Your thigh muscles are on fire. Your face is dripping with sweat. You did it — you decided to take that hot yoga class. But in between Warrior 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, you might be wondering why the hell you decided to take that hot yoga class. Before you quit (or completely melt away into oblivion), know that the benefits from this physical stress go well beyond a proud social media post; the benefits reach your cells too.
New research from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute suggests that experiencing short periods of mild stress can actually strengthen human cells. This means that the things that cause you a little bit of pain — like working out, spending time in the sauna or getting a massage — are actually conditioning your cells to be tougher for the long run.
This conditioning is known as autophagy, which basically means “self-eating.” It’s essentially a process in which certain cell membranes go on a mission to track down the worn-out or diseased cells and completely break them down. They’ll kick the toxic stuff out of your system and recycle the working parts into a new, stronger cell.
This process occurs naturally, but it is boosted in response to mild stress like heat, pressure or tension. So if this process is happening more often in your body, you’ll have less accumulation of those damaged cells, and more new healthy cells in their place. As you probably guessed, healthy cells lead to a longer-lasting body, and who doesn’t want to live a longer and healthier life?
Beyond making the cells of individuals more resilient, this research has the potential to treat or even help prevent diseases like Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These neurodegenerative issues are caused by sticky clumps of proteins that grow larger over time. In the study, researchers showed that targeting mild heat shocks on the dangerous clumps of proteins could actually reduce the build-up. More research needs to be done on this sort of treatment, but knowing we have the potential to prevent these diseases through everyday activities is nothing but hopeful.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all pain is helping your body. Pain, by definition, is a feeling triggered by the nervous system to warn the body of danger. For instance, if you’re working out and feel a sharp twinge, it’s a safe bet that something isn’t right, and that you should probably stop. But in those cases when an activity "hurts so good," know that you're actually detoxifying your body.
So go ahead; get that deep-tissue massage — you’re doing your cells a favor.
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