Hormesis is defined as a biological response to certain stressors that usually elicit a favorable response with small amounts of exposure to the stress. Examples of Hormetic Stressors are saunas, fasting, ice baths, meditation, sweating in the sun, breathing exercises, walking, lifting heavy-weight, and challenging intellectual tasks. All of these activities provide a certain level of stress on our body, We don’t usually think of these examples as “stressors,” but in a technical sense, they are. All of these things challenge your body’s mental and or physical capacity. There is a difference between good stress and bad stress and with good stress, our bodies can bounce back stronger than they were before.
Let’s take one of these stressors and use it as a bigger example. Like weight lifting. Starting out as a beginner, maybe you can squat 50 lbs. If you were working with a trainer, maybe they have you do 5 sets of 8 squats. Weight lifting damages your muscles and increases oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Your body is exposed to low and manageable levels of muscle injury, but at the same time, training stimulates anabolic hormones like growth and testosterone. When your body heals naturally it builds up new muscle fiber and newly repaired tissue. There is an increase in oxidative stress which will lower levels of inflammation in your body in the long run.
Getting adequate sleep will help facilitate the repair process by using protein from what you eat. Carbohydrates will help fuel you for your next workout. The next time you workout, you might be able to increase your reps, like instead of 5 rounds, you do 6. Or maybe you can do 5 sets with 55 lbs. Or better yet, 6 reps with 55 lbs. Either way, the end result is your body becomes stronger and your work capacity improves. This is just one example of a hormetic stressor and how it can have a positive outcome on your body over time. Our bodies are meant to endure exposure to “good” stress and there is plenty of evidence to support that exposure to hormetic stressors provides a lot of benefits to our overall health.