Everyone tells you to avoid stress as much as possible if you want to live a healthy and happy life. However, it turns out that not all forms of stress are harmful – in fact, the truth is quite the opposite!
Stress and longevity have a complicated relationship to say the least. Everyone knows that we need to beware of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. We can try to relax through conscious breathing, sports, positive thinking and other tools in this sphere.
However, certain types of stress, namely those that cause a brief shock to the body, not only do no harm, but actually help us live longer. Basically, they increase our resilience in the face of life’s challenges. In short, we are talking about nothing less than the equivalent of the expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
Stress and longevity: 4 “stressful” activities that help you live longer and improve the quality of your life
1. Cold showers
You’ve probably heard of Wim Hof and his philosophy of life. Exposing your body to cold brings thousands of benefits – from firmer skin to better circulation, from increased resilience to a stronger immune system.
Even if the sensation of very cold water on the skin is not pleasant at all for the first few seconds, and the body experiences a cold shower as a stressor, the after-effects are magical. Once you stand under cold water for at least 30 seconds, the vagus nerve (each of the tenth pair of cranial nerves, supplying the heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen) will be activated and your whole body will slowly become more and more and resistant and stronger.
2. Outdoor sports in cold weather
If you’ve tried taking a cold shower and still feel you’re not ready to face life’s challenges better, you can try a regular outdoor exercise in the winter. The cold is easier to bear when you get moving, and exercise itself is great for your health. This way, you combine two brilliant methods and will benefit from an indestructible immune system as a result.
When you exercise outside in cold temperatures, you force your body to go through momentary stress. However, this stress is not harmful, as it actually helps you to evolve on all levels and to enjoy a longer life.
In summary, don’t be afraid to go out and run or hike in the winter, and don’t wear very thick clothes.
3. Intermittent fasting
When we don’t get food for a longer period, our bodies start to stress. And while starvation is never recommended, fasting responsibly can help the body, through stress, to become stronger.
During a period of intermittent fasting, the body activates what is called autophagy. Specifically, the body begins to consume from its own resources when food is not provided. This process cleanses the body of bacteria, inflammation and other health problems.
4. Breathing exercises
Another healthy way to “stress” the body in a positive way for longevity and resilience is to hold your breath. You can practice this gradually, breathing in deeply for 8 seconds, then holding the air in for 4 seconds. Exhale for another 8 seconds, pause for four, then inhale again. Equally effective is the Wim Hof breathing exercise, especially done in combination with a cold shower.
Described in a nutshell, the Wim Hof breathing exercise goes as follows: let out a relaxed exhalation through the mouth. Repeat for 30 breaths. On the 30th breath, exhale to 90 percent and hold for as long as you can. When you feel your body really needs to take a breath, inhale fully and hold for 15 seconds before releasing.