Comfort – The Enemy of Vibrant Health

What is suffering? Is it really as bad as we make it out to be?

I’ve come to realize that we only view certain conditions as unpleasant because of how privileged we’ve become.

Too warm? Turn up the AC. Too cold? Turn up the heat. Hungry? Eat immediately.

Anything outside of this reality has become an example of an unwanted condition. We walk through life within our comfort zone because we can.

Now let’s rewind to around 15,000 years ago. What did life look like? Did humans enjoy any of these privileges? Probably not. More importantly, were they unhappy? I don’t think so.

Since they didn’t know of anything better, they probably wouldn’t have been unhappy. Living among the elements was just a reality. Occasional food shortage and unfavorable climates.

The beauty in these unfavorable conditions is that they are good for our health! The human body is an extremely resilient entity. It has evolved to favor survival over death and these unfavorable conditions help us to accomplish that. Science is beginning to show us the benefits that these short-term stressors have on our health.

I will outline a few in this article.

Cold exposure

Don’t you hate when you turn on the shower and all of that ice cold water comes spewing out for a few seconds? So does your body.

The thing is that these short term stressors are actually positive in the way that they force your body to activate certain adaptive mechanisms.

An adaptation is a physiological change that your body creates in order to reduce the effects of an external stress.

The adaptations that you would see immediately after exposing yourself to a cold stress would be a constriction of your blood vessels and shivering. These are responses that attempt to increase your chances of survival from what your body perceives to be a lethal situation.

However, repeated exposure to this stress actually creates deeper genetic adaptations. You see, although you carry a certain set of genetics, it doesn’t mean that you’re expressing all of them. The expression of a lot of your genes is regulated by the environmental stimulus that you’re exposed to.

One such genetic adaptation is the conversion of your white fat into brown fat! [1]

Brown fat is the more impressive brother of white fat. Brown fat takes up less space and it’s more metabolically active, since it has so many more mitochondria than regular fat! That means that it actually burns fuel!

The reason this helps is that as a result of the increase in fuel burning, more heat is given off, which keeps you warmer. Eventually, you’ll even find that you shiver less.

Some research suggests that our lack of cold exposure is a major reason why we (as a society) are facing so many health issues. [2] Our active adaptation to cold seems to be an important aspect of vibrant health.

If you want to expose yourself to more cold, switching to cold showers or doing three to four cold baths every week will benefit you.

Heat stress

Temperature regulation is a common theme here. It doesn’t end with cold exposure. Heat stress is another beneficial exposure that most of us don’t experience enough of.

It has been shown that regular heat exposure (sauna) can allow for the expression of specific heat shock protein genes. The main heat shock protein involved is HSP72. [3] This protein is involved in the mediation of the folding, transport and degradation of newly translated proteins (DNA replication). [4]

HSP72 can also preserve the function of mutant genes, if it’s not overburdened with damaged genes.

Scientists believe that this could be caused by the increase in specific hormones when you’re exposed to heat stress. The hormones that increase include dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine.

These hormones are the reason that you feel so energized after a sauna session. The energy that you feel is a positive response to what your body perceived as a threat that you just survived. Almost like it’s rewarding you.

If you want to reap these benefits for yourself, a dose of at least four 30 minute sauna sessions each week should do the trick.

Fasting

Fasting has gained popularity over the last few years. Whether it’s intermittent fasting or more extended fasting, people are finding it to be a great lifestyle tool.

Aside from the pounds of shed fat that people usually see from fasting, there are plenty of overall wellness benefits felt. Fasting is a great way to help with the restoration of energy. It does this by bringing blood glucose levels into a healthier level.

Although it is becoming popular, there is still a large percentage of people who are unwilling to give up the 24/7 consumption of food. However, it’s not their fault.

We’ve been convinced by large health authorities that we need 3 meals a day with healthy snacks in between in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When you dig deeper, you find that many of the studies that suggest these ideas have been funded by large food manufacturers. It’s a dirty industry.

To add to the whole mess, most of the processed food we consume is designed to be addictive. These foods are designed to make us feel like we can’t live without them. They even tease you about it! Consider the old Lays potato chips slogan: “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One”.

This makes the idea of fasting much harder. It’s important to understand the challenges associated so that you can overcome them.

Fasting has many benefits beyond just reduced caloric intake. Just like cold stress and heat shock, fasting is an environmental stress. This causes an increased expression in genes associated with energy metabolism and longevity!

One study fed participants a diet that alternated between one day of 25% of their normal daily caloric intake (fasting) and a following day of 175% of their normal caloric intake (feeding). [5] Researchers found increases in SIRT3 gene expression (linked to longevity and stress resistance) and a decrease in circulating insulin (fat storage hormone). Not to mention the strengthening of the immune system.

Fasting takes some getting used to. If you are looking to implement this style of eating into your life, start by keeping the fasts short. Start with a 12 hour fast followed by a 12 hour feeding window. Outside of the feeding window, only consume black coffee, plain tea or water.

Once you’ve mastered the 12 hour fast, move up to a 16 hour fast. If you want, you can even throw in the occasional 24 hour fast.

If you have regular bouts of hypoglycemia, it’s very important that you monitor your blood sugar and ease your way into fasting.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High intensity interval training is a great way to help achieve vibrant health. With that being said, it is extremely hard to get up and introduce it to your routine if you’re typically sedentary.

HIIT cardio is one of those habits that can torch fat. It does that in a pretty cool way. It’s about more than just calories. The short bursts of all-out effort are a stress that activates the expression of certain genes. [6]

These specific genes allow for what’s called mitochondrial biogenesis. This is a fancy word for the increase in the number of mitochondria in your cells. As we all know from high school biology, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

The mitochondria requires sugar or fat (either from your intake or body stores) in order to create energy. With time, this results in a leaner body composition and much more energy!

My favorite type of HIIT cardio is on the spin bike. I typically go for 15 seconds of maximal effort (with an increased resistance) followed by 45 seconds of resting pace (light resistance).

Conclusion

Above, I’ve outlined a few external stressors that can have a profound impacts on your health.

By comparing these habits to the day-to-day habits of an average member of society, it’s clear that we may be headed in the wrong direction. Everything we do is moving in the direction of added comfort.

And while it might not at all be beneficial to constantly be under stress, we shouldn’t move to eliminate all stress. Stress in small bursts has tremendous benefits for our health.

It’s in our genes to be exposed to the occasional stress. Voluntarily seeking out these beneficial stressors can prove to change your life for the better.

References

[1] Scientific American. “Supercharging Brown Fat to Battle Obesity”. [Online]. Available: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/supercharging-brown-fat-to-battle-obesity/

[2] ResearchGate. “Different types of cold adaptation in humans”. [Online]. Available: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44642887_Different_types_of_cold_adaptation_in_humans

[3] NCBI. “Heat Stress and Cardiovascular, Hormonal, and Heat Shock Proteins in Humans”. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418130/

[4] UniProt. “UniProtKB – P54652 (HSP72_HUMAN)”. [Online]. Available: http://www.uniprot.org/uniprot/P54652

[5] NCBI. “Practicality of intermittent fasting in humans and its effect on oxidative stress and genes related to aging and metabolism”. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25546413

[6] Science for Fitness. “Different Adaptations to Exercise in Young and Older Adults”. [Online]. Available: http://www.scienceforfitness.com/2017/03/30/different-adaptations-to-exercise-in-young-and-older-adults/

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