Back in February, I launched a 30-day experiment taking cold showers every morning, sharing surprising findings on the positive effects of cold water submersion on health, longevity, and mental resilience.
Despite the low-grade discomfort, I’m still taking cold showers every morning, with no intentions of turning back. In fact, I’ve begun experimenting with other rituals commonly categorized as hormesis, a biological principle that describes how small doses of toxic or stressful stimuli produce positive results in health and longevity.
Along with cold showers, here are my top three practices along with the benefits I’ve experienced.
1. Morning Hypoxia. In one of my most popular posts of 2020, I shared how the simple practice of nasal breathing, common among Native Americans and other traditional cultures, has resurged in recent years amidst a slew of research pointing to the many health benefits.
Although nasal breathing by itself hardly passes the hormesis test (what’s so uncomfortable about breathing?), holding your breath while exercising certainly does!
Hypoxia, or oxygen suppression, disrupts the body’s internal balance mechanism, creating low-level stress. The resulting adaptations made by the respiratory system improves your ability to process carbon dioxide, which greatly boosts the delivery of oxygen to your cells, improving your fitness.
The practice is simple: After exhaling fully, walk as many steps as you can while holding your breath. You can also do jumping jacks, squats, pushups–anything that elevates your heart rate just a little. Once you can’t hold it any longer, stop, catch your breath, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat it 8-10 times. You will not only feel more energetic and alert, but your overall fitness will also increase as you reap the benefits of getting more oxygen-rich blood to your cells and muscles.
2. Hyperthermal Conditioning. One of the purchases I made during the COVID shut down was an infrared sauna based on the growing volumes of research I’ve read connecting regular heat exposure to significant positive impacts on longevity, exercise recovery, weight loss, and overall well-being.
Like cold showers, saunas elicit a similar hormonal and neurochemical response that mimics exercise, releases white blood cells, and detoxifies your skin.
Some fascinating research in Finland, the birthplace of the sauna, has documented incredible reductions in cardiovascular disease as well as increased longevity. And if you’re concerned about the cost, you can purchase a portable sauna on Amazon for as little as $150. I’ve been “saunaing” 3-4 times per week for 4 months, and I feel great!
3. Intermittent Fasting. Also known as time-restricted eating, people who practice intermittent fasting narrow their daily food consumption to a specific time frame. Fasting routines include 16/8 (16 hours fasted / 8-hour eating window–my routine), 20/4, (4-hour eating window), or what’s become known as “OMAD” (One meal a day).
Here’s the science behind this increasingly popular practice: Unlike our ancestors, we live in an environment in which food is instantly accessible (have you used Grubhub or Doordash lately?). As a result, most people snack virtually all day long in addition to consuming three carb-heavy meals a day which creates a whole host of metabolic and digestive problems, culminating in chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and heart disease.
By contrast, compressing your food consumption schedule to 8 or fewer hours reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, boosts growth hormones, and burns excess fat. The result: Your energy levels are stable, your food cravings decrease, and you feel more alert and alive.
In my case, as an active person with a high metabolism, I was concerned about getting “hangry” during my 16-hour fasting window, so I started out at 12 hours, gradually increasing in 1-hour increments. And while I don’t practice it every single day–mostly weekdays at this point–I feel more focused, energetic, and fit than I did as a full-time eater.
(Note: If you are pregnant, diabetic, have chronic heart or kidney issues, or other medical concerns that require professional care, please consult your doctor before considering any type of fasting.)
While I’m aware that convincing you to embrace the discomfort of hunger, cold, heat, and breathlessness may be a tough sell, I encourage you to give them a try.
Start with just one or two–in my experience, cold showers and intermittent fasting will give you the best bang for your buck–and then pay attention to how you feel.
As a highly active and fit person for all of my adult life, incorporating these simple rituals has, for me, injected a new level of vitality that makes me feel more like I’m 30 instead of 60!
What would it take for you to try one or two of these routines? What’s holding you back, and how can I encourage you?