[ Hormesis – what is it || Hormesis – how it works || Hormesis and longevity || Brain hormesis strategies – engaging evolution at a personal level || The ultimate anti ageing strategy || Thinking and lifespan – hormesis thinking for health || Hormesis and psychedelic light therapy ]
Thinking and lifespan are connected in an unusual way. It turns out that stress may not kill you.., it may just be the fountain of youth! It’s comfort that is more likely to kill you. Thinking purposely can make you live longer and healthier. Brain hormesis and the mind builds on the exciting world of life extension and healthy living. Hormesis, is the term used for the effect stress has on causing positive adaption to the environment.
As science and medicine have extended our physical lives, the quality of that life has become more important. We were not designed by evolution to live this long by making our lives more comfortable. A long lifespan and healthy living as we age rely on using stress and stressors to our advantage. We need to maintain cognitive function to keep up with our physical lifespan.
When we talk about stress in this context, we are referring to anything that causes the body and mind to work and expend energy beyond a normal baseline. Before we get to thinking and lifespan, lets learn what hormesis is.
Hormesis – what is it
In the fields of biology, medicine and science.., hormesis is defined as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to moderate and (usually) intermittent stress. The result, is that cells increase their production of protective and restorative proteins and growth hormones. All of which promote health long term. Brain hormesis and body hormesis are almost inseparable. But it’s useful to make some distinctions. Lifespan and thinking are also connected in a way that makes brain hormesis even more interesting. A small amount of stress is far better for us than none at all. The key of course is that this has an element of control to it. Constant stress without relief and repair will not help you at all.
Poison or medicine
There’s a saying in chemistry that ‘The dose creates the poison’. Too much can kill you.., but a small amount can improve strength and well-being. Roman King Mithridates, is said to have made himself immune to poison by slowly increasing the dose he ingested. Ironically, when his kingdom was later invaded he tried to kill himself. You guessed it.., by taking all the poison he had. It didn’t work and he survived. His fate thereafter is unknown. But the principle applied to health and longevity has fascinated science for ages (pun intended).
Hormesis – how it works
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying.., “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”.
Often it is said almost in jest with a dismissive laugh. But actually, it is the truth at a deeper level than could have been imagined.
The idea that a small amount of stress can be good for you isn’t new. But the modern applications of that idea are accelerating. It turns out, that without stress the body and mind actually age faster and get unhealthy easier. If the body gets everything it needs in every moment, then in evolutionary terms once procreation age has passed, your usefulness to the species has gone. This may sound harsh but it is the truth. When the body is subjected to stress, it responds by becoming more resilient to ensure you live longer until ‘the good times’ return. This is an evolutionary system of making sure a species lives long enough to create offspring that will survive.
Hormesis and longevity
The trending science of longevity, lifespan and anti ageing is all about this effect of hormesis. IE: How do we get the body to keep repairing and strengthening itself as we get older? Age is a result of a declining ability to handle stressors and an increase in inflammation. So by creating resilience to stressors.., we age less. Literally! Hormesis has also been shown to reduce inflammation. Again a result of evolution. If times are hard, allowing inflammation to be a reason for a cell dying in favour of a more robust cell, is a luxury that cannot be afforded.
Hormesis therefore, is potentially the most important consideration for life expectancy. It’s not just about living longer though. What is a long life without health. And this is the real power of understanding brain hormesis and the purposeful use of stress. Health at any age is the goal. And it makes sense that a healthier mind and body will also last longer.
And BTW, lifespan experts believe we are about 10-20 years away from escape velocity. That is, in that period of time science and medicine will have advanced to the degree that for every year lived, another year will be added. Stem cell research and DNA modification being two of those area’s of focus. But that is another subject and no reason to abuse the body and mind you have now.
Brain hormesis strategies – engaging evolution at a personal level
Please talk to your doctor before trying any change in normal living habits of this kind. We are talking about purposely putting yourself under stress after all. And remember that anything that creates hormesis in the body will also create brain hormesis. Cognitive function and abilities benefit from physical exertion. And anything that creates brain hormesis will also positively effect the body. Body movement requires cognition or it results in injury. Some of the results of hormesis at work are obvious. Like lifting weights. Stressing the muscles causes adaption and the muscles get stronger. This makes them more resilient to the same stress next time. The key to all these methods is short bursts of stress above normal.
