“Flee luxury,” Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher said, “flee enfeebling good fortune, from which men’s minds grow sodden, and if nothing intervenes to remind them of the common lot, they sink, as it were, into the stupor of unending drunkenness.”
Flee luxury and good fortune. Quite the suggestion, eh?
What makes this quote even more impressive is when you consider what Seneca might’ve meant by “luxury.” He provides us with a clue: “The man who always had glazed windows to shield him from a drought, whose feet have been kept warm by hot applications renewed from time to time, whose dining halls have been tempered by hot air passing beneath the floor and circulating round the walls — this man will run great risk if he is brushed by a gentle breeze…
“The staunchest member of the body is the one that is kept in constant use… So the bodies of sailors are hardy from buffeting the sea, the hands of farmers are callous, the soldier’s muscles have the strength to hurl weapons, and the legs of a runner are nimble.
“In each, his staunchest member is the one that he has exercised.”
The Stoic philosophy, of which Seneca was deeply embedded, cherished stress and obstacles, believing them to be virtues.
Obstacles, said the Stoics, are something to embrace.
“The impediment to action advances action,” Marcus Aurelius extolled. “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
For that reason, to onlookers, the Stoics probably seemed like a bunch of nutjobs as they cheerily hopped into ice cold baths, reveled in, and even provoked, public humiliation, and purposefully starved themselves for days on end, even when they had money to buy food.
Turns out, though, they were right. At least, they were on the right path.
Research shows that moderate doses of “bad” things can have, counterintuitively, far-reaching benefits. Moreover, too little of the “bad” could be, in some cases, just as disastrous as too much of it.
“Too little stress leaves us weak and vulnerable,” Brad Lemley, today’s special guest (see below), concurs in Natural Health Solutions.
“Too much is deadly. But in the right doses, it makes us strong.”
Neuroscientist John Coates agrees. And he argues that “the stress response is such a healthy part of our lives that we should stop calling it stress at all, and call it, say, the challenge response.”
The scientific basis for Coates’ “challenge response,” is called hormesis — deriving from the word Greek word “hormo,” meaning to excite or stimulate.
And the philosophy of hormetism, a term coined by Todd Becker of the Getting Stronger blog, involves learning how to harness “this biological phenomenon in a deliberate and systematic way in order to increase strength.”
Take a look at this plot…
Hormesis dose response plot
As you can see, Becker writes, “at a low dose, the response of the ‘toxic’ or inhibitory agent actually becomes stimulatory or beneficial to the organism. Can this really be? Can something that is harmful at a high dose be good for you at a low dose? The answer, surprisingly, is yes, and not just in an isolated few cases, but across a broad range of chemicals, energy sources, and other stressful agents.”
Alcohol and caffeine, for example, are two chemicals which summon the awesome power of hormesis and can be, says Decker, “healthful at low doses, but detrimental or toxic at high levels.”
Radiation, dioxin (the defoliant and carcinogen in Agent Orange), calorie restriction, mild cold and heat shock and more. They’ve all been shown to benefit the human body in minute doses.
Now, we’re not saying you should immediately do as the Stoics did and join the Polar Bear Plunge, starve yourself… or, heaven forbid, wear cheekless chaps to the grocery store to summon some shame. (Although, the former two have shown to have benefits — in moderation. For the latter, on the other hand, the verdict is still out. Do so at your own risk.)
What we are suggesting, though, is you heed this weird wisdom of hormesis and use it wisely to improve your health, wealth and happiness.
“The goal as we age,” Ben House writes on his blog Train Adapt Evolve, “is to seek a bit of disorder. To challenge our body, mind, and soul — and not lose the ability to adapt.”
If you’re up for the Hormesis Challenge, Brad Lemley wants to help.
Today, in the featured article below, he’s going to impart to you the REAL secret to a long and healthy life.
And read on…
Why Going Against the Grain of Modern Health Advice May Be the Secret to a Long & Healthy Life
So I was at the gym, lifting. I’m 60 years old, and I hit this gym hard four times a week.
A solid hour. No rest longer than 30 seconds.
Fifteen exercises, three sets of 10 reps, hitting every major muscle group. Mix of free weights and machines. Nothing fancy.
I alternately hate and love it. But my oscillating opinion is irrelevant, because either way, I will do it. If you want to stop reading after the following two sentences, go ahead:
Thirty years of extensive research has convinced me that nothing preserves health like a program of disciplined weight-bearing exercise. The fact that, at 60, I feel as good as I did at 35, is due to this more than any other factor, and I urge you to make the time and effort to follow a weightlifting program.
Like many gyms these days — in fact, like every commercial space on the planet these days — my gym has a bank of Big Brotherish TV screens on one wall, impossible to avoid.
One plays Britney Swift and Kanye Bieber videos. One plays sports.
But the one hooked to audio that’s piped throughout the gym is the “fitness” or “lifestyle” or “health” channel, full of advice on how to be robust.
Today, the message was about eye health.
“The sun’s UV rays can damage the eyes, leading to cataracts and macular degeneration,” the narrator solemnly warned.
“So every time you go outside, wear sunglasses. This is especially important for children.”
The video then showed a bunch of kids who appeared to be 7 or 8 years old climbing monkey bars and playing tag while fitted with glasses dark enough to serve as welding goggles.
My goodness. So we’ve come to this.
No one else seemed to be paying much attention, but this little public service announcement made me instantly unutterably sad.
Wear sunglasses every time you step outside for your entire life?
Later that week, I read an article on WedMD about the health effects of various eating schedules.
