Stress is bad for your health, right? Not so fast! In the right doses, certain types of stress — like the kind you feel when you take a quick dip in cold water — can actually benefit your health.
This article will explain what you need to know about hormetic stress, your body’s healthy stress response. Keep reading to learn how hormetic stress could benefit your health and how you could tap into this healthy stress response.
What Is Hormetic Stress?
As the old saying goes, “the dose makes the poison.” Too much of certain substances could have harmful effects, but at lower doses, those same substances could be beneficial. That’s what hormesis is all about. It’s the area of research that studies the potential health benefits of exposure to small doses of certain stressors. These stressors could include things like cold exposure, heat exposure, challenging exercise, or dietary restrictions.
Hormetic stress is the ideal level of exposure to stressors, explains a paper published in the journal Aging Research Reviews. Underexposure to stress could leave your body unchallenged, while overexposure could lead to health problems. Hormetic stress is that “sweet spot” where stress could be beneficial.
What Are the Benefits of Hormetic Stress?
Exposure to hormetic stress could help boost your body’s functioning and help you build tolerance to greater stresses, according to the book Dopamine Nation, authored by a Stanford University psychiatrist. This phenomenon has been observed in many studies. For example, the author describes a study of heat exposure in worms: Heat exposure not only increased the animals’ tolerance for heat, but it helped them live 25% longer than unexposed worms.
Animal studies have also shown potential health benefits of mild dietary stresses (such as calorie restriction or intermittent fasting), according to a review published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. This type of hormetic stress may help prevent or lessen the severity of many conditions, including allergies, autoimmune diseases, and coronary heart disease.
The benefits of hormetic stress aren’t limited to animals. For example, the heat stress from sauna use has been linked to increased lifespans, according to a review published in Experimental Gerontology. People who use saunas may have a lower risk of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Hormetic stress doesn’t have to be physical in nature. Cognitive tasks that are pleasantly frustrating may activate a hormetic response. A paper published in Frontiers in Medicine reported that older adults who played online video games enjoyed a number of health benefits, including improved memory, balance, and muscle strength.
How Is Hormetic Stress Different Than Chronic Stress?
While hormetic stress may offer health benefits, the same isn’t true for chronic stress. The harms of chronic stress — the type of stress you feel from ongoing financial hardships or unsustainable working conditions — are well established.
When your body encounters a source of stress, it releases a flood of hormones that help you react to the threat. With short-term sources of stress such as cold water immersion, these hormones can boost your energy supplies and help your body repair its tissues. But chronic and long-term stressors that expose you to excess hormones could disrupt your body’s processes and put you at risk of many health problems, from anxiety and depression to heart disease and digestive problems.
How Do You Activate Hormetic Stress?
There are many ways you could activate your body’s hormetic stress response. Some methods include:
- Cold exposure. Taking a dip in cold water could help you activate hormetic stress response. A purpose-built cold therapy tool like Ice Barrel makes it easy to take a cold plunge in the comfort of your own home.
- Heat exposure. Like cold, hot temperatures could trigger hormetic stress. Sitting in a sauna could help you tap the benefits of mild heat stress.
- Dietary restriction. Reducing the amount or frequency of meals could trigger mild dietary stress. For example, you might consider trying an eating pattern like intermittent fasting.
- Exercise. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise is another way to take advantage of the hormetic stress response, explains a paper in Aging Research Reviews. Take part in activities that challenge your body.
- Challenging cognitive activities. Mental activities that push you to the edge of your comfort zone could also be beneficial. For example, you might try online video games, crossword puzzles, or strategy games like chess.
What Is Cold Water Hormesis?
Cold water hormesis is the type of hormetic stress that’s activated when you physiologically shock your body with cold water. To activate this hormetic stressor, you might choose to take cold showers, swim in cold water, or take a refreshing plunge in an ice bath.
However you choose to expose yourself to cold water hormesis, there are many potential health benefits of a cold shock. Scientific research has shown that cold therapy could help:
- Reduce systemic inflammation.
- Improve anxiety and depression symptoms.
- Reduce stress and encourage relaxation.
Enjoy Cold Water Hormesis With an Ice Bath
If you like the way you feel after taking a cold shower, it’s time to upgrade your routine with an ice bath. The Ice Barrel makes regular cold plunges easy and convenient. Simply fill the barrel with water and ice and take a plunge to enjoy cold water hormesis.
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