Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Hormesis: The Good Stress

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or was it Conan the Barbarian? Either way, there is certainly some truth to the statement. One such way actually involves stress. Now, with good reason, we are constantly warned about the dangers of stress, both physical and psychological. Stress has been shown to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. However, the intent of this post is not to warn you about the dangers of stress – you are probably already well aware of them. Rather, we’d like to focus on a very particular kind of stress – a good stress – called hormesis.

Whereas the chronic stress from our jobs, lack of sleep, bills, antagonistic relationships, poor diet, etc. will break you down, certain low-level stressors can actually make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more. Some of these hormetic stressors are probably already very familiar to you, including such staples as exercise, sunlight, fasting, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and even certain foods. The key to hormetic stress is that it needs to come in small(er) amounts. For example, plunging into arctic water for a long period of time will ultimately probably kill you. But a cold bath or shower can actually stimulate your immune system, making you healthier. Similarly, exposure to extreme heat for a prolonged period can lead to dehydration and other issues, whereas a 20 minute sauna session can produce loads of beneficial effects, physical and mental. For a more detailed and scientific analysis of this, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s article, Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis.

weightsAnother very familiar example of hormetic stress is exercise, in particular strength training. A challenging weights workout increases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Done in the right amount, ie not over-training, this provides a relatively low and manageable dose of muscle injury. Your body responds to this microtrauma by building new muscle fibres as well as repairing the slightly-damaged ones. Regular exercise improves your body’s ability to rebuild, making you stronger and healthier. But the key to this is not overdoing it, and ensuring proper rest and recovery between workouts. If recovery isn’t adequate, the hormetic stress becomes chronic stress and the body can’t cope with the damage. This is why so many people who insist on training super-hard too frequently often wind up feeling ‘broken.’

Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is another hormetic stressor. Skipping meals provokes a great hormetic stress response. Additionally, fasting triggers autophagy, a process in which cells clean themselves up, getting rid of damaged or junk cells that could potentially become cancerous. Again, though, this needs to be approached correctly, as calorie deprivation combined with gruelling exercise, sleep deprivation or other chronic stress can do more harm than good. So once again, don’t over do it! Notice a trend? Dr. Jason Fung is one of the world’s foremost experts on fasting. You can check out interviews with him here and here. Even better, buy his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. We’ve read it, and highly recommend it.

Certain foods also promote hormesis. You’ve almost certainly heard about foods rich in antioxidants. Well, antioxidants are actually hormetic stressors, which is why they are so good for you. Colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bitter foods, tend to be high in antioxidants, so having a good amount of these types of foods in your diet can be very beneficial. Check out this article on antioxidants for more info. Some of the most popular “superfoods” – blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, red wine, green tea, broccoli –  contain hormetic compounds that activate adaptive stress response pathways, improving our health. But of course, moderation is still key. You certainly don’t want to go on an ‘all chocolate and wine’ diet, no matter how appealing that may sound.

Believe it or not, sunlight is even a hormetic stressor. Getting regular, small amounts of sun exposure can help reduce skin cancer and improve vitamin D levels. But again, overdoing it can have the opposite effect, so don’t get sunburnt!

In conclusion, it’s critical to note the difference between chronic stress and hormetic stress. In almost all instances, too much of a good thing can have the opposite of the desired effect. Too often we push ourselves too hard – the ‘just do it!’ and ‘no pain, no gain!’ mentality. Conversely, not having enough hormetic stressors does not enable us to develop as we should. Here at Backs Etc., we believe that balance is the key to health, fitness, and happiness, so do challenge yourself, but do it wisely.

 

Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day

Are you always rushing around? Take a few moments to meditate, breathe or just be alone with your own thoughts. By not giving ourselves the minutes — or hours — free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us, says physicist and writer Alan Lightman.

 

Read the full article, Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day.

 

 

 

 

How to Make Diseases Disappear

Can you actually make a disease disappear? Dr. Rangan Chatterjee thinks you can, and describes how in this TEDx Talk. Often referred to as the doctor of the future, Rangan is changing the way that we look at illness and how medicine will be practiced in years to come. He highlighted his methods in the BBC TV show, Doctor In The House, gaining him much acclaim from patients, his contemporaries, and the media.

