The startling truth gleaned from recent studies is that some forms of stress are very good for us. It appears that Nietzsche was right when he said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Our biggest problem is a lack of stress. However, the type and quality of stress we are under defines whether it will help or hurt us.
Human beings evolved over millennia in a world that bears little resemblance to the one we inhabit today. Food shortages and changes in temperature were common as our species evolved, and daily physical exercise was a given. Today, most of us have an abundance of food that we eat in climate-controlled environments. We can limit our movement from bed to the refrigerator, and onto the lounge chair.
This modern utopia created in the name of progress has spawned an explosion of health problems. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are the rewards of our cushy lifestyle. We have managed to remove the stressors that ensured optimal health.
On a practical level, several stressors have been identified that can help you live a better life today. These are specific and short in duration rather than the chronic, all-encompassing stressors associated with negative outcomes.
The best way to extend an animal’s lifespan (including that of humans) is by calorie restriction. Reduce food intake, and not only does lifespan lengthen, but it triggers a cellular response that increases resistance to chronic diseases and inhibits the aging process. One way this works is by reducing inflammation. Science has found that inflammation accompanies the early stages of many chronic conditions.
The inflammation induced by exercise would seem to indicate that it’s better to be sedentary. But in spite of this short-term effect, the more enduring result of exercise is a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Interestingly, when you take the antioxidants vitamin E and C before a workout, the beneficial effects go away. The body needs mild irritation caused by exercise to derive therapeutic benefits.
Add Good Stress
Make sure your doctor approves any changes before you switch up your routine. There are several ways to kick-start your mitochondria. Try one or several to find out what works for you.
- Decrease the number of calories you consume. Studies show that stretching out the time you don’t eat can be helpful. Instead of breakfast at 7 a.m. and a late-night snack, you could try eating dinner at 6 p.m. and then fasting until breakfast.
- Put more vegetables and fruit in your diet. Organic produce is preferred for low pesticide levels, and look for non-GMO produce.
- Do something physical every day. Hunter-gatherers traveled long periods at a slow pace, interspersed with short intervals of intense exertion. Mimic this stressor with exercise, such as a long walk with sprint intervals. Also, take your vitamins any time except before you exercise.
- Turn down the heat, or run some cold water at the beginning or end of your shower.
- Spend time outdoors no matter the season.