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In the quest for life longevity, we often think of relaxation, healthy eating, and regular exercise as the golden trio. But what if there’s another factor we’ve been overlooking? Dr. Mark Hyman, the founder and senior advisor for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, as well as the author of Young Forever: The Secrets to Living Your Longest, Healthiest Life, suggests that stress might just be the missing piece of the puzzle.

This article also appeared on the Santa Barbara Current website.  

Tacking onto the popular saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Dr. Hyman proposes that what doesn’t kill you might also help you live longer. His theory revolves around the concept of hormesis, which is the idea that exposure to low levels of stress can actually strengthen the body and improve resilience, ideally expanding your life.

And I think I can testify to that. As an offensive guard at SBCC and a scholarship player at Wake Forest, I understood that a little nervousness and playing in unfavorable conditions helped me be stronger, faster and a better football player at times. I mean, how could you not be when you’re lining up against a sweaty, smelly 350-pound nose tackle who’s trying to get to your quarterback? You just know he’s been tearing through canisters of protein powder his entire life, and there’s nothing he wants more than to take down a member of my football family.

But that’s just it. My quarterback is my family, and that urgency to protect him with my life is what gives me the willpower to line up against him and shove him back with everything I’ve got. The point is, there are times to relax and go with the flow, and there are times when you need to dial in your senses, kick up your adrenaline, and push with all your might.

But how does stress contribute to longevity, especially when we’re talking about making your money last as opposed to fighting for your life in the trenches of a football game? According to Dr. Hyman, it all comes down to adaptation. When the body is exposed to mild stressors, such as intermittent fasting, exercise, or even cold temperatures, it triggers a cascade of physiological responses aimed at adapting to the stressor and restoring balance. These responses include the activation of various cellular repair mechanisms, the production of antioxidants, and the enhancement of mitochondrial function.

One of the key players in this process is a group of proteins called sirtuins, often referred to as the “longevity genes.” Sirtuins are involved in regulating a wide range of cellular functions, including DNA repair, inflammation, metabolism, and stress response. By activating sirtuins through mild stressors, such as calorie restriction or exercise, it’s possible to enhance cellular repair mechanisms and promote longevity.

Moreover, stress can also stimulate the production of neurotrophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which play a crucial role in brain health and cognitive function. Studies have shown that challenging the brain through activities like learning, problem-solving, and exposure to novel environments can increase the production of BDNF, leading to improvements in memory, mood, and overall brain function.

However, it’s important to note that not all stress is beneficial. Chronic stress, characterized by prolonged exposure to high levels of stress hormones like cortisol, can have detrimental effects on health and accelerate aging. Chronic stress has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and cognitive decline.

So, how can we harness the power of stress to promote longevity without succumbing to its negative effects? According to Dr. Hyman, the key lies in finding the right balance. Instead of avoiding stress altogether, we should aim to expose ourselves to manageable levels of stress that challenge and stimulate our bodies and brains without overwhelming them.

This might involve incorporating intermittent fasting into our routine, engaging in regular exercise, practicing mindfulness and meditation, or exposing ourselves to occasional cold showers or cold-water swims. By periodically subjecting ourselves to these mild stressors, we can activate our body’s adaptive mechanisms and enhance our resilience to stress, ultimately leading to a longer and healthier life.

Now, how does this tie to your money and retirement savings? Well, with longer lifespans comes the need for longer-term plans for your money. That’s why we propose adding similar stressors into your financial life. That could potentially include obligations to your loved ones, saving for a vacation, purchasing a second home, funding your hobbies and more. It’s less about putting yourself through financial turmoil and more about ensuring you have a motivating factor that drives your zest for life and gives you something to look forward to.

In conclusion, while it’s tempting to view stress as purely negative, emerging research suggests that it may play a crucial role in promoting longevity and healthy aging. By embracing mild stressors and challenging our bodies, brains and bank accounts in a controlled manner, we can activate adaptive mechanisms that strengthen our resilience and enhance our physical and financial health. So, perhaps it’s time to reconsider our relationship with stress and recognize its potential benefits in our quest for a longer, healthier, and more financially fulfilling life.


Planning for longevity is an important part of retirement planning Santa Barbara. Let’s talk about your plan! You can reach Tremblay Financial Services, financial advisors in Santa Barbara, by calling 805.569.1982.