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Life Factors Influencing Health

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Male Grade School Teacher

Factors Influencing Your Health Footprint

Welcome to Part 4 of our 9-part Health Series on Dinner in Provence. Part 1 was all about our Health Beginnings, Our Why, and Our Inner Critic. Part 2 was about Our Inner Children and finding balance between Discipline and Fun. And Part 3 defined What Health Really Is, breaking it down into 3 Components: Nutrition, Fitness, and Psychology. If you’d like to see the whole series of 9 articles, you can visit the landing page here.

So assuming you’ve read the first 3 parts, you now know what Health is – or at least how we define it. But you should also be aware of some life factors that significantly impact your Health starting point. Let’s identify them and then ask ourselves some questions to determine the extent of their influence on where we currently are.

Factor #1: Job Type & Status

Man working construction job

Jobs influence our health conditions more than any other factor. Your job will dictate three very important things relating to health: Your Income, Your Free Time, and Your Stress Level. If you are jobless, this will produce its own set of stressors and challenges.

Because a full-time job will typically involve 8-10 hours of our 24 hour day, it is a huge factor in health. Jobs influence what type of food we eat, what time of day or night we eat, and how much/what type of exercise we get. Some people are lucky enough to get hour breaks for lunch or their company supports exercising during lunch break or other “paid” time. Some people are able to accommodate before work or after work exercise if their job has reasonable hours, or they only have one job.

Jobs also strongly influence our stress levels, since we spend a significant portion of our day with coworkers and doing actual work. Because jobs are the foundation for our financial stability and oftentimes our only access to affordable healthcare, it is extremely common to feel beholden to a job, even if you feel ambivalent about it or absolutely hate it.

Very little influences your ability to be healthy more than your job. And job in this context refers to any type of work, paid or unpaid. Stay at home parents are a job too – and a very demanding one at that. So don’t discount your “job” just because it isn’t in a corporate or traditional work environment. Parents, volunteers, non-profit coordinators, etc, all work extremely hard and can sometimes be low on emotional support or free time.

Woman at her job as software engineer, coding

Here are some questions to ponder so you can assess how much your job is impacting your ability to purchase healthy food, time to shop, cook and exercise, and the motivation and discipline to do so:

* Do you have a sedentary, lightly active, or heavily active primary job?
* How much control over your daytime schedule do you have?
* How much time do you get for things like lunch break?
* What are your work hours? Are they during the day or night? Are they consistent or unpredictable?
* How chronically or intensely stressful is your job?
* What is your relationship with your coworkers and boss?
* How does your company feel about the health and fitness of its employees?
* Do you work at home, or for yourself?
* Do you have children or elderly parents to care for?

Factor #2: Economic Status

paying for groceries with cash

Our financial situation absolutely impacts our access to fresh, quality food, and often dictates how much extra time we have to cook and exercise.

Lots of low income folks work multiple, low-paying jobs, have little to no free time, and barely have the funds to put food on the table. This channels them into low income food programs where the quality of food, and their choice over what food to eat, is very limited. They might be food insecure, going for high-calorie foods when they can. Or they may be eating primarily fast food and processed food because it’s inexpensive and doesn’t require time to cook. For these folks, finding inexpensive, simple home cooked recipes that they can prepare in advance is the key to escaping corporate food systems geared toward poor households.

It is an ongoing struggle because all economic cards are stacked against them. We absolutely need more healthy food system support in this country. We also need to raise the minimum wage so that people can live on one job’s wages and still have time for their families and health as a basic human right.

Ironically, lots of high income folks struggle with health too. They might have plenty of discretionary income, but it ends up going toward tech gadgets and fancy cars as status symbols, because food isn’t really a status symbol in our culture.

