One of the hottest debates in our fitness culture is that of Nature vs. Nurture. On one side, we have the idea that Mother Nature is ultimately in control of our fitness level. The idea is that your DNA and genes are ultimately in control of how much fat you carry and how strong you are. No matter what you do, you simply cannot change your situation very much. If you diet, the weight will come back. If you workout, you will lose what little muscle you have gained very quickly.
The nature side has lots of science to back up its beliefs. Most notable might be the observation of identical twins that were raised in different families. Despite the fact that the two twins were raised under different conditions, they remained almost identical in terms of physique and health.
Another argument for the nature side of things is the high rebound rate for those who attempt to improve their fitness level. Even though these individuals have loads of desire and motivation, they inevitably fall back into old habits. It’s almost as if the hand of God (or Mother Nature) is pulling them back towards their previous body in an inescapable tractor beam.
In the other corner, we have the notion of nurture and that the human body is a pliable thing that can be shaped and conditioned as we see fit. Our fitness culture is filled with people who have made massive changes to their health and wellness. Even I myself have made drastic changes over the years. My best friend has lost over 100 pounds and kept it off for 6 years now.
Exercise science labs have clearly documented physical change and adaptation to everything from balancing on Bongo Boards to being able to withstand hot and cold temperatures. So, clearly we do have some ability to change and condition the human body.
Both sides have a lot to gain or lose on the fitness battlefield. They both can cause positive and negative beliefs to crop up. The notion of nature being in control can be devastating to anyone who wants to improve their fitness. To not like the reflection in the mirror or feel tired all of the time is hard, but believing there is nothing that can be done about it, is almost unbearable.
Some people grab onto the idea that they are a product of their DNA as a way out. They don’t want to believe they have the power to improve things, or that there is work to be done. Believing that it’s completely hopeless can be one of the most limiting beliefs one can subscribe to.
On the good side of things, it’s important to know that not everyone can ride like Lance Armstrong or win the Mr. Olympia. Knowing there are limits to what I can do, allows me some reprieve from being perfect. It allows me to enjoy what I can accomplish without constantly casting a shadow over it and thinking less of myself.
Of course the nurture side of things is exactly the opposite. The benefits of believing in the ability to change the body are massive. Few things are more rewarding and empowering than realizing you can make yourself faster, stronger, slimmer or healthier simply by applying the right effort.
How liberating it is, to know that you’re not trapped in your body forever! If there is something you don’t like, you can change it for the better. It’s this belief that drives millions of people every day to put forth the effort to improve their life and thus the life of those around them as well. It gives hope and promise.
Nurture is not all sunshine and rainbows though. Nurture also opens the door for false promises and scams. It makes claims for fast and easy results seem possible. It’s why advertisers can make promises like “you too can swim as fast as Michael Phelps” and “Lose 30 pounds in a week without any effort whatsoever”! Nurture helps make outlandish claims like this seem possible, and thus increase the possibility of falling for a scam.
On one side we have nature, which can help keep our expectations real, but can also short change our beliefs in what is possible. On the other side is nurture, which gives up hope and promise but also leaves us open to unrealistic expectations. Clearly some sort of balance is needed. Neither Nature nor Nurture gives us the answers we need.
Here’s How I Look at It – The Human Body is Like a Car.
I drive a 2001 Acura Integra. Now, I can make all kinds of changes to the car. I can make it faster and I can make it more fuel-efficient. I can take out the rear seats and add more cargo room.
The impact of the changes I make are directly in proportion to the time and money I spend on them. Some changes are quick and cheap (like a new steering wheel cover) but they do little to improve the car. Other changes do make a big difference (like a whole new engine and suspension package) but they take a lot more resources to make happen.
Despite the ability to change my car, I know that no matter what I do to make my car faster, it can never be a Ferrari. I can jack it up and take out the rear seats, but it can’t be a Ford F350 Super Duty. It will always be an Integra by nature, but I can improve it in any way I see fit through nurture. It can be a great Integra, or a crappy Integra but it cannot be anything else.
You my friend were born a specific make and model. You can upgrade, tune and enhance yourself in any way you see fit. You have certain advantages and disadvantages, both of which you can also alter. While there are limits to what you can do, no one really knows how far you can go. Be aware that bigger changes take more resources.
So yes, Mother Nature does have some say and a lot of control over how your body looks and performs. However, with a bit of effort and focus there’s no telling just how far you can nurture your ability to change and upgrade your potential!