Exposure to extreme environments
Exposure to extremes is another form of hormetic effect. There’s a growing trend in cold exposure like taking ice baths or cold showers. Interestingly, research is starting to show that you may not need to go that far. Just turning down the temperature in your house a bit may be enough. Or at the other end of the scale heat exposure like in a sauna. Excess heat will again cause a period of stress that triggers adaption. Hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood), is another extreme that can cause hormesis. Again short bursts of this is what is key. An example of this would be certain methods of breathing and breath holding. Exercise of course is another. Especially load bearing exercise (weights), or high intensity interval training (HIIT). Even certain foods and supplements act in a way that causes useful stress. I won’t get into the supplements that are in focus for brain hormesis and lifespan improvements. Some have great potential and some are common sense. And others are fads based on limited results that have since been put into question. Suffice to say, it’s easy to cherry pick research to support the narrative of the person or group telling the story. Something we should all have learnt by now from both recent and historic events. Do your own exploring of multiple sources of information.
On the subject of food.., that leads to…
The ultimate anti ageing strategy
Anti ageing experts will tell you one thing above all will help you live longer… EAT LESS!
This doesn’t just mean eat less in the sense of calories either. You don’t have to do that if you are not overweight. What they are talking about is fasting for periods of time. This makes the body think it needs to prepare for hard times by increasing your healthy lifespan. You could try multi day periods of fasting or you can make it simpler. The easiest way to incorporate fasting into your life is time restricted eating or intermittent fasting. This is where you only eat for a short amount of every 24 hrs. The most common, is about 8 hours or less where you can eat.., and the remaining 16 hours or more you eat nothing. In practice, the easiest way to do this is stop having breakfast. Start your eating at midday and finish by 8pm. You can still eat the same amount of calories in that time window if you like. It is actually pretty easy to do this after the first few days. And you will feel the difference in energy especially in the morning. The morning will likely become your most productive time of the day as you are not expending energy on digestion.
Brain hormesis – What to eat
Do yourself a favour and cut out or dramatically reduce sugar intake. Sugar has no place in a diet focused on health or longevity.
What to eat for health and longevity can be summarised by a Mediterranean type diet with a shift toward more plant based foods. IE: Fruit and vegetables, olive oil, some fish.., and very little red or white meat. Care must be taken when shifting to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Certain vitamins like B12 and zinc will probably need to be supplemented. There is evidence to support that eating plants that have struggled to grow, is better for hormesis. The idea being that the plants themselves create anti ageing chemicals due to stress. This has yet to be fully tested but it makes sense. And it wouldn’t be too hard to do. An occasional lack of water while growing would do it. Organic is more likely to have had some stress too from insects and slower growing. Supplementing hormones in humans has a negative correlation with lifespan. The same is likely with plants. Most of our food unfortunately is encouraged to grow fast and easy to maximise production and profit.
There’s one more way to engage the benefits of hormesis. And it’s easier than you think…
Thinking and lifespan – hormesis thinking for health
Here’s a newsflash for you. Thinking, is hormetic in nature. Thinking and lifespan are connected. In other words, just by thinking, you can stimulate the process of brain hormesis and slow down or even start to reverse the effects of ageing. Brain hormesis works best when combining thinking on purpose with the other strategies already mentioned. The large size of our brain and how much energy it uses shows how important processing information is to our survival.
The opposite of hormesis could be referred to as entropy. Entropy being the idea that left alone, most things will decline into chaos and eventually not survive. Intelligence therefore, may be the direct result of hormesis.
The paradox of intelligence is that entropy would be accelerated by the availability of unlimited energy. From the standpoint of evolution, if the brain is ‘over-fed’ with energy, it does not have to think. And this would lead to the brain losing its ability to adapt.
Hormesis, is a positive adaption response to stress. Processing information (thinking) requires energy use and is therefore a hormetic process. Because thinking, as it relates to surviving and thriving, is also an adaptation to stress. The brain is constantly being challenged by new information in our environment. Thinking actively, is the ultimate response to stressful situations.
Mental hormesis – brain hormesis and the mind
Engaging brain hormesis is actually easier than you might think.
