Total Health in Midlife Episode #178: What’s it Mean to Achieve Optimal Health?

optimal health

Can optimal health be redefined beyond the leanest body or strict exercise routines? 

Tune in to this episode of the Total Health in Midlife podcast to uncover a different perspective on your health that fits your unique life and circumstances. We challenge the conventional wisdom that optimal health is only for the ultra-disciplined or athletes. 

Instead, we champion a compassionate, inclusive approach that embraces the realities of chronic illness, demanding careers, and family responsibilities. This episode promises to empower you to redefine health on your terms, breaking free from unrealistic ideals and discovering a balanced, sustainable path to wellness.

Join me as I share the inspiring journey of Carrie, who reclaimed her health after chemotherapy with the pivotal support of coaching. Learn how she navigated the ups and downs, embracing flexibility and self-compassion to maintain her healthier habits. Discover practical strategies like positive progress tracking and having a minimum baseline plan to stay consistent even during chaotic times. 

This heartfelt discussion underscores the importance of a personalized approach to health, fostering resilience and kindness towards oneself. Don’t miss the chance to redefine what health means to you and emerge stronger through life’s ever-changing dynamics.

Are you loving the podcast, but arent sure where to start? click here to get your copy of the Done with Dieting Podcast Roadmap Its a fantastic listening guide that pulls out the exact episodes that will get you moving towards optimal health.

If you want to take the work we’re doing here on the podcast and go even deeper, you need to join the Feel Good Sisterhood - my group coaching program for women in midlife who are done with dieting, but still want to feel good! The Feel Good Sisterhood is open for enrollment, so click here to discover if group coaching is a right fit for you and your goals.

I am so excited to hear what you all think about the podcast – if you have any feedback, please let me know! You can leave me a rating and review in Apple Podcasts, which helps me create an excellent show and helps other women who want to get off the diet roller coaster find it, too.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode

  • Discover why achieving optimal health is a personal journey, accessible to everyone, regardless of life’s demands or challenges.
  • Uncover how embracing your unique circumstances and prioritizing well-being amidst life’s demands can redefine your journey to optimal health.
  • Listen to the transformative story of Carrie’s health journey post-chemotherapy, highlighting the power of self-compassion and personalized coaching in achieving optimal health amidst life’s ever-changing dynamics.
  • Explore how everyone can define and achieve their own version of optimal health amidst life’s unique challenges.
  • Embark on a motivating journey to optimal health by discovering how small steps and self-compassion can lead to lasting well-being.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

What does it mean to achieve optimal health? Now, for many of us, the immediate images that spring to mind are those splashed across fitness posters and health club ads. But in today’s episode, I’m inviting you to stretch your imagination about what is possible for you.

Optimal health does not have to be a one size fits all definition. In fact, when we confine it to such narrow parameters, it excludes 99% of the population. So, today, I’m not just sharing my definition of optimal health, I’m revealing how it can be accessible, achievable, and yours. If you’ve ever felt like you were on the other side of traditional health definitions, you’ve probably doubted your place along the spectrum of wellness because of age, lifestyle, or your personal circumstances.

And so, this episode is your wake up call, your call to action. Together, we are going to explore how optimal health is available to you through your individuality, through resilience, and your personal journey. And by the end of our time together, you are going to see that optimal health is not a distant dream or an exclusive club. It’s a reality that is waiting for you, molded by your life, your choices, and your actions.

So, if you’re ready to redefine what health means on your terms and discover the pathways that lead you to your best self, stay tuned.

Welcome to Total Health and Midlife, the podcast for women embracing the pivotal transformation from the daily grind to the dawn of a new chapter. I’m Elizabeth, your host and fellow traveler on this journey.

As a Life and Health Coach, I am intimately familiar with the changes and challenges we face during this stage. Shifting careers, changing relationships, our new bodies, and redefining goals and needs as we start to look to the future and ask, what do I want?

In this podcast, we’ll explore physical, mental, and emotional wellness, offering insights and strategies to achieve optimal health through these transformative years.

Yes, it’s totally possible.

Join me in this amazing journey of body, mind, and spirit, where we’re not just improving our health, but transforming our entire lives.

Hey everyone, welcome to the Total Health and Midlife podcast. I am Elizabeth Sherman, your host, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you are tuning in today. So, today, I am tackling a topic that I believe is fundamental to our understanding of our own health.

What does it mean to achieve optimal health? It’s something that I talk about a lot, and I want to make sure that you know that you are included in this, that it’s not an exclusive club. I get the sense that many folks don’t believe that optimal health is possible for them. And maybe you even believe this.

So, in a world where we applaud the feats of the extraordinary. Optimal health might seem like something only available for athletes or for the super ultra-disciplined. And it’s easy to feel like, oh, that’s not possible for me. It’s easy to feel like we are falling short.

But what if I told you that optimal health is not a one size fits all concept. That it’s not about having the leanest body, running the fastest mile, or mastering the toughest yoga pose. No. Optimal health is deeply personal, and it varies wildly from one person to the next. It’s about finding balance and wellness within the context of your life, your circumstances, your responsibilities, and what it is that you enjoy.

Whether you’re navigating chronic illness, or balancing a demanding career, or caring for loved ones. Your version of optimal health is available to you and it’s achievable. But it might look a little bit different.

Why is this important? Why is this topic important to me? Because striving for a version of health that doesn’t fit our reality leads to frustration, to guilt, and ultimately feeling trapped in a cycle of health SHOULDs that quite honestly don’t serve us.

In today’s episode, I want to break that cycle, and I want to ignite a conversation about health that’s inclusive, that’s compassionate, and that’s rooted in the reality of our lives.

So, when we talk about health and fitness, there’s an image that often comes to mind, and it’s painted not just by the diet, health, and fitness industries, but also seems to be the foundation of our culture and our social interactions.

It’s an image of perfection, right? We’ve got lean, hard bodies, punishing exercise routines, and a diet that seems more about restriction than fun, nourishment, or connection.

And so, this portrayal of health is not just excluding, it’s intimidating. It suggests that optimal health is a privilege reserved for those few who can meet these standards, leaving the rest of us feeling like we’re on the outside looking in. Because there’s an age appropriate there as well, right?

But here’s the truth. The standard story of what health should look like is fundamentally flawed. It doesn’t account for the rich experiences that we all have in life. With all their complexities, their challenges, and their individual differences. I mean, think about it. How can a single standard of health apply to everyone, regardless of age, body type, physical abilities, lifestyle, and personal responsibilities?

You might feel that optimal health is out of reach because of the natural changes that come along with aging, the presence of body fat that you wish wasn’t there, or fitness levels that aren’t what they used to be for you.

But let me be clear. Optimal health is available for everyone, including you. Yeah, it might look a little bit different from what it did for you in your 20s, what it looked like for you in your thirties, or what it looks like for someone else. But that doesn’t make it any less valid or achievable.

The problem arises when we cling to an ideal that doesn’t fit our current reality. Maybe you think that you should be 20 pounds lighter, but your job requires you to travel frequently, or you’re working 50 hours a week while also raising kids.

These circumstances don’t mean that your health goals are unattainable, they just mean that they might need to be approached differently for now. The issue is we often measure our health by these external standards. By setting ourselves up for feelings of failure and frustration, when life’s realities like aging, family commitments, and work pressures make them seem completely out of reach.

Let’s change the story about health. Instead of viewing optimal health as a distant ideal molded by societal expectations, let’s see it as a flexible, personal concept that evolves with us throughout our lives and throughout our life’s circumstances.

It’s about recognizing and working within our constraints, not pretending that they don’t exist. It’s about finding ways to nourish and move our bodies in a way that fits our current circumstances, not forcing them into a one size fits all mold.

This shift in perspective is crucial because it opens the door to a more compassionate, understanding approach to health. