achieve the most results.

Any form of movement can serve as hormesis, but strength training and HIIT are good examples of short, powerful stimuli.

  1. Intermittent fasting and hormesis

Food, or the lack of food, can also be used as hormesis. By not eating for a while, such as with intermittent fasting, your body will protect itself from starvation. For example, the body will become better at burning fat reserves and not wasting unnecessary energy on cells that do not function optimally. So your fat metabolism improves and your immune system clears out malfunctioning cells.

Hormetic stimuli have always been part of our lifestyle throughout history. We used to have no choice and were constantly exposed to hunger, cold and intense exercise. By administering these stimuli back in the right dose, we can restore our health and better arm ourselves against the challenges of the future.

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