From what we know about stress and it’s effect on hormesis, different types of thinking may be better than others. Mindfulness done correctly is a type of mental hormesis. Forced active concentration like mindfulness is better than passive mind wandering. Mindful practices promote being fully aware of everything in the present moment. This may not sound like a type of stress but it is. Remember when referring to positive stress for hormesis the definition is, work and energy use beyond a normal baseline. Active thinking requires more work and energy.
Learning to play a musical instrument would be another example. This requires active thought and focus with physical activity attached.
Body movements requiring focus are better than routine movements not requiring much attention. Again this is about focused attention compared to mind wandering. So using a treadmill at the gym may be great for fitness, but it requires little attention.
Exercise and hormesis
Any exercise that increases heart and breathing rate will engage some adaption. But exercise that has some challenge to it has been shown to be more effective. More complex activities like climbing or martial arts would be more engaging of focus also. Especially if you continue to push yourself to get better and learn more. Previous non lifespan studies have found that learning activities like Tai chi and dancing are good for stopping mental decline as we age. Hormesis tells us why. Maximising the results from mental hormesis requires some effort. Behaving and thinking for lifespan improvements is an active process. Again it must be stated that adequate time to adapt and recover must be present for the benefits of hormesis. Too much thinking in such a concentrated way may lead to the opposite effect. This is especially true where things like sleep duration and quality are reduced as a result.
Internal and external thought
Studies show that for most people, most thinking is internal self generated thought patterns. This is typical of thinking about the past and future. And this style of thinking is somewhat ‘lazy’ and unproductive as far as evolution is concerned. Although past and future thinking has it’s place in survival, it is more of a luxury than dealing with an in the moment issue. Less frequent for most people, is more externally focused task related thinking. Typically this is directed at the present moment. And this style of thinking has more to do with survival and dealing with stressful situations. The irony is that thinking about longevity creates longevity.
A balance between the two matches the idea of hormesis in modern times. High levels of time spent in non demanding thought, balanced with lower levels of time spent in more demanding thought. Demanding thought in this sense would be considered a beneficial higher stress moment.
Brain hormesis and the mind – comfort versus challenge
Our environment has become too comfortable. There is little need to do much thinking or moving to survive these days. At what cost? The cost is our health and length of life. However, to remove comfort is not the solution. For adaption to occur, relief from the stress needs to be part of the equation. For some people, the focus will need to be on strategies of dissociation and relief from habitual stressful thinking. The good news is that controlled stress on the body also benefits the mind. And controlled stress on the mind also benefits the body. Even knowing this makes certain unavoidable tasks more enjoyable. There is another benefit to the purposeful use of stress. The feeling of accomplishment afterwards. What feels good, is usually (but not always) good for you. If you’ve ever exercised hard, had a cold swim or done certain types of breathwork.., you’ll know that feeling afterwards.
Hormesis and psychedelic light therapy
Light and sound meditation is unique in the way it creates altered states of consciousness. By combining music with visual imagery, a type of psychedelic light therapy can be utilised that is profound in it’s affect. Often people let go and relax more deeply than they ever have before. The experience is incredibly engaging allowing users to enter deep trance states. This can break the chain of too much stress and allow balance to return. And by using light and sound as a drug free psychedelic experience, you may even trigger hormesis. Either alone or by combining it with other practices. By taking yourself to the edge of your comfort zone in a controlled way. And then working past that edge. In essence, learning to be in control by letting go of control. The thing that puts most people off having a psychedelic ‘trip’, is the fear of a loss of control. Ingesting a substance does not give you that control. When the control is put in your hands, you can play on that line of stress. That is one advantage of a psychedelic light experience as therapy. The benefits of which can be life changing.
Thinking, lifespan and brain hormesis summary
The overall lesson here with thinking, lifespan and brain hormesis.., is that a little stress is a good thing. And that it’s the balance of stress and relaxation that allows the body and mind to do what it was designed to do.
In summary, the difference between a long healthy life and a lack of it should be obvious.
But let me say it in terms of hormesis:
Short controlled amounts of stress will trigger your body and mind to adapt as if times are hard. This causes chemical reactions in the body and brain that extend your healthy lifespan.
The opposite is a life of too much comfort, where the body and mind act as if times are good. The result of which is no adaption taking place. And what’s left is entropy.., where the body and brain decline in function and ability.
That which doesn’t kill us, really does make us stronger.., and live longer.