Regaining Homeostasis With Diet & Exercise
In scientific literature, health is often defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being – and not simply the absence of disease or infirmity.
With this in mind, health is a state of optimal balance that ensures the individual can manage every aspect of their life effectively, without the disease, illness, and the unnecessary risk of death.
In short, health is a global sense of homeostasis.
What is homeostasis in the human body?
So, what is homeostasis?
Homeostasis ultimately describes any self-regulating process in which a biological system maintains stability while adjusting to outside conditions and influences, as a means to maintain survival.
But why is homeostasis important?
Well, to put it simply, if homeostasis is successful, life continues.
And it is this fact that should give some insight into what homeostasis means for the human body.
As robust and resilient as the human body is, it actually requires an extremal stable and well-regulated internal environment to guarantee is survival. This means that it needs to maintain an optimal physiological state. It needs to ensure that it is stable chemically, nervously, and even temperately – otherwise health declines.
Most impressively, the human body somehow manages to maintain this homeostatic balance even despite the external environment often challenging its ability to do so in a myriad of different ways.
In short, every single one of your body’s systems is reacting as a collective to the changing environment to ensure that it is functioning optimally.
Like I said – impressive.
Related Article: The Ketogenic Diet: How It Affects Athletic Performance
What is metabolic homeostasis?
Taking all of this into consideration, metabolic homeostasis ultimately refers to your innate ability to manage your own metabolic health. This means managing blood sugar levels, hormone sensitivity, inflammation, and cardiovascular function (Brestoff, 2015).
As a general rule of thumb, individuals who struggle to maintain metabolic homeostasis are at an increased risk of numerous inflammatory diseases, as well as diabetes and heart disease.
In the following sections, I really want to outline how diet and exercise impact homeostasis.
How diet affects homeostasis
Arguably one of the most important aspects of maintaining homeostasis in the human body is related to diet.
To maintain optimal health and function, the body needs easy access to a vast number of nutrients, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates. If the body becomes deficient (or alternatively, overabundant) in any one of these areas, then homeostasis is challenged.
While the deficiency of a specific nutrient easily explains a disruption in homeostasis (as it limits the body’s ability to function), in the western world this not all that common.
What is much more common is a homeostatic issue occurring as a result of eating too much of something. This often disrupts homeostasis via one or two (or both) of these key mechanisms:
- Alterations in body weight
- Metabolic disturbance
Body weight regulation and homeostasis
The excessive consumption of energy in any way, shape, or form (whether it be via fats, carbohydrates, or even protein) can result in the accumulation of fat tissue – a process very commonly known as weight gain.
If left unchecked, this can develop into obesity.
This accumulation of fatty tissue can cause a subsequent increase in inflammation, which really starts the entire disruptive process (Smith, 2018).
You see, chronic inflammation can cause physical damage to your cells, which limits their ability to function. Additionally, in obese people, this inflammation has been shown to impair the ability of the brain to regulate energy intake, and therefore manage body weight.
This means that obese people tend to become less satisfied with the food that they eat, and feel forever hungry – even if they have consumed more than their daily energy requirements.
This creates a positive feedback loop where an alteration in metabolic homeostasis leads to further disruptions in homeostasis, through the heightened overconsumption of food.
Metabolic disturbances and homeostasis
Similarly, eating too much highly processed carbohydrates can also have a rather negative effect on homeostasis (Hers, 1990).
When you eat carbohydrates, blood glucose rises. Your body then secretes insulin to transport that glucose into your muscle tissue. However, if you are always eating these types of foods, then insulin secretion becomes constantly elevated.
Over time, your body becomes resistant to this insulin, which results in chronically elevated blood sugar levels. In response, your body secretes more insulin to cause even a small change in your blood glucose levels.
This creates more insulin resistance, which results in you permanently having high levels of both glucose and insulin in your blood.
Yep, another positive feedback loop that leads to the disruption of homeostasis.
Now, much like obesity, this can lead to inflammation, disease, and over time, even death – which is obviously not good.
The nervous system and homeostasis
While we are on the topic of diet, I thought it would also be valuable to touch on the role of your nervous system in terms of its ability to help you maintain a state of homeostasis.
To add to the above, the inflammation caused by both obesity and insulin resistance can also impair your nervous system function (Dunn, 2014).
This harmful inflammation essentially limits the ability of your sensory nerves to communicate with your brain and the remainder of your hormonal system. Over time this leads to hormone imbalances and further disruptions in hunger signaling.
In short, you may find yourself feeling hungry all the time, while your out of whack hormones will simultaneously start to wreak havoc with your body.
Much like the above, your risk of both cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and practically every hormonal issue under the sun increase tenfold.
And it can all stem from diet…
How exercise affects homeostasis
Now, this is where things start getting really interesting (or at least I think they do…).
In an acute sense, exercise actually disrupts homeostasis. It places the body under a fairly large amount of stress, which it needs to cope with. During this process, the body is essentially working overtime to maintain a homeostatic state.
While this could be definitely be viewed as a negative, there is an ever-growing body of research clearly demonstrating that this is, in fact, a very good thing (Smith, 2018).
You see this stress tells the body that it needs to adapt. That it needs to become more efficient, and better able to tolerate this same sort of physical stress in the future.
In short, it tells it that it needs to function to a higher level at all times
As a result, exercise has been shown to cause vast improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood glucose management, and cardiovascular health and function – all of which lead to a much-improved state of homeostasis.
How do homeostatic imbalances affect the body and brain?
I have already touched on some of the negative health effects that homeostatic imbalances can have on your health, but I believe that this is worth going into in more detail.
How imbalances affect the brain
The increase in inflammation that occurs as a result of homoeostatic imbalance literally damages the cells in your brain. This can impair not only their ability to function but also their ability to replicate efficiently.
Over time, this can lead to an increased risk of dementia, declines in cognitive function, and even the onset of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety (Garcia-Rizo, 2016; Cheng, 2018).
How imbalances affect the body
As I have already stated, the disruption of metabolic homeostasis in the human body can lead to weight gain, abnormal hunger signaling, and an inability to manage blood glucose levels effectively.
Which is not good.
In fact, considering that this greatly increases your risk of disease and illness, it’s terrible.
But I didn’t fully describe the extent of these effects in a physical sense.
Much like in the cells of your brain, inflammation also damages the cells that make up the rest of your body. This results in poor function, poor replication, and a global decline in your body’s ability to function daily.
This has been hypothesized to be one of the main causes for cancer, as well as numerous diseases such as arthritis, and even gastrointestinal dysfunction (Multhoff, 2012; Pisetsky, 2012; Hunter, 2012).
Related Article: Gluten-Free Diet and Exercise
Do genetics play a role in your ability to manage homeostasis?
There is some evidence to suggest that people with certain genes are slightly more susceptible to the onset of heart disease, and diabetes, among a host of other inflammatory diseases (Kathiresan, 2012; Ali, 2013; Langlais, 2017).
But this genetic predisposition probably isn’t the most important factor.
In fact, it definitely isn’t.
You see, when it comes to your ability to manage homeostasis, as already discussed, the largest portion comes down to your ability to eat well and exercise regularly – interestingly, there is some sort of genetic component to this.
Well, kind of.
Research has shown that parents that eat good quality food have good exercise patterns generally pass these traits on to their children (Cantell, 2012; Davison, 2017)
While this isn’t necessarily because of genetic factors, it does demonstrate that parents ultimately set up their children for a lifetime of success – and more importantly, a lifetime of homeostatic balance.
Best exercises to stay balanced
We know that exercise is good for keeping homeostasis – but what is the best type of exercise?
In short, we want to incorporate types of exercise that challenge both your cardiovascular system and your muscles. With this in mind, your best option is to follow the recommended activity guidelines made by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2011), which state:
- Adults should undertake a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week or a minimum of 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise per week (or a combination of the two).
- For additional health benefits, adults should aim for either 300 minutes of moderate intensity, or 150 minutes of high intensity, aerobic exercise per week.
- Adults should also perform resistance training that exercises major muscle groups on a minimum of two days per week.
If you meet these guidelines, then you can guarantee that you are meeting your exercise needs for homeostasis.
Best diet to stay balanced
Much like the above, there are some pretty clear dietary recommendations that optimize health (NASEM, 2017). These include:
- Eat a diet mostly consisting of vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and a variety of protein dense foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), as well as nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- Limit your consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium as much as possible (this means limiting junk foods and sugary beverages as much as possible).
In conjunction with the above recommendations, there is also merit in actively trying to consume foods that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. This offers a fantastic way of limiting inflammation, which can go a very long way to helping you maintain metabolic homeostasis ling term.
Some of the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods on the planet include (Gupta, 2013; Wall, 2010; Joseph, 2014; Ohishi, 2016):
- Seafood (fish oil is also a great option)
- Green tea
Follow these diet tips, and you are going to see some huge improvements in health.
Take Home Message
Your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis is incredibly impressive – however, it also isn’t foolproof. Certain behaviors can take you out of homeostasis and ruin your health, while the reverse is also true.
Which is exactly why diet and exercise are both so incredibly important.
By following the tips outlined in this article you can help your body maintain homeostasis, stave off disease and illness, and even keep you happier in the process – so what are you waiting for?
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