No, it isn’t a kind of chili! Hormesis is a term used in the study of toxins, but has since grown a wider usage. It refers to the beneficial effects that are caused by the introduction of low levels of toxins that would harm a person if larger doses were introduced. The idea of hormesis is where the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” gets its roots.
By no means am I telling you to begin taking small doses of poison each day (kings in ancient times tried this…), but many of the healthy stressors we do advise have a delicate balance of too much or too little.
Some of these stressors include exercise, fasting, breathing, breath holds, cold or heat exposure, and sunlight. The key to each of these inputs is finding the right amount to give you the benefits you want. Cold exposure is a great example because its effects are so vivid in our minds. If you take cold showers or even ice baths you can reap great benefits in terms of burning fat and increasing your immune response. Your body is reacting to the stress of the cold to warm and defend itself! However, it seems obvious that staying in the cold for too long would result in detrimental health effects like hypothermia. Again the benefit is all in the amount of stress.
As you can see in the graph the greatest benefit from a stressor comes a little before the “hormetic region.” This refers to the point where the amount of input begins to hurt you. With anything you do to push yourself only do so much as needed to get close to that line. If you workout so hard you throw up you are only hurting your body. You likely won’t see any long term benefits from that session either. Over time as you push close to that line day in and out the hormetic region will shift to the right and you will receive benefits from greater doses of stress. Essentially, if you only keep doing the same amount eventually it will not affect you as strongly.
Try to add some new challenging stressors in your life, but begin with the right dose and build from there.