Big Idea #3:
Eustress Boosts Resilience
It turns out, the old adage “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has a biochemical basis. The body is designed to deal with, learn from and adapt to, acute, low level stress—Eustress (meaning good stress). Redox systems and signaling don’t just help us maintain our health in a moment of stress, they actually switch on and off genes that make us more resilient to future stress. That’s really good news.
You’re already familiar with many of these eustressors: exercise, eating plants, sunlight, gravity, ketogenic diets, calorie restriction, fasting, plus some other less familiar practices, like cold showers, saunas, deep breathing, mild hyperventilation, and holding your breath. The challenge is figuring out how to make eustress work for you, because we’re all different and any eustressor has the potential to cross the threshold into just being more stress. An athlete’s morning jog might well trigger a couch potato’s emergency room visit. That couch potato, with six months of training and a healthy diet, might be out running marathons.
The second piece of good news is that eustressors share a common collection of resilience mechanisms—referred to as “pathways” in biology. These pathways go by names like NRF2, AMPK, FOXO, PGC-1a, and HO-1 and every day scientists are learning more about how to use them therapeutically to prevent, treat and cure the chronic diseases I listed on the first page.
The third piece of good news is that the resilience habits (eustressors) and therapies you need to prevent and reverse disease are often free or low cost and have fewer risks and side effects than their prescription alternatives. That’s because the foundation of stress resilience is 7-8 hours of high quality sleep, regular exercise, a nutrient-dense diet, and effective stress management. Like so many simple things, maintaining your health into old age is actually quite complicated, particularly when you live in an anti-health, high-stress culture that is actively undermining your efforts to stay healthy. We’re all different, have different genetics, different life experiences, our bodily systems are complex and inter-related, our body’s have different needs depending on our gender, age, occupation, life situation, and health knowledge is evolving more rapidly than the healthcare system.
If we’re going to make good use of our resilience habits, we need to be able to measure both where we started and where we are now. Fortunately, there’s a way to do just that, leveraging tests your doctor is already committed to doing!