Overview

Did you come to this site looking for information about physical conditioning or bodybuilding? Strength training is certainly one of the topics addressed here. However, as you’ll see, the meaning of “getting stronger” on this website is very broad, with applications to getting strong and fit in every way — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Train yourself to thrive on stress. This website and blog are about a new view of stress, embodied in a self-improvement philosophy that is backed up by a broad spectrum of scientific research. I call this philosophy Hormetism, a term derived from the scientific principle of hormesis, which is described on the Hormesis page (see above). Hormetism provides a way you can use progressive intermittent stress to grow stronger in many ways. It can help you overcome both physical limitations and psychological challenges, with applications as diverse as improving eyesight without glasses, losing weight without special diets, reducing susceptibility to colds and infections, overcoming addictions, and managing anger and other negative emotions.

This website is organized as a set of focal topics shown at the top of this page, including a regular blog. It’s easiest if you read these background pages in order, from left to right, starting with Hormesis.  After that, take a look at the recent posts on the Home page, also listed in the side panel at the right. Or, just jump in wherever your interests take you. Don’t forget to check out some of the very useful links to books, blogs and other websites in the righthand panel. The goal of this website is to build an online community to share ideas and tips about how to get stronger, so please contribute your comments and questions or join in the Discussion Forum.

 

The conventional wisdom about stress.   We  strive to make our lives easier, more pleasurable, more convenient.   We attempt to minimize stress and avoid adversity, lest they wear us down and make us weaker. When confronted with stress or disabilities, we typically seek one of three main approaches:

  • Avoidance. The simplest way to “manage” stress is to reduce or avoid it. We are constantly reminded that stress can be detrimental to our health, and that we should cut back on our commitments and simplify our lives.  But this is not often a practical option, since most of us have to work for a living and must confront the daily problems of health, finances, and interpersonal conflicts that are with us whether or not we like it.
  • Palliation. In the short term, particularly for psychological stresses, we can try to sidestep or seek “release” from burdensome stresses by resorting to food, sex, alcohol, drugs or other soothing or pleasurable–but potentially addictive–pastimes.   More positive sources of release have been proposed, such as yoga, massage, meditation or social interaction.  But such palliative measures typically provide short-term symptomatic relief, and do not address the root cause – the experience of the stressor as “stressful” or the underlying physical or psychological weakness — which means the stress will continue to recur or persist.
  • Correction.  To counteract physical hardship or disability, we can compensate by using an external “crutch”. As our eyesight fades, glasses are prescribed; difficulty walking is addressed by the use of a cane; pain, by an analgesic or a stronger painkiller; infection is countered by antibiotics. Correction provides an immediate, short-term means of addressing a deficiency, but does nothing to overcome the underlying weakness or build up the resistance capacity of the organism. In fact, we often need to increase the magnitude or power of such corrective measures over time, leaving us further enfeebled and more dependent upon the crutch.

If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, do a web search on “stress management” and you get something like these 37 Tips. In the conventional view, we almost never see stress as a good. At best, some have argued that we embrace endocrinologist Hans Selye’s distinction between “distress” or negative stress and “eustress” or positive stress. Selye pointed out that eustress can be energizing and healthful, whereas long term and unremitting distress can lead to a range of health problems, which he termed the General Adaptation Syndrome. But the reality is that eustress is typically limited to a small number of inherently self-reinforcing activities–such as meaningful work, adventurous travel, or moderate exercise. Acknowledging the value of eustress still leaves us vulnerable to the many unplanned and unavoidable physical and psychological stresses that come our way, often at the most inconvenient times.  We need a way to handle what Selye calls “distress”.

A new view of stress. The prevailing view about stress is mistaken, or at least half wrong.  The fact is that — if applied correctly – stress strengthens us. To some extent, this is acknowledged. Nietzsche famously proclaimed, with some hyperbole, “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And in certain limited areas–the use of vaccination to boost immunity, for example–it is embraced. But is it not absurd to seek out stress deliberately, as a general principle?  Is it really possible to use stress in a deliberate and controlled manner to strengthen body, mind and spirit?  This website answers that question in the affirmative, based on a broad survey of psychological and physiological research, and we develop here a fresh and highly practical philosophical perspective that draws upon sources as ancient as the Greek and Roman Stoics, and as recent as scientists working in the fields of neurology and physiological psychology.

