From the wise words of Kanye West, “N-n-now that that don't kill me, Can only make me stronger.”
Kanye’s lyrical adage nearly defines our word of the day: Hormesis. Hormesis is essentially favorable results that occur from small amounts of stress to an organism as opposed to a negative effect that occurs from large amounts of stress to an organism.
Think of hormesis as timeout versus solitary confinement. A small amount of alone time to settle down, collect your thoughts, and accept your wrong doings will help you handle a similar situation better in the future. Now, solitary confinement may cause mental illness, develop headaches, digestive issues, and/or heart palpitations. 
A little stress - good. A lot of stress - harmful.
The same effect occurs in plants called xenohormesis where a little stress strengthens the plant and increases its phytonutrients, but too much stress kills the plant. Another reason why our food supply does not contain the nutrients it once did is a result of the plant not experiencing xenohormesis during its growing cycle. We raise plants in controlled environments, control the moisture with irrigation, and control the microbial stress with chemicals.
We sit behind a desk several hours on end, live in temperature controlled environments nearly 24/7, and never miss a meal. Our stress comes in chronic waves that negatively impact our bodies. We rarely experience microdosing of stress that actually benefits our health.
Learning to leverage hormesis will ultimately m-m-make you stronger! If anything, we hope you have Kanye West’s song “Stronger” playing in your head the rest of the day!
Hormesis, I’ve Never Heard of Her!
The concept of hormesis is gaining popularity in the science of longevity. Hormesis occurs as a result of changing up your day and experience. By momentarily taking you out of your comfort zone, your body must adapt to this new exposure.
Our bodies are designed to adapt to these small but mighty hormetic stressors. The term “hormetic stressor” comes from hormesis, a process by which your body and cells respond, recover, and improve after mild stress.
Much like getting exposed to a virus, the body adapts and creates antibodies to attack that same virus in the future. During exercise, you create small tears in your muscle fibers. The body repairs the muscle and adds more to handle the stress you just endured.
Benefits of Hormesis
Of course, as an athlete, as we’ve just described, greatly benefits from hormesis during training. If all you performed was the same long, slow run, you certainly will not get faster, stronger, and improve your endurance.
I recall a trainer handing me a heavier kettlebell than I normally used during a workout, and I was like, “WTH! Are you trying to kill me?!?” She looked at me and said, “You’ll be fine. It’s time.” I struggled a bit during that first workout with a heavier kettlebell, but I clearly remember flying through the next workout at that same weight with ease.
My body experienced something new that threw me out of my homeostasis, my “norm,” and I came back to the gym with improved strength and resiliency as a result.
This may seem like an elementary concept as we all know that you can change up your workout routine to make you stronger and faster, but how many of you know that you can use this same phenomena to improve your longevity, mental health, and many other aspects of your life?
Well, it can be done, people!
The benefits of hormesis include but definitely not limited to the following:
Improved mental health
Improved cellular resiliency
Improved brain function and agility
Reduced inflammatory response
Improved pain tolerance
Improved your detox efficiency
Repair damaged tissue faster
Resilience against oxidative stress
Collagen repair and production
A small amount of intentional discomfort literally translates into longer, healthier and happier lives!
6 Easy Ways to Experience Hormesis Benefits
Besides hormesis making you stronger, smarter, happier, and more resilient, you may implement hormesis at little to no cost. It typically costs you only temporary discomfort. The following dives into 6 easy ways you may capture the benefits of hormesis without breaking the bank..
Cold Therapy: Also known as cryotherapy , cold therapy may involve anything from a plunge in a cold body of water including a bathtub to taking a cold shower. Even going outside in the winter for those of us fortunate enough to experience all four seasons. This one, I struggle embracing because the winter and I have this hate-hate relationship. However, it’s hard to deny the benefits such as improving your immune system, improving liver detoxification, metabolizing fat, and enhancing cellular resiliency. In addition, cold therapy hormesis includes improved sleep and mental health.
Heat Therapy: Heat exposure in the way of sitting in a sauna or experiencing sun exposure on hot days, in moderation, also provides its unique set of hormetic benefits. These benefits include an improved immune system, new neural pathways in the brain, and activates the repair function of the body particularly for the skin.
Fasting: Our bodies are genetically made to handle periods of fasting, which is to say restricted times without eating, but in today’s society, the majority of the population never misses a meal. We often overindulge versus experience deprivation. Therefore, fasting and even intermittent fasting opposes our daily comforts. Fasting benefits include enhanced cellular repair, burned fat, and improved metabolic adaptability.
Exercise: While bouts of exercise make us weaker momentarily, once we recover, our bodies gain strength and resiliency. Not only do we mentally develop more grit, our body breaks down slightly and rebuilds stronger. Please note that pushing your body to new limits may trigger a hormetic response, your body also requires sleep and proper recovery time so as to not swing the pendulum the other way.
Oxygen Deprivation: By this, we do not mean playing the “pass out game.” Spending time hiking in high altitude, utilizing altitude tents, and blood flow restriction training lightly stresses neurons. In turn, the neurons produce new mitochondria, and your body increases its red blood cells and capillaries.
Microbes/Viruses: We at Apogee Wellness are not advocating for you all to start licking doorknobs! We do want you to understand that microbes and viruses and other toxins in your terrain allow the body the opportunity to identify and adapt to these toxins. However, too many toxins will overload your system, break it down, and create systemic issues. Microbes and viruses train both our humoral and innate immune system for more severe viruses that may arise in the future. In addition, we strive to obtain a diverse terrain, so parasites, mold, yeast, and bacteria, in balanced quantities, is actually a good thing!
While utilizing the powerful ability of our bodies to adapt to hormetic stressors, remember that chronic stress will not yield the same results. Chronic stress such as overtraining, sustaining a poor diet, living in an overly moldy environment, and ongoing financial hardships weaken the immune system and lead to a cascade of systemic issues.
When your body encounters a source of stress, it releases a flood of hormones that help you react to the threat. With microdoses of stress such as brief cold water immersions, hormones boost your energy supplies and help your body repair tissues. However, chronic, long-term stressors expose you to excess hormones, which disrupts your body’s processes and enhances your risk of many health problems.
Dr. Emilea and Dr. Chris at Apogee Wellness utilizes hormetic stressors often to improve their athletic performance, cognitive function, detox abilities, and hopefully add more years to their life and life to their years! These functional medicine doctors hope to enlighten you as to the easy ways to improve your life while decreasing the chronic stress often identified as the root cause of many issues seen in their practice.
It’s February in Kansas, so who is ready to take a dip in a cold lake? Yeah, me neither! I will stick to the cold showers, saunas, and intermittent fasting!