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What Doesn't Kill You Really Can Make You Stronger

Chris
Posted by: Chris August 02, 2017

122 AD - Caerleon, Wales - As First Centurion of the II Augusta, Lulius Marcellinus was born to lead. He could march longer, fight stronger and survive better than any of the men under his command in the brutal winters of Northern Brittiania. One possible reason for this was that he regularly took plunges in what the Romans called frigidarium baths, which were very cold pools. For this reason, the cold never seemed to bother him as much as the others under his command during the months spent in the north building Hadrian's Wall.

1864 AD - Montana -  The chief of the Miniconjou Lakota tribe was dying. He was wounded during a battle with U.S. Army forces as they made their push westward to drive the Lakota off of their land. While he was wounded, he came down with a severe fever and would not wake up. The medicine man, Lame Deer had exhausted all of his herbs try to heal the chief and all that was left to him was to ask the spirits of their ancestors for their help. With the help of some of the warriors, Lame Duck took him to the seat lodge to ask the spirits to intervene. After laying in the heat for many hours, sweating profusely, the chief opened his eyes for the first time in over a week. He spoke of the battle that waged inside his own body and mind and said that he was finally winning that battle. 

Hormesis

This is called hormesis. Whenever we stress our bodies in the ways, it produces a hormetic response that increases our ability to deal with these stressors. I think this is what Friedrich Nietzsche was referring to when he said: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Hormesis is exposing your body to an acute stressor in order to create a beneficial effect. We all know that too much chronic stress is harmful to the body. What you may not know is that short bursts of stress can actually make you stronger, healthier, and more resilient. Using this type of training will greatly improve your performance and endurance. We improve endurance by pushing our mind a body to the limit of what is possible. Over time we adapt adn become much stronger and more resilient.

It can even make you harder to kill!!

Take for example exercise. Exercise subjects your body to short but intense amounts of stress which in turn has a beneficial effect like weight loss, muscle gain and an overall improvement to your health.

While most people will never have to deal with these types of stressors to actually survive, we believe in being the most resilient human being possible and hey, disasters and emergencies do happen. These things will make you harder to kill in an emergency situation!

Here are just a few other examples of ways we can induce a hormetic response to make us more resilient and overall badass:

sauna thermogenesis sweating heat

Hot Thermogenesis

One of the great things about being a student of history as well as an avid biohacker is that it tends to show quite a few things that people have used throughout the ages to keep themselves healthy and ready to deal with life's stressors.

While they might not have known why some of these things helped, the science of today's age can shed some light on that.

Sweating used to be a prescription in many cultures to combat illness and to help the body to rid itself of toxins. The first thing that comes to mind is the sweat lodges of the Native Americans. These were not only used for healing the body, but also as a way to heal the spirit. They were used quite frequently in their spiritual practices.

Romans used hot baths to relieve stress along with sore muscles. Traditional saunas have been used in Finland and other northern European cultures for centuries because of the beneficial effects that the heat has on the body and mind.

  • Increases longevity[r]
  • Helps detoxification[r]
  • Increases muscle mass[r]
  • Helps weight loss[r]
  • Better physical performance and endurance[r]
  • Helps recovery[r]
  • Lowers stress[r]
  • Helps with sleep[r]
  • Lower blood sugar[r]

This is one of my favorite hacks to recover after a rigorous workout and when traveling. I also use it anytime I start to feel like I may be getting sick.

Since the skin is one of the major organs used for detoxification, sauna use has remarkable benefits in this regard. Using a sauna can help detoxify our bodies so well that policemen that were exposed to methamphetamine are using it to alleviate symptoms associated with their exposure to this and other drugs [r].

Besides sweating, regular sauna use can have other profound effects on our bodies. One study in Finland showed that regular sauna use decreased the risk of heart disease and lowered the chance of dying from all causes [r]. So it does make you harder to kill.

I try to use a sauna after every one of my workouts. The reason for this is not only to help me recover from the stress it takes on my body, it's also to help me build more muscle faster. Quite a bit of research out there has shown that the use of a sauna increases IGF-1 which is a hormone that enhances muscle growth [r].

