INTRODUCTION: Mild stress-induced hormesis is becoming increasingly attractive as an ageing interventional strategy and is leading to the discovery of hormesis-inducing compounds called hormetins. Almost 50 years of modern biogerontolgical research has established a clear framework regarding the biological basis of ageing and longevity, and it is now generally accepted that ageing occurs in spite of the presence of complex pathways of maintenance, repair and defense, and there is no 'enemy within.' This viewpoint makes modulation of ageing different from the treatment of one or more age-related diseases. A promising strategy to slow down ageing and prevent or delay the onset of age-related diseases is that of mild stress-induced hormesis by using hormetins. AREAS COVERED: The article presents the rationale and a strategy for discovering novel hormetins as potential drugs for ageing intervention by elucidating multiple stress responses of normal human cells. Furthermore, it discusses the first steps in identifying prospective hormetin drugs and provides a recent example of successful product development, based on the ideas of hormesis and by following the strategy described here. EXPERT OPINION: As a biomedical issue, the biological process of ageing underlies several major diseases, and although the optimal treatment of every disease, irrespective of age, is a social and moral necessity, preventing the onset of age-related diseases by intervening in the basic process of ageing is the best approach for achieving healthy ageing and for extending the healthspan.