Humans and their predecessors evolved in environments where they were challenged intermittently with: 1) food scarcity; 2) the need for aerobic fitness to catch/kill prey and avoid or repel attackers; and 3) exposure to biological toxins present in foodstuffs. Accordingly, cells and organ systems acquired and retained molecular signaling and metabolic pathways through which the environmental challenges enhanced the functionality and resilience of the cells and organisms. Within the past 60 years there has been a precipitous diminution of such challenges in modern societies because of the development of technologies that provide a continuous supply of energy-dense processed foods and that largely eliminate the need for physical exertion. As a consequence of the modern 'couch potato' lifestyle, signaling pathways that mediate beneficial effects of environmental challenges on health and disease resistance are disengaged, thereby rendering people vulnerable to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurodegenerative disorders. Reversal of the epidemic of diseases caused by unchallenging lifestyles will require a society-wide effort to re-introduce intermittent fasting, exercise and consumption of plants containing hormetic phytochemicals into daily and weekly routines.
Keywords: brain function; exercise; hormesis; intermittent fasting.