We’re big fans of Chatterjee’s approach, and highly recommend his book, The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life.

 

Why the pursuit of pleasure is making us sad

This is a fascinating interview with Dr. Robert Lustig on the difference between happiness and pleasure, and how the two are driven by different chemicals – Dopamine and Seratonin. In a nutshell, Dopamine governs pleasure, while serotonin governs happiness – and the two do not overlap, says Lustig. Pleasure is short-lived, visceral, can be had alone and can be brought about by substances or behaviours. Happiness is long-lived, ethereal, usually social and cannot be had from substances or behaviours.

Check out the full article, Why the pursuit of pleasure is making us sad.

The Latest Science on What Meditation Can and Can’t Do

meditationHere is an interesting article on what meditation can and can’t do. It is becoming very popular for good reason. We try to meditate for 10-30 minutes every day, but it is not a universal panacea. Recently we have been using the Insight Timer App, which has loads of guided meditations of varying lengths and subjects for those of you who need a bit of help to get started.

 

Read the full article, From States to Traits: the Latest Science on What Meditation Can and Can’t Do

Why Saunas Can Build Muscle, Boost Endurance, and Increase Strength

Here at Backs Etc., we’re obsessed with saunas. But not just for the calming benefits a nice sauna session gives us. There are also a number of ways in which regular sauna sessions can help us physically, as well as mentally. These include boosting strength and endurance and even building muscle.

 

Read the full article, Why Saunas Can Build Muscle, Boost Endurance, and Increase Strength

Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains

HikingWe at Backs Etc. love hiking! We find getting out in nature and getting from place to place under our own natural power immensely satisfying and cathartic. And now it seems that more and more doctors are actually writing ‘nature prescriptions’ or recommending ‘ecotherapy’ to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels, and to curb depression. Looks like it’s good for body, mind and soul, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and hit the trails!

 

Read the Full article, ‘Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains’

The Whys and Hows of Sleep

Sleeping woman

If you want to enjoy a long, healthy, energetic and productive life, it is pretty much agreed that you need to work on four basic areas: nutrition, exercise, stress and sleep.  In this post, I’m going to focus on sleep as it is something that many people (and I include myself here) struggle with.  

Why is Sleep so Important?

There is a very rare condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) whereby sleep becomes impossible, it leads to panic attacks, hallucinations and eventually death, with no known cure.  Thus this shows that sleep is essential to stay healthy. Recent research has found the existence of the glymphatic system which drains metabolic waste products from the brain via the cerebrospinal fluid (including those pesky amyloid plaques that build up during the progression of dementia).  This system only works when we are in deep sleep, making regular good sleep essential for maintaining brain health, aside from other body maintenance and repair processes that occur mostly whilst we are asleep.  It has also been shown that good sleep is essential for memory formation and that mood and willpower problems are exacerbated by a lack of sleep.

Why do we have so much trouble with sleep?

Until recently, our sleep cycles were driven by circadian rhythms with the rising and setting of the sun driving the release of hormones and brain wave patterns.  Now the abundance of electric lights and digital stimulation after dark, as well as jet lag and shiftwork has disrupted this primal cycle. Most people find that when they go camping, with light being limited to torches and the campfire, they start to sleep much better, especially if they have a comfortable airbed

What can we do about this?

The key is to support your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone which is triggered by darkness, and is suppressed by light – particularly bright white light at night – including these new energy efficient bright LED street lights that are replacing many of the old yellow ones. So here are a few tips which I try to implement most days to support melatonin production and sleep cycles:

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Your brain has a ‘delete’ button – Here’s how to use it

brainIn this concise article, the author describes the importance of good sleep and mindfulness in ‘cleaning’ your brain to build and strengthen positive neural connections. Your brain gets really good at whatever it does all the time, so you need to devote time to the things you want to be good at, whether that is studying for exams or playing golf.  If you constantly think negative and anxious thoughts your brain will get much ‘better’ at being anxious. Sleep is when the brain embeds the pathways that you are forming during the day, so without good sleep, all the practice and studying will not be fully effective.

Read the Full article, ‘Your brain has a ‘delete’ button – Here’s how to use it’