Dangers

Heating your body too much can, of course, cause issues. Like most biohacks, please talk to your doctor before you start a sauna practice. People not used to the heat can get light headed or even pass out while in the sauna so make sure you have someone close by to help.

wim hof ice bath thermogenesis

Cold Thermogenesis

Used by many cultures for thousands of years, cold thermogenesis is a kind of therapy that uses cold temperatures to create significant changes throughout your body. The oldest medical text known to man, The Edwin Smith Papyrus (3500BC) even makes many references to using cold as therapy [r].

Ancient Romans had baths called frigidarium baths which were used after the baths called caldariums and tepidariums which were hot and warm baths. Seems like they saw the benefits from alternating from hot to cold immersion.

The Norse and other cultures would take swims in frigid waters or even break the ice over a frozen body of water to take a swim. They did this to strengthen themselves and even to cure sickness. 

We live in a climate controlled world that doesn't allow for the temperature fluctuations that are so beneficial to us.

Here are just a few of the benefits of cold thermogenesis (CT):

  • Burn fat and increase levels of brown adipose tissue (BAT) or brown fat [r]
  • Stimulate your immune system [r]
  • Reduce inflammation [r]
  • Increase lifespan [r]
  • Speed up recovery [r]
  • Improve sleep [r]
  • Tone your vagus nerve
  • Increase hormone levels
  • Lower blood sugar [r]
  • Heal injuries [r]
  • Makes you harder to kill

This popular hack activates the body’s own brown fat stores, possibly increasing brown fat levels in the body which can lead to increased fat loss and improved metabolism. A lack of brown fat or BAT has even been linked to obesity [r]. One study with mice showed that mice that were exposed to cold temperatures consumed more calories but actually weighed less than the mice that we exposed to normal temperatures [r].

CT also stimulates the vagus nerve and something called the mammalian dive reflex. This is said to reduce inflammation in the body and calm the nervous system.

People use this hack for losing fat and reducing inflammation. One way this occurs is by raising the levels of adiponectin, which is a protein that increases fat burning and also helps to prevent inflammation[r]. It can also boost your immune system and make your body much more resilient.

There isn’t a lot of research that says cold thermogenesis (CT) boosts testosterone in humans, but it does show a large reduction in cortisol which would lead to more building blocks for testosterone. Other studies have shown that keeping your testicles cooler aids in testosterone production and that men even have more and higher-quality sperm in the winter time. Don't worry ladies, it won't cause you to be more manly. Most women can actually benefit from a slight increase in testosterone.

It involves taking a cold shower or bath, stepping into a cryotherapy chamber, being outside in the cold, or dunking one’s face in ice water. Cold, in this case, means below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, goose bumps will result. Of course, you don't even need to use cold water if you live in a Northern climate.

During the winter I try to get out every morning and take a walk in nothing but a pair of shorts. If there is snow on the ground you can even roll around in it.

Check out Thaddeus below doing some meditating outside in the snow.

meditate snow cold thermogenesis hormesis resilience

In many countries, it is normal for children to play outside in the snow and then go get into a sauna and drink warm tea. Check out this video to see kids in Russia playing in the snow and LOVING IT! 

The benefits of this type of stress are amazing and already being adapted to the cold could give you an extra edge should you ever be caught outside in the winter or fall in to freezing cold water.

My suggestion is to start with the face dunk. Once comfortable with that you can move to a cold shower. Once you are able to stand under the cold water for 5+ minutes you can move on to the cold plunge and ice bath.

Face Dunk

The easiest way to start experimenting with CT is to emerge your face in a bowl of ice water a few days a week or even every day. Doing this in the evening before bed can be a great time because it will help to lower your body temperature which will help you to fall asleep faster. One study found that cooling your core body temperature can help you achieve a much deeper and restorative sleep [r].

Fill up a large mixing bowl or your sink with water and ice. Then dunk your face in it for as long as you can tolerate it. After doing this for a few weeks you will be able to keep your face in it for as long as you can hold your breath.

To take this even further you can grab a snorkel and use it so that you can keep your face submerged for even longer than you can hold your breath.