“If you start off your day with breakfast and then continue eating every three – four hours, you’ll provide your body and brain with a steady stream of nutrients…”
Eat every three hours or risk bad health?
Then at the local department store, I encountered Babyganics Alcohol-Free Foaming Hand Sanitizer. The product description: “Your baby wants to touch everything and everyone wants to touch your baby. It’s a beautiful thing. Except for the germs.”
Wipe your baby’s hands with sanitizer many times each day?
Deep breath. Here’s the deal:
Every human being is hard-wired to seek safety and ease, but for most of human history, these were hard to come by. The fact that we wanted them — but could not readily get them — kept us in the healthy sweet spot between risky deprivation and gluttonous excess.
Now, however, safety and ease are ubiquitous. We’re so eager to wallow in them that we invent stories to persuade ourselves that indulging in them, even to extreme degrees, is always healthy.
Those stories are extremely dangerous. Swaddling yourself in bubble wrap is a terrific way to shorten your life.
That’s because no matter what the culture says at any given time, the fundamental currency of health is hormesis.
Hormesis is a biological phenomenon where a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of something that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.
Too little stress leaves us weak and vulnerable. Too much is deadly. But in the right doses, it makes us strong. This is especially true of the stresses with which we evolved.
With this in mind, let’s turn a critical eye toward our modern “health advice.”
So every time you go outside, wear sunglasses. This is especially important for children.
To the contrary, multiple studies have established that kids who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be nearsighted than those who stay inside. As a researcher at the Ohio State University College of Optometry put it, “Outdoor light may help preserve the proper shape and length of the eye during that growth period.”
The healthful effects of natural sunlight on the eyes apply to seniors as well. “Light deficiency, whether due to improper timing, suboptimal spectrum, or insufficient intensity, may contribute to medical conditions commonly assumed to be age-related inevitabilities,” intones a study from BMJ.1
Specifically, says BMJ, getting sunlight exposure seems to prevent, rather than cause, cataracts in seniors.
So don’t stare at the sun. Don’t avoid the sun. Just go outside, without sunglasses, for at least an hour a day, and more exposure is better than less. The only time sunglasses are required for health is in unusual situations such as high-altitude snow reflection.
Eat every three hours or risk bad health.
To the contrary, getting significantly hungry on a regular basis — at least once a week — is one of the best moves you can make for health. This practice is known as intermittent fasting (IF).
Consider — a 2012 study showed that IF improved the ratio of good to bad cholesterol, lowered inflammation, and improved cardiovascular health.2 It’s also a promising therapy for Type 2 diabetes.3
Getting hungry speeds up autophagy, the “cellular housekeeping” that cleans up diseased and damaged cell fragments that can cause disease.
Occasional hunger is part of our evolutionary heritage. Deny it at your peril.
Wipe your baby’s hands with sanitizer many times each day.
To the contrary, when an infant is born, its immune system is naive. It needs to “learn” — through constant exposure — which germs in its environment are harmful, benign, and helpful.
The “hygiene hypothesis” holds that rampant modern autoimmune disease, from asthma to lupus, may well be the result of childhoods spent in sterile environments where immune-tuning lessons were never learned.
Rather that attacking invaders, the “uneducated” immune system attacks vital organs and tissues.
To test this, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital exposed a special strain of “germ-free” mice to microbes during their first weeks of life and found that the mice enjoyed “normalized” immune system function and low disease rates.
But if the germ-exposure “training” happened later in life, it did not result in healthy immune response or
disease resistance. In fact, these mice developed diseases comparable to asthma and colitis in humans.
A final note: When I discussed the premise of this story with Doug Hill, director of the Laissez Faire Club, he told me about his father-in-law, who as a child swam regularly downstream from a sewage discharge pipe.
“He was literally never sick for his whole life,” Doug said.
The point is that human beings aren’t fine china. We are the end products of millions of years of rough-and-ready challenges — hunger, pain, cold, heat, germs, bright light, and others — that pruned out the weak and made us strong.
So strong, in fact, that now we need those stresses to stay healthy.
So don’t think of yourself as a delicate flower, or a crystal vase, or a balloon in a world full of pins.
Instead, each day, think of the powerful, robust, indomitable millions of ancestors who came before you, who thrived, each day, on hard work and hard play, on cold, and heat, and hunger.
They are you. You are them. That’s your birthright.
If your life offers few opportunities to experience true physical stress or challenge, make them.
With that in mind, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go back to the gym.
[Ed. note: “We live in the Age of Outrage,” Brad Lemley writes in the latest issue of Natural Health Solutions. “From Seattle to Savannah and Bismarck to Brownsville, we poke our phones and pound our keyboards to denounce everything from gun control (or lack of it) to freedom-loving eastern Oregon ranchers (or terrorists) to The Donald’s idiot maunderings (or trenchant mots justes). So here’s what outrages me: Click here to read on.”]
Editor, Brad Lemley’s Natural Health Solutions
- Turner PL, Mainster MA. Circadian photoreception: ageing and the eye's important role in systemic health. Br J Ophthalmol. 2008;92(11):1439-44.
- Azevedo FR, Ikeoka D, Caramelli B. Effects of intermittent fasting on metabolism in men. Rev Assoc Med Bras. 2013;59(2):167-73.
- Fernemark H, Jaredsson C, Bunjaku B, Rosenqvist U, Nystrom FH, Guldbrand H. A randomized cross-over trial of the postprandial effects of three different diets in patients with type 2 diabetes. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(11):e79324.
- Olszak T, An D, Zeissig S, et al. Microbial exposure during early life has persistent effects on natural killer T cell function. Science. 2012;336(6080):489-93.