Tying it all together. While many of the specific findings described in this website are not original, what is new, in Hormetism, is the synthesis of a unified theory of stress-induced adaptation, and a generalized set of principles for using stress deliberately and systematically to increasing strength. Hormetism is a viewpoint and methodology that applies broadly and at multiple levels — from the physiological and psychological, and even to the organizational and societal.  It unifies findings from fields as diverse as exercise physiology, immunology, endocrinology, neural plasticity, and even the study of economic growth and development.

The method of Hormetism can be summarized as follows:  Strength should be understood as the unaided, internal capacity of the organism (or social system) to accomplish tasks or resist stresses in a given respect. Strength in humans or other biological, adaptive systems, is most effectively built by means of the progressive, intermittent application of stress, optimized in both intensity and frequency. To be effective in increasing strength in any area, the stress must be applied repeatedly over a period of time, carefully attending to five key principles:

  1. Simulation. The training stress should be presented in a representative way that simulates the real world stress as closely as possible, attending to the full context, including variations likely to be encountered.  The more realistic, the better the result.
  2. Constraint. It is important that the stress be applied “in good form,” using self-discipline or external constraints to ensure no “cheating”.  The stress should be focused and fully absorbed by the part or aspect of the organism needing to be strengthened, while preventing compensation or crutches that would reduce the stimulus effect.
  3. Intensity. To be effective, the stress stimulus should be applied with an intensity that goes “beyond the comfort zone”. The optimal intensity of the stressor varies inversely with its duration, and these two parameters can be usefully adjusted — from a sustained stress that is mildly uncomfortable, to brief but intense stress that is just short of the point of failure. The best training routine probably combines sessions of varying intensity and duration.
  4. Recovery. In most cases, each application of stress should be followed by an interval of rest or removal of the stress for a time sufficient to allow an adaptation response — tissue repair, consolidation of learning, etc. The more intense the stress, the longer the required recovery period. In rare cases where it is impractical to cycle between stress and recovery, the intensity of the stress should be low enough to allow concurrent adaptation with the stress.
  5. Gradualism. Until the strengthening goal is achieved, each application of stress should be greater or more sustained than the previous application, consistent with what the individual can tolerate. But the increases in intensity or duration should be incremental–steps, not leaps. Undertraining–an insufficient application of stress–can undermine efforts to build strength.  But it is equally important to avoid overtraining, in order to steer clear of injuries or other setbacks that could even result in loss of strength. Gradualism and the patience to practice may be one of the least appreciated but surest paths to getting stronger.

Training vs. Doing. It is important to make a clear distinction between training periods when we are building stress resistance, and the rest of life, when we are dealing with life’s stresses. Training sessions will typically weaken a person during the application of the stress exercises, and likely also for some period of recovery thereafter. So Hormetism can seem paradoxical, because we often address a problem by advising the opposite of the normal remedy. For example, just as weight lifting stimulates increased muscular strength, vision can be improved by using progressively stronger anti-corrective lenses, and progressive sun tanning without sunscreen is effective in building up resistance of the skin to UV radiation. After recovery from the initial “damage” caused by the stressor, adaptive remodeling leaves the person with a stronger “infrastructure”, able to better resist future stresses. Stress training generally takes repeated applications over many weeks or months to deliver a benefit. Thus, the training period should be recognized as a short-term setback that is worthwhile because it leads to a long-term positive adaptation to stress. Of course, the “setback” is not experienced as pain or overtraining, because gradualism is used to ensure the stress applied is not excessive, but always “within reach”.

Applications. The majority of this website and blog will be devoted to applying the philosophy of Hormetism to a wide variety of specific practical examples. In each case, we will consider biological or behavioral evidence supporting the application of stress as a stimulus to strength, as well as specific suggestions for how to optimally achieve strength gains in practice.

Hormetism is not an academic armchair philosophy, but rather a “philosophy for life” that can help us thrive in coping with our everyday challenges. Some of the more interesting applications of Hormetism include:

Leave a comment. And be sure to check out the Discussion Forum.

My Zimbio

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13 Comments

  1. Tom Merson

    I think the whole notion of hormesis is fascinating and I’m particularly interested in the radiation hormesis subset (having had a number of CT scans over the course of many years). Is there any way to correlate that kind of test (typically measured in millesevierts I believe) with any kind of optimization? In other words, where does the biopositive vs. bionegative begin?

    Reply
  2. Radiation hormesis is still considered controversial by many, but the evidence is accumulating that low dose ionizing radiation induces DNA repair, free radical detoxification and immune stimulation. A brief overview of this evidence is given in “An introduction to radiation hormesis” under the Hormesis links in the right side panel. But even more to the point of your question, a recent study in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, also under the Hormesis links, indicates that occasional CT scans in adults may actually reduce the risk of cancer. I was unable to convert the units in this study to millesevierts, but perhaps you can.

    Reply
  3. Peter Jay

    Hi Todd,

    I hope that my input will give some more encouragement to your readers. Here in the UK it is difficult to find an opthalmist who will prescribe under correction. After years of searching I found one (a Mr Prais) who has a brother (optician) in USA, and who practices eye training successfully, so Mr Prais agreed to under-correct for me.

    That was about 6 years ago. The 5 Previous years to that, I had successfully improved my prescription from -5.75 to -4.5, using various excercises – and including some Bates methods – but had then ceased to improve. With Mr Prais’s cooperation I quickly corrected to
    -3.5 OD and -3.25 OD and I am now very happy with my one month 24/7 soft lenses. I sail, some say very aggressively, in tournaments many weekends, often camping, so the freedom from hard lenses or glasses is great. With these lenses I can read smallish print as well as the bottom of a chart for distance. That is line 20/15 or even 20/10.

    Having read your blog, I propose having Mr Prais make up bifocals with +1 normal and +3 reading strengths. These two strengths give a slight blur for near and far (I’ve tried the pharmacy cheapo glasses to check)
    Then I will move the presciption down -.25 at a time. Or is that UP .25 ? !!

    Q. Am I correct in my proposal ?

    Thank you for the blog.

    Did I mention that I am 75 years of age ?

    Regards, Peter Jay

    Reply
    • Todd

      Peter,

      It is indeed inspiring to hear of cases like yours, showing that one can make the journey from -5.75 diopters to -3.5 or less after several years of working at it, even at a mature age. The eye remains plastic well beyond adolescence! I made my transition from -3 lenses to no glasses at age 45. It is too bad that most opthamologists are unwilling to acknowledge that myopia can be reversed, yet fortunately there are a few such as your Mr. Prais who will prescribe undercorrected lenses.

      You’ve understood the principle of progressive improvement perfectly, Peter. Since you can read the 20/15 or 20/10 line on the Snellen chart with your -3.5/-3.25 lenses, it looks to me like you are overcorrected and could stand to work your eyes a bit harder. If you find that +1 distance/+3 reading bifocal combo gives you a “slight blur” for both near and far, that seems right to me. You can wear the glasses much of the day, but I’d suggest taking periodic breaks to give your eyes a rest, and some practice at refocusing. I’d strongly suggest monitoring your Snellen ratings on at least a weekly basis, and tracking this. At first, you’ll be set back some with the weaker lenses, but once you creep down to 20/20 its time to undercorrect again by another 0.25 diopters.

      I’d encourage you to read the posts on the Forum of this blog and consider posting your own experience and progress:

      http://forum.gettingstronger.org/index.php?board=4.0

      You’ll see there many kindred souls who’ve been working on improving their vision using plus lenses, including some creative variations using, e.g. contact lenses.

      Cheers,

      Todd

      Reply
  4. Hi Peter and Todd,
    Subject: Helping a person avoid “entry” into negative status for the eye.
    I have reviewed large-scale studies of the natural eye’s behavior, with Dr. Francis Young — and importantly, studies of the primate eye, and the characteristic response of this natural eye in a long-term “cage” environment. If a person, at age 7, has 20/20 (good retina) and a postive state, I believe that that person, with strong motivation, could, under HIS control, always avoid entry into “nearsightedness.” So, for me, that is my “altrustic” goal, to help a person at say, 20/60 (while he can still “function” with no minus lens) SLOWLY clear his Snellen back to DMV-Normal (i.e., personally verify he passes the DMV line. For this “advocacy” I get incredible objection. But that (self-empowerment) goal is what makes sense to me at this time. I have proposed a preventive study (for people at 20/60 and -1.5 diopters), but get no support at all. I am 71 years old, and “was” a very frustrated “myope”. I consider (at the threshold) this situation is “self-induced”. Tragically, very few people will understand, let use a strong plus, when their Snellen is at 20/50, and prevention possible. Peter, I am pleased you have found a supportive OD for your myopia reduction work. Keep on posting your thoughts as I belive we must work together to achieve prevention for the people who need it the most. Otis

    Reply
  5. Hi Peter and Todd,
    I believe in getting “ahead” of a problem (as an engineer) and stopping it, or preventing it, before it goes beyond 20/60 to 20/70. (When the person can still function with no minus lens, and will use an anti-prescription lens). I am often asked to PROVE that this is possible. I have proposed a formal prevention study as stated here:
    http://myopiafree.i-see.org/Embry.html
    The people in this study would be like Jansen, intelligent, self-motivated, and could see results in about four months. The problem — the National Eye Institute, that will not support any such (potentially successful study). I can’t get beyond that point, but I know that individual pilots (starting at 20/60) managed to get their refractive STATE to change in a postive direction, and their Snellen to clear from 20/70 to 20/40 (DMV normal) and with much greater effort, to clear to 20/20 and pass, objectively the FAA requirement. So if I sound frustrated — I am. Best, Otis

    Reply
  6. maia

    Hi, i’m very interested in your concept but could you elucidate for me? I have very little control in my life – mainly due to poverty, isolation, total lack of social skills etc – and have spent my life working the kind of seasonal and temporary jobs and living in the kind of accommodation where you’re lucky if you get six months before you’re asked to move along, and not being able or barely able to afford food and rent and so on, so i have spent a lot of my life in fear or even terror (physically shaking, unable to sleep etc) with the consequences that i’m mentally exhausted. I’m fine now, in a stable situation sponging off a rich relative, which isn’t ideal but isn’t escapable. But i have developed the total habit, from lots of bad and scary experiences and constant shocks, of avoiding all difficulty, even making decisions, and of seeking consolation and comfort nonstop. Now i am 40, single, and obese, and have spent my life reading books until i discovered the internet, i have this awful result of being totally passive, especially with people, totally soft, lazy and idle. I will stay in bed in the morning because i feel safe there. Obviously some things – like going to the gym – i can’t afford, or maybe once a week, and i’m too isolated (literally, up a mountain) to engage socially with anyone, but i do need to change my fear and passivity within the limits that i can, or my life is never going to change and my health, already bad, is going to get worse. How do you change your mindset? One problem, in fact, is that i used to belong to a strict christian group which emphasised how deserving of punishment and how worthless we were, so if i suffer or inflict on myself any ‘stress’ emotionally i experience it as my fault, what i deserve and proof of my worthlessness, and get more passive. Obviously i want to become like everyone else, someone who fights back and sticks up for themselves, but merely forcing myself to go through suffering won’t help – i have a constant history of this kind of pointless masochism! So i need to put my finger on how you turn fear and worthlessness into adversity that you fight. Thanks a lot, mai

    Reply
    • Todd

      Maia,

      Your predicament is difficult — but not hopeless. Anxiety and depression are not easily overcome, but the fact is that many do it. It almost always helps to have a support system. I would suggest finding a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. Check with your county social services to see if there is such help. The key is not to get caught up in the past and your feelings, and not to blame yourself or others, but to challenge your beliefs about yourself and start taking one small step at a time. Don’t “force” yourself to suffer, but make very small adjustments in your daily routine. Be happy for small changes and small successes. Don’t try to change everything overnight — that usually backfires.

      Good luck,

      Todd

      Reply
  7. saousan

    dear TODD
    my son 16 years old has a progressive myopia now his eye sight of left eye is -5.75 & right is -4.5 i am afraid to become worst do you advise me to try +1 glasses with him ? is there any side effects in these grade thank you

    Reply
    • Todd

      Sausan,

      Your son’s myopia is very strong. It is too strong to use plus lenses. He should sit close to the computer or book and read without any glasses for at least an hour a day, using the print pushing method. I am not going to repeat the details here — it is all clearly described in my articles on this blog and on the forum, where there are many comments by people who are successfully using print pushing.

      Todd

      Reply
  8. Robin

    Hi with -3.5 in both eyes can I wear plus lenses

    Reply
    • Todd

      No you don’t need plus lenses until your correction gets down below about 2 diopters. Anyone with more than 2 diopter correction cannot easily read a computer screen or book without glasses, so you can practice print pushing by sitting as close as you need to in order to bring the print into focus. For more details, read the following posts in detail:

      Rehabilitation
      Improve eyesight – and throw away your glasses
      How one person improved his vision

      Then go to the Discussion Forum and read:

      Eyesight without glasses

      I won’t respond to any further question about vision improvement in this location — the discussion fits better at the above locations.

      Please do register for the Discussion Forum and join the conversation.

      Todd

      Reply
  9. Robin

    Can anyone tell me what Todd meant by saying periodically increasing your range of focus.How much is this period?

    Reply

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