Cold Shower

There is nothing more invigorating than a cold shower in the morning. Cold showers can give you increased tolerance to any stressful situations that occur throughout the day. It also improves blood circulation, stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, and increases beta-endorphin levels in your blood (which can have a stimulating effect). While first starting off, taking you whole shower with cold water may be a little hard. The good news is that you can ease yourself into this by alternating hot and cold water which is called a contrast shower. To take advantage of this, take a shower as you normally would, but after rinsing, turn the water to cold for 30-60 seconds, followed by hot for 30 seconds, and then finish with another 30-60 seconds of cold. You can do this as many times as you want, just make sure to finish on cold and try to increase the amount of time spent under the cold water. Some research even shows that the alternating of hot and cold will help to drive oxygen and nutrients to your organ while also helping to detoxify.

Some research even shows that the alternating of hot and cold will help to drive oxygen and nutrients to your organ while also helping to detoxify. One study even showed that using contrast showers could help releive muscle pain and speed up your recovery by decreasing blood lactate concentrations [r].

Don't just stand with your back to the cold water though. You really need to get the water running over your head and chest to get the most benefit from the practice.

Cold Plunge

This is one of my favorites. This can be done anywhere that has a body of water like a pond, creek, lake or even ocean.

It's pretty simple really. Just jump in the water and swim around for as long as you can handle it. Of course, to get maximum the benefits of CT, the water really needs to be 55 degrees or colder.

cold plunge barton springs thermogenesis

Here is Thaddeus and I with our buddy Steve taking a cold plunge in Barton Springs. 

Ice Bath

Made extremely popular by the "Iceman" Wim Hoff, an ice bath is considered by many people to be the most beneficial way to achieve CT.

Cryotherapy

While most of the hacks above can be performed with much equipment besides water and ice, cryotherapy is quite different. It requires some pretty pricey equipment and tons of liquid nitrogen. The good thing is that most major cities in the US now have at least one location that offers cryotherapy.

Other Hacks

All of the above-mentioned things can take up some time which you may not have. Here are some ways you can harness the power of CT while going about your normal routine.

Ice Vest

CryoHelmet

Dangers

There can be some danger from exposing yourself to water to cold without getting your body used to it first. These can include cold burns, frostbite, or even death if you try to swim in a frozen lake with no one around. Like anything we talk about here please exercise caution and only use these things under supervision.

Exercise

Exercise is probably the most well-known type of hormesis. We all know that to build muscle, you have to stress your muscles by working them hard for short periods of time and then giving them time to heal.

This is going to be a short section because if you are reading this blog then you probably already know that exercise is good for you.

The real magic starts to happen when you start to use some of these types of hormesis in conjunction with each other. After my workouts, the first thing that I do is to spend some time in my sauna. After that it's straight to an ice bath or at least a cold shower. Doing these two things after my workouts helps me to maximize the benefits I receive from the exercise while also reducing the harmful effects it can have on my body. Check out the video at the bottom of this post to learn more about my post-workout routine.

Fasting

Sufficient amounts of food were not always available for our ancestors. Sometimes they would go multiple days without eating anything. While this isn’t an issue for most people in our culture today, it may be something that we want to simulate every once in a while. The reasons for doing this can vary, but the benefits of fasting range even beyond health benefits.

As a follower of Stoic philosophy, I think it is important to run simulations on things that could happen, even if they are unlikely. That way my mind and body will be better prepared to cope with these things if they do end up happening. One of those simulations is a poverty simulation. I know that while I live comfortably now, there are any number of things that could lead to a loss of the ability to eat 2 or 3 good meals a day. Simulating this on a monthly or even quarterly basis by fasting for a few days eliminates much of the fear and anxiety associated with this "what if."

Hopefully, you will never need to go without food for long periods of time to survive, but famine is common all throughout history. If you are already adapted to this type of stress you will be better able to meet some of life’s challenges head on.

While they are finding more and more benefits of fasting all of the time, these are some of the most well-documented reasons that you may want to start including some type of fasting into your routine.

  • Anti-aging/Longevity [r] [r]
  • Weight loss [r] [r]
  • Reduce risk of diabetes [r]
  • Boosts immune system [r]
  • Increases cardiovascular health [r] [r]
  • Lowers cancer risk [r]
  • Reduces inflammation [r]
  • Improves cognitive function [r]
  • Heals skin [r]
  • Protects the body from disease 

Fasting or substantially reducing the amount of food we put into our body can be a major stressor. This tells our more primal instincts that we are about to starve. When that happens our bodies do some amazing things. Prolonged fasting forces the body to use up its surplus of fat, glucose. It not only makes us leaner by signaling our body to start burning fat as fuel (ketosis), but it also induces a process called autophagy which is how your body detoxifies and repairs itself by getting rid of old and damaged cells and recycles them for energy. Caloric restriction in the form of fasting can have dramatic anti-aging effects on us which helps us live longer lives and overall just makes us harder to kill.

