Nature, nurture and never giving up

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Ah, the age-old debate: is it genetics or the environment that dictate how a child will ultimately evolve?  I have always preferred to believe in a blend of the two, each taking a turn at holding the dominant power during the years of prime development.  However, what happens once the child becomes an adult?

In thinking about what attracts an individual to his or her partner, a whole host of attributes come to mind: eye color, sense of humor, manners, upbringing, religion, education and many others.  For better or for worse, body image tends to play a large role when seeking out a mate as well.  Some folks are drawn to the slender woman, others prefer a more athletic build, and still others favor a shape with a little more “meat on the bones”.  When a woman is seeking a male partner, she too has a preference: height, facial hair, muscular build and overall physique come into play. 

Sadly, once a union has been established, many individuals feel that the need to keep themselves in the shape that first attracted their partner is no longer a necessity.  Haven’t we all heard friends say,” Well, he/she married me and is stuck with me now, so what does it matter how I look?”

Ideally, if a couple is deeply in love, perhaps outer appearances slip into the background over time.  After all, beauty is skin-deep, but matters of the heart are much more powerful.  Yet even if we take what I call “society’s view” of physical aesthetics out of the equation, we are still left with the responsibility of fighting nature/genetics and nurturing our own health. 

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This past weekend, my husband and I spent the 4th of July holiday driving to and from Chicago. This was an unplanned excursion; my mom ended up in the ER and is currently in the hospital.  While we only spent Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon there, it was a powerful experience for me on a multitude of levels.

My mom was definitely one of those individuals who, over the course of a 50+ -year marriage, kind of “let herself go.” My father thought she was beautiful until the day he passed, because their love truly was that deep.  However, here she is, at 81 years of age, dealing with the health consequences of having pretty much given up on her physique at some point during their lives together.  Rather than living with the idea that “He’s stuck with me so it doesn’t matter how I look”, it is important to remember that you, too, are stuck with yourself for the rest of your life.

As I looked at Mom, I realized that she probably doesn’t even see a connection between giving up on living mindfully and health consequences in later years.  True, the fitness and wellness craze had not yet reached today’s epic proportions when she was busy working and raising a family. Still, it is hard for me to fathom a lifestyle bereft of regular exercise or prudent food choices.  Mom now deals with a multitude of health issues, and I cannot help but ponder once again that age-old query.  How many of these situations are a result of her genetic make-up, and how many are a result of lack of nurturing herself through the years?

In a realm where I am blessed enough to be surrounded by active and health individuals, many of whom are older than my mom, I am saddened over the realization that perhaps she might have been one of them if circumstances had played out differently.  Circumstances?  Or choices? We certainly made choices when we were young and trying to attract a mate.  Why does this end later in adulthood?

The answer is simple: it doesn’t have to end.  Making a commitment to lifelong wellness is a choice we all should take to heart.  Can we prevent every health crisis out there? Sometimes things just happen, regardless of how straight a path we are on.  Yet if there exists a way to raise the odds in favor of health during our golden years, don’t we owe it to ourselves to explore it?

Think about it…

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