Stress, like everything in nature, has a purpose. So go ahead, give yourself the permission to stress out. Yes, really… I mean it. But use that stress to your advantage. To do that, think like Goldilocks: not too much, not too little – just right. Because when you do, your life just might feel better and according to fascinating research: it might also get longer.
Understanding how to use the right type of stress can improve your body composition, renew the vitality of your skin, prevent chronic disease and slow down the aging process (just to name a few). The reason you should be okay with a little stress? It comes down to the biological process of autophagy. If you have never of heard of autophagy before, prepare to be inspired by what your body can do for you!
Less Really IS More
I know when I first discovered autophagy I was beyond moved by how powerful human biology is and immediately felt empowered to make simple switches in my life that could yield big results. It was at this time I learned that less is more – especially when it comes to our health. I know as women we often feel like we have to do more, restrict more, tolerate more… all the while pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion and mental burnout. And for what? When’s the last time overdoing it at the gym or depriving yourself of a glass of wine or skimping on much-needed sleep actually paid off for your health? If you are looking to get real results that don’t completely overwhelm your whole being than you are going to LOVE this information about the right way to use stress to your advantage!
I applied the concept of less is more and saw my health (and actually my life) do a complete 180 for the better. We all want results and most of us don’t have a zillion hours in the day to train, cook, rest or take piles of expensive supplements. So how do we maximize the time and resources we have to get life-changing results?
Your Goal Is To Increase Autophagy
Autophagy means self-eating and that’s literally what it does inside your body. It’s the process where your cell recycles its faulty and dysfunctional parts that are no longer serving you while repurposing the components that are still functional. In doing so, autophagy prevents a buildup of toxic metabolic waste that could disrupt how your body feels and functions if left unattended to. Researchers are learning just how far-reaching the effects of autophagy are for human health. The benefits of increasing autophagy run the gamut from improved athletic performance, healthier cardio-metabolic health, improved immune function, regulated inflammation, decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Disease), improved appearance (skin and body composition), and most captivatingly: the research is promising that it can increase lifespan. In 2016 Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his important role in elevating our understanding of this cellular process and I suspect we are all going to hear a lot more about it as the new science on autophagy unravels in the coming years. To learn more please read my discovery story of autophagy here.
What’s Old Becomes New Again
In the meantime, we don’t have to wait for more information to dig in and make some changes in how we eat and exercise to reap the benefits of autophagy. Sometimes what’s old becomes new again. There is something so trustworthy and comforting about age-old wisdom that I really love. While I have always prioritized my health and wellbeing, pushing myself to uncomfortable limits to the point that I would feel mentally and physically exhausted or depleted has just never made any sense to me. What has made sense though is being in tune with natural rhythms as well as the feedback my body sends me. I know when my sleep, appetite, cravings or energy are off that my body isn’t happy with my lifestyle. And since making some very small but meaningful switches in my life I have received such exquisite biofeedback that I can’t help but offer you my experiences so you too can experience the benefits of autophagy working for you. The answer to increasing your own autophagy is by adding a little-targeted stress.
It’s a specific type of stress which activates autophagy. Events like a big move, a death in the family, eating too many slices of pizza or getting too little sleep are not the types of stress that promote autophagy. And neither is maintaining the same cardio workout for years or lifting the same 2-lb weights without challenging yourself to lift heavier. When things are running both too chaotically or too smoothly in a cell, autophagy happens softly in a kind of “maintenance” mode.
But when things become slightly stressed the dial on autophagy is turned up in its “active” mode. It’s all a sophisticated metabolic dance constantly occurring inside your cells. It happens whether you attend to it or not but now that you know there are ways to add “good” stress to your cells I’m sure you are curious about what you can do to harness “good” stress.
My Top Ways To Add “Good” Stress To Your Life:
1. Intermittent Fasting (IF): Both fasting and caloric restriction put stress on your body and turn the dial up on autophagy. The thing is, restricting calories may actually be too harsh for us women so scientists and health experts don’t recommend this. However, the science has shown that doing a 14 to 16 hour fast every other day is perfectly safe and effective for us women. When the body senses that no nutrients are coming in, autophagy is activated which helps your cells initiate the recycling process that makes autophagy so beneficial. My favorite way to practice IF is to stop eating around 8 pm, pass up breakfast the next morning and break my short fast around 12 pm with a nutrient – dense lunch. If you are curious to learn exactly what types of foods I eat and how I got into IF please consider pre-ordering my upcoming book, Glow15, due out this March.
2. Periods Of Low Protein and High fat: Since your body can’t make its own protein, if little protein is coming in through your diet it forces your body to recycle the pre-existing amino acids you already have and manufacture new proteins. This process of recycling is at the heart of autophagy. My favorite way to provide periods of lower protein intake is by practicing protein cycling (PC). A few days a week I keep my protein consumption low to boost my autophagy. Another way to create a similar effect of fasting is to lower carbohydrate and eat an abundance of healthy fats. The science behind this is known as ketosis and it too works to keep autophagy running by mimicking fasting, except you can eat lots of delicious healthy fat like coconut, avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and oils like tea seed and olive oil. Periods of lower protein and higher fat both lower the hormone insulin and raise the hormone, glucagon. Doing so activates autophagy by encouraging a gentle “stress” on your body. This is an easy way to incorporate a little healthy stress in your routine without completely overwhelming your system.
3. “Powerphenols:” Active plant-compounds such as EGCG in green tea or trans-resveratrol in red wine increase immunity, decrease inflammation and reduce the physical and internal signs of aging. Polyphenols are nutrient-dense compounds found in basically most vegetables, spices, teas, coffee, seeds and plant-based oils such as virgin coconut, olive or tea seed oil. Not only do they repair cellular damage, but they also work to prevent the damage from ever occurring in the first place. They do this because they increase autophagy. In my new book, Glow15, I detail my top favorite polyphenols that research confirms are best for activating autophagy and how I love using them.
4. Targeted Exercise: I love exercise for so many reasons – I love how it makes me feel energized and the positive impact it has on my mood. I have always enjoyed exercise but learning that aside from how it makes me feel and look, I’ve come to appreciate its role in autophagy too. Since exercise stresses your muscles, it activates autophagy to ensure that your tissues fully recover. And not just recover – but the process of autophagy actually ensures that when this “good” stress happens your body actually becomes stronger! That’s why you must keep your exercise new and invite yourself to try new activities that target new muscles as well as challenge yourself to lift heavier or workout intensely in intervals. I have always heard coaches and fitness experts explain that keeping it new and challenging is important but now that I understand the reason behind this is to activate autophagy, I am completely on board! The other interesting thing about exercise and autophagy is that “less is more” concept resurfaces again. While we used to think that you needed to push yourself for an hour at the gym new research shows that in merely 20 minutes of the right exercise you can signal the activation of autophagy. Instead of running 10 miles I now do 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT. Try alternating periods of low and high-intensity training where you get your max heart rate going for a minute and then cool down for a minute. Alternate these intervals for 20 minutes and see how you sleep, feel, and look.
How will you add a little of this “good” stress to your life? I’m curious what interests you. Please leave a comment below and share with me!