The evidence that fasting can extend and improve your lifespan is quite compelling. According to some researchers, fasting can increase your lifespan by as much as 30% [r]! Fasting can also help to increase your lifespan by protecting you from many common diseases [r]. During the fasting cycle, your body breaks down a large portion of your white blood cells. This triggers the regeneration of new immune system cells which helps to keep your immune system operating at it's best.

One big reason that brings many people to fasting is that fasting can help you lose weight. Growing up I was always told by my coaches that to keep my metabolism up I needed to eat many small meals a day. While I haven't been able to find any research to suggest this is true, one reason that this may affect weight loss is that it can help to prevent gorging during the 3 larger meals throughout the day. The research I did find is that fast can actually increase your metabolism quite a bit [r]. For losing weight it seems that fasting twice a week for 24 hours in what is known as the 5:2 fasting protocol can be the most beneficial [r].

Here are a few ways you can induce this type of hormesis in your own life. 

  • Intermittent fasting (IF)
  • Fasting for a day or longer
  • Caloric restriction

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting involves forgoing food for a specified period of time. All of us intermittent fast every single day when we sleep. As biohackers, we typically go further than this in the name of anti-aging and overall health. The usual IF is 14-17 hours long. 

If you want to start benefiting from this now, just practice IF a few times a week. The easiest way to do this is by leveraging your sleep since it is already your largest fasting window. Do not consume any food after dinner. Then try to wait as long as possible the next day before you eat again. The usual IF is 14-17 hours long. This means if you ate dinner at 7 pm, you would not eat again until 9am-12noon the next day. This creates an eating window of between 7-10 hours each day. Some of us IF every single day while others only 2 or 3 times a week. It’s totally up to you. During the IF you can have coffee, tea, water or other non-caloric beverages. As always, you need to make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Drinking enough water will also eliminate a little bit of the hunger pains.

A special version of IF is Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting created by Dave Asprey. Dave claims that having fat – but zero protein or carbohydrates – during your fast will give you the benefit of fasting without the downsides of hunger and cravings. Dave uses Bulletproof Coffee during his IF window and calls this Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting. 

Day or Multi-Day Fasts 

Hopefully, you will never need to go without food for long periods of time to survive, but famine has been common all throughout history. If you are already adapted to this type of stress you will be better able to meet some of life’s challenges head on should they ever arise.

Dr. Dominic D'Agostino recommends a 5-day fast 2 or 3 times a year to completely reboot your immune system.

If you're someone that has a hard time skipping meals, I recommend starting off with intermittent fasting before attempting a 24 hour or longer fast.

Dangers

As with any hack, you should check with your doctor before trying this. There are people that can see very serious negative effects from fasting including people who are hypoglycemic or extremely underweight.

It's also a good idea to avoid fasting if you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant.

Conclusion

While chronic stress can have serious negative effects on your body and mind, short bouts of acute stress can work wonders! It can make you more resilient, healthier and overall just more badass!

Check out the video below to learn more about my post workout routine and why I love it so much!

 

About the Author


Chris

Chris began his journey outdoors foraging medicinal and edible plants, hiking, hunting and camping in the woods around his childhood home in central Indiana. After spending a few years inside a windowless office he knew he needed to be outside and started working outside as an ironworker building tall commercial buildings all around the Midwest.

After a serious accident that resulted in numerous injuries to internal organs and trauma to his brain he began to study and research ways to heal himself and make sure his body and mind was operating at peak levels. After experimenting on himself and helping family and friends to do the same he realized that optimal health and performance through biohacking and ancestral health was one of his biggest passions and decided design his life around this. PrimalHacker is the combination of those two passions.

Chris loves spending time in the woods with his four boys, foraging, practicing martial arts and exploring ways to improve all aspects of health and performance. He is a certified Bulletproof Coach from the first ever class of coaches and a certified holistic health practitioner.


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