Stability. Balance. Equilibrium. Homeostasis. These are not just terms used to guide you through your yoga class. In both understanding and reaching homeostasis, biology plays an enormous role. Biology teaches us that the body uses a series of internal systems to create a state of balance so that it can flourish.
So, what is homeostasis? The definition of homeostasis is an organism’s process by which it maintains a stable internal environment that can sustain life. It is a regulatory procedure guided by specific systems, like the digestive or the endocrine system, that influence the body as a whole. All living organisms seek homeostasis, but every creature’s ways of achieving it are different, as is the specific balance they seek.
To define homeostasis, we have to understand that it’s not a fixed or static state in the body. You can’t reach homeostasis and stay there; the body is continuously readjusting and re-cueing itself to find homeostasis. The homeostasis definition is an equilibrium that the organism is continually working to maintain.
To define maintain in the context of these internal systems, we can look to several examples of how the body is continuously tending to itself to pursue homeostasis.
Examples of Homeostasis
A simple example of homeostasis is temperature regulation. The human body is a little like a house built with air conditioning. You set the thermostat range so that it doesn’t get too cold or too hot inside. If it gets too cold, the pipes will freeze, putting the house in danger. If it gets too hot, you could get dehydrated. These boundaries are cues or outer limits. They guide the system so that if the temperature starts to drop too low or get too high, the air conditioning unit will regulate it to a comfortable range. This process is similar to what’s happening in the body, in its search for homeostasis.
The average human’s homeostatic temperature, meaning the temperature at which we thrive, is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When you get too cold, your body might cue you to shiver in an attempt to stimulate your muscles and produce warmth.
Certain blood vessels in your extremities will begin to constrict to conserve heat in your core (this is why so many Alpine skiers risk frostbite of the toes or fingers when they get too cold). These actions are attempts to guide your body back towards its homeostasis by warming it up.
These homeostasis examples are physiological, meaning that they happen internally and automatically. But seeking out homeostasis is also behavioral. For instance, when you feel chilly, you might automatically shiver, but you might also feel the urge to gut on more clothing layers.
You might even move to sit in a patch of sunlight or curl your arms close to your torso to keep warm. These are all behaviors that will move your body closer to the point of homeostasis.
Of course, like air conditioning, the same kinds of homeostatic processes will kick in when you get too hot, as well. Sweating to cool down is a common way our bodies seek out homeostasis. So is flushing - both are ways that the body is trying to cool itself down back to its optimal temperature.
The body guides itself towards homeostasis by providing both positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback asks for more of something; negative feedback guides the body towards less. These are internal guidelines that point our systems towards success.
Negative feedback is more common than positive in the body. Another homeostasis example deals with regulating blood sugar. When glucose (sugar) levels in the blood rise, the pancreas produces insulin to absorb and process the glucose. As your glucose levels decrease, so does the production of insulin. Too much or too little glucose and too much or too little insulin are dangerous for the body, so it seeks to self-regulate.
The Importance of Homeostasis
Maintaining homeostasis is one of the key ways that we stay healthy. Seeking homeostasis regulates our moods, moves waste through our system, makes our cells healthier, helps us sleep better, fights off infections, regulates our weight, keeps up hydrated, and so much more.
Most of the process of finding homeostasis is natural, instinctual, and happens without us even realizing we’re being guided by it. Psychologically, the need for homeostasis has even been used to formulate drive-reduction theory, which hypothesizes that many human motivations are driven by the urge to seek out homeostasis.
Ways to Maintain Homeostasis
Getting enough micronutrients, or certain vitamins and minerals that your body can’t produce on its own can help your body maintain homeostasis. Taking a health supplement like Revive MD’s Women’s Health Formula can help balance out hormone fluctuations and combat unwanted side effects of uneven hormones, like bloating or acne.
Eating a balanced diet is another way to help your body find homeostasis. Incorporating a variety of complete and incomplete proteins into your diet will supply your body with amino acids, which are vital to the internal communication that helps your system achieve homeostasis.
Getting enough exercise is another way to help maintain healthy homeostasis. During aerobic exercise, like running, walking, bicycling, or swimming, your heart rate increases, your respiratory system works harder to get you more oxygen, and you expel more carbon dioxide.
Your vitals, like your heart rate, oxygen levels, and lactic acid production, will increase in order to meet the demands of the new homeostasis created by these heightened conditions. Exercising regularly helps make your body healthier and more adaptable to changing physical conditions.
Homeostasis is an important regulatory process that keeps all of our systems healthy and stable. By taking vitamins, eating balanced meals, and exercising, you can help your body maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is ever-changing, but the process of finding it is part of what makes our bodies the amazing, powerful organisms that they are.