If you read our 9 Blog articles, participate on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter, you’ve probably heard us say, “Context matters” on more than one occasion. Just last week, we published our Whole9 Health Equation, laying out our big-picture view on health and underscoring that very same point. But aside from the obvious factors, what else is involved in the discussion of context?
The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
My Context Is Not Your Context
Definition aside, in simple terms, “context” means the general story of your life, past and present – everything that makes up your big-picture health and fitness. A good place to start evaluating your own context is our 9 Factors – but most folks are already savvy to the fact that things like sleep, training and stress all play a major role in their individual health status.
What is often overlooked is that there are additional variables like age, health history, and genetics that also contribute to your individual context. But unlike diet, sleep and training, many of those “invisible” factors are completely outside of your control. And while it may be all too easy to ignore those factors or pretend they don’t impact your health, you’ll do so to your own detriment.
You’re only as old as you feel, right? In a way, that’s absolutely true. But when it comes to things like recovery from exercise, metabolism and sleep, age plays an important role. You may be in the best shape of your life, but some studies say that the older you get, the more likely you are to experience problems related to recovering from exercise. While that conclusion is highly individual (and not necessarily an inevitability of aging), experts agree that at the very least, you should change the intensity, volume and frequency of training as you age.
In addition, you may be back to your high school weight, but your body isn’t as good at working through some metabolic processes as it used to be. And you may have blackout curtains and turn in at 9 AM, but the older we get, the less likely we are to sleep as well as we used to. Whether we like it or not, our age (and the aging process) is a factor to our big-picture health and fitness.
We’ve heard hundreds of transformation stories from Whole30 participants, some of whom admitted to having poor health habits in earlier years. Now, as they string together a year or two of health eating, exercise, sleep and stress management, they picture those years behind them. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.
A history that includes metabolic derangement and weight gain (especially the yo-yo variety), presents major challenges to your return to a healthy weight and metabolism. In fact, your health history dictates to a large degree how hard you’ll have to work to achieve your new health and fitness goals – and you may find some of those goals (particularly regarding weight loss) are simply unattainable, given what your body has been through in the past. While it’s unfortunate that you’d have to pay for past sins today, when you’re working so hard to do everything right, your health history is an unavoidable part of your current context.
While many folks place too much emphasis on genetics (“I’m bound to be diabetic – it’s in my genes”), you’d be mistaken not to take that into account at all. While epigenetics (the pattern of gene expression as influenced by environmental factors like diet, stress and prenatal nutrition) has far more impact on how you look, feel and live, you can’t discount that your genes, race and ethnicity play a role in your health status. If diabetes, addiction, breast cancer or other conditions “run in the family”, consider your margin of error that much skinnier. It would be smart to pay attention to your genetic predispositions, and factor them in as part of your context.
It’s Not a Life Sentence
Of course, just because we age, have a history of yo-yo dieting or come from a family of diabetics doesn’t mean we are permanently bound by these factors. (Heck, just look at Art Devany – he’s healthier and more vibrant than most people half his age.) How you approach your current diet, exercise regimen, sleep schedule and stress management have an enormous impact. The take-away is this: by factoring in your individual context – both those factors you control and those you don’t – you’ll be better equipped to make an effective plan to help you achieve your goals.
As we move forward into focusing more on the big picture of health, fitness and quality of life, you’ll continue to hear the refrain “context matters.” We’re not trying to brainwash you, we promise – but we hope this discussion (and the broader health-centered discussions to come) will prompt you to thoughtfully evaluate your own context, and better help you set reasonable expectations for yourself, and continue to move you forward in your pursuit of optimal health.
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