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Adaptability- the key to resiliency?

I've been wondering for a while now if they key to optimal health is to become adaptable as possible. After all, who doesn't want to be able to adapt to life's ever-changing conditions? My personal definition of optimal health has become synonymous with resiliency- the ability to cope with unexpected disturbances to the environment, physical body, and/or psyche- and I've wondered if being extremely adaptable is the key to achieving this. Whether it be new places or conditions that our immune systems aren't used to, new stresses or commitments arriving in our lives, or performing tasks our bodies aren't prepared for, we all want our bodies (and minds and spirits) to respond to changes and still maintain our health. We want to be resilient.

So does adaptability create resiliency? The short answer is, it depends. The thing I realized is that adaptability is not the whole piece of the puzzle. All humans are adaptable- it's why our species has become so prolific over time. Yet proliferation does not equal health nor robustness, just as quantity does not equal quality. The point is, it's what you're adapted to that counts. And there are certain things we may actually want to avoid adaptation to in order to have real resiliency in health. Harmful adaptations, or maladaptations, can occur when certain environments (i.e. the indoors) or movements (or lackthereof) are repeated over time that lead to less resiliency. Think of the person who is unable to withstand almost any amount of exposure to the outdoors with it's natural forces like sun, wind, variable terrain, and cold exposure- the actual components of our natural environment!- and require gobs of sunscreen, tons of layers, thick shoe-casts, and all the gear in order to not feel totally helpless. Meanwhile, they become more and more adapted to sitting on their couch in their protected, wind-free, flat-grounded, temperature-controlled home. These are side-effects of being the current generation of a long lineage of domesticated humans- humans that have adapted to domesticated environments.

The issue lies not so much with being adapted to the indoors, but with the lack of adaptation to our natural environment. Two things to note here: 1. Our bodies adapt to the forces applied to them and 2. Some adaptations come at the expense of others. So it's important to be conscious of what you are exposing yourself to on a frequent basis, aka becoming adapted to- keeping in mind that your body will adapt to what it's exposed to most frequently. It can be helpful to identity your ultimate goal- is it greater ability to spend time in nature (if so, try introducing saunas and cold plunges into your routine- you'll become adapted to greater variations in temperature) or is it the ability to stay seated on your couch indefinitely? (In that case, go ahead and stay indoors on your couch- you'll become more couch-shaped!) The point is, depending on the strength of exposure and the frequency, your body will adapt to what you expose it to.

I believe I was onto something in seeking adaptability, yet the key piece for me has been understanding that it's actually the experience of diversity - in experiences, exposures, environments, and so on- that is the true key to resiliency. No one thing, whether it be one movement, one sitting position, one surface or one temperature (hello thermostat set to 70 degrees!) is good to become adapted to at the expense of others- meaning that you struggle with any variations away from it (which limits your ability to be a resilient being that can participate in nature). The goals is to be capable of variation- to adapt to diversity- keeping in mind that what you're already adapted to (i.e. the indoors) likely doesn't need more practice. Make it your goal adapt to things beyond your comfort zone, beyond the convenience of your home. Things that make us stronger and more resilient are most often are found in the natural environment. The nearly limitless amount of surfaces, textures, temperatures, bacteria, nutrients, and phytochemicals available in nature offer us an astounding amount of diversity that, when interacted and engaged with, prepares the body for physical, emotional, and immunological resiliency like nothing else.


Luckily its in our DNA to be adapted to diversity- while we may come from a long line of domesticated humans, we also descend from wild ancestors. We simply need to allow ourselves access to that wild ancestry to unlock our inherent potentials- and it's often sitting just outside our doorsteps. We can choose to spend time in nature, or mimic natural exposures as best we can from home. We can choose to eat a more ancestral diet and move more naturally. We can choose to create more natural home environments and follow nature's biorhythms. Most of all, we can choose how much we allow ourselves access to that vast amount diversity found in nature that connects us to new levels of health and resiliency.


A girl about to swim in a glacial lake in the mountains and do a cold plunge in nature

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