In the rat race of getting ahead of our work or getting that next promotion, they find themselves unable or unwilling to find time work out, cook, or even eat a proper meal. They might be under constant pressure of ongoing demands by bosses and senior leaders. Or they may simply put themselves under pressure. They may barely get 5 minutes to wolf down some fast food before the next meeting. They may find themselves working on a PowerPoint presentation at midnight. They may feel pressured to attend an after work “team building” happy hour rather than get to the gym.

The truth is that it corporate salaried employees can easily slide down the slippery slope of duty and ambition, into workaholism, comparison and status. Some will end up working the hours of two or three jobs also, if they don’t put firm work/life boundaries in place with their employer.

So at one end of the spectrum, we have a group of people who primarily have little economic options for healthy food. And at the other end of the spectrum, we have a group of people who primarily have found themselves with little to no personal time, at the mercy of corporate work.

Here are some questions to ponder so you can assess how your socio-economic situation is impacting your health goals:

  1. How stable of an income do you have?
  2. How comfortable do you feel with your income? Is it a stressor for you, or not?
  3. How much disposable income and time to you have per week?
  4. How much time do you spend going out (which usually costs money), versus at home (which is free)?
  5. Are you on any government food program that may dictate what you eat? Do you feel food insecure or does your family have to go without meals on occasion?

Factor #3: Human Relationships

Diverse People Eating and Sharing Info on Phone

Our third and final factor surrounds a qualitative element, rather than quantitative. And that is the quality of the relationships around us.

Our relationships to others are what define us. We are a highly social, tribal species. We don’t do well alone, and negative relationships can put intensive stress on us. They can absolutely undermine physical and mental health – or, they can absolutely support them. I’ve known of many people who just couldn’t seem to get themselves together on their own, but being in a positive and inspiring relationship allowed them to feel safe exploring more of their health and life goals. Hopefully, all of us have experienced at least one of those relationships in our lives – whether with a romantic partner, a best friend, a sibling, etc.

But how many “get healthy” plans have been foiled by unsupportive relationships? I don’t care to count. Having support by those closest to you (especially if they agree to be on the same journey) is going to significantly increase your chance of success in health. There’s nothing worse than getting healthy and fit, only to deal with a jealous or accusing partner who didn’t come along on the journey. Or a family who mocks you at every dinner get together for your diet choices.

And if you’re dealing with an abusive relationship of ANY kind, whether intimate, parental, etc, you are likely to spend the vast amount of your energy healing emotional wounds and not likely to have much energy left over to cook well or exercise. This is what I mean when I say we have to take care of our psychology health first, before we can get physically healthy.

Ask yourself these questions so that you can better understand how likely your relationships are to support you as you go through this journey. Its totally possible to go through it alone, and I’ve known many who have, but you should just be aware of it in advance. Knowledge is power!

  1. How is your relationship with your family, particularly parents and/or siblings?
  2. Do you have an intimate relationship/partner?
  3. If not, how do you prefer to get companionship needs met, and to what extent?
  4. If so, how positive, supportive and stable is that relationship?
  5. Do you have a past history of trauma or abuse?
  6. Do you prefer to have a workout buddy or accountability partner, or are you OK with an independent journey?
  7. If you live in a household with others (family, roommates), are they willing to come along on the journey with you?
In summary, all of these factors boil down to TIME, MONEY, and SUPPORT.

They deserve to be looked at in your own life, to be grateful for areas of strength and comfort, and to know in advance which areas you’ll struggle with. These factors will impact you more so than other factors like age or gender.

It’s important to remember that you can succeed regardless of your situation in life. People in every situation in life have some sort of struggle. Some of the poorest people we know have some of the best community and closest relationships. Some of the richest people we know are the most isolated and miserable.

Don’t assume that everyone else has it better than you in life. Work with what you’ve got. You can do this – we believe in you! ❤️

Real Life Examples

Here are some tactical, real-life examples to help you better understand what we’re talking about.

Because everyone has a unique life footprint, we have to expect everyone to be at different health levels. As mentioned, Nutrition, Exercise and Psychology are all very separate Health journeys, and it is common for folks to have uneven levels across the three categories.

Below are three (fictional) people who I have made up a life situation above. Let’s read through what each of their lives look like. If you assign a score of 1 through 5 in each of the areas, you can begin to get a feel for people’s unique health footprints and where they should focus their energies. Let’s also keep in mind that depending on one’s phase in life or goals, it should not be automatically assumed that everyone should strive for a Level 5 in all three categories. For example: someone might be perfectly happy at a Level 2 or 3 Fitness, and that is OK. This is all about feeling healthy and living YOUR best life.

Maria
Maria is a retired woman in her late 60’s who considers herself modestly financially stable and comfortable. She lives in a retirement community where she has a broad array of friendships, and a good relationship with her family who visits her often. She has a pretty good meal plan with multiple options available through her cafeteria, as well as being allowed to keep fresh fruits, veggies and snack food within her apartment. Her life is very simple and peaceful, she doesn’t have much current stress other than getting older. She was in the workforce for 40 years and is now just reaping the benefits of all her hard work. Maria is likely a Level 3 Eater according to her cafeteria plan supplemented with healthy snacks, a Level 2 Exerciser due to her age and energy levels, and a Level 5 in Mental/Emotional because of her quality of life and lack of stress. And she is really happy with that. Those levels make sense for her age and life situation.

Oliver
Oliver is a single professional in his mid-20’s. He’s been in the workforce for about 4 years and is intent on making his mark and getting his first major promotion. He’s had a couple of romantic relationships but they haven’t worked out, so he’s taking a break to focus on his career. He feels like once he’s making a little more money, owns a home, and has traveled the world a little more, he will be ready to settle down and will find the right person. Oliver works so much he doesn’t have a lot of a social life – and he sees his family only occasionally. Most of his life consists of being at work, or being at the gym. He eats dinner late when he gets home and usually binges on Netflix until he falls asleep. A lot of his food is pre-made, or what he considers “healthy” fast food (he’s a Chipotle regular, with Burger King and Pizza Hut thrown in on weekends). Oliver is likely a Level 2 Eater and a Level 5 Exerciser. He’s a Level 3 with his Mental/Emotional – he worries too much about his physical appearance and compares himself to other guys at the gym too much. He also doesn’t have a lot of meaningful relationships to foster connection. So although he is killing it with his exercise plan and looks pretty good on the outside, he could probably do with some improvements in the other two areas.

Tonya
Tonya is a single mom in her late 30’s whose husband passed away in a car accident. She was a stay at home mom before he died and is now responsible 100% for two girls ages 6 and 8. She’s currently working 2 low-skill jobs since she had to enter the workforce suddenly. She wouldn’t consider herself outright poor but she struggles to make ends meet. She’s also still dealing emotionally with her husband’s loss. Luckily, her retired mother has moved in with her and at least makes the family home cooked meals on a regular basis. Tonya cares about fitness, surfs social media a lot, and dreams of a day where she can pursue her hobbies and goals – like being as fit as she would like. But for right now, almost all her time is focused on paying the rent and groceries, and trying to make sure her kids are doing well in school. Tonya and her family are likely Level 3 eaters. She is at a Level 1 in Exercise due to her time constraints, and Level 2 Mental/Emotional due to her financial stress, lack of free time, and recent trauma.

SUMMARY

At this point you are likely curious what it means to be a Level 3 in Nutrition or Level 2 in Fitness. And we’ll go through those in detail in the next couple of sections.

But first, think for a moment about your OWN life. If you were to just guess, with a rating of 1 through 5 in each area, what level would you say you were at with Nutrition? With Exercise? With your Mental/Emotional Health? Do a quick gut check before we move on. Assessing where you *think* you’re at, will tell you a lot about the beliefs you hold about yourself currently.

Ready for Part 5? Let’s introduce you to the 3×5 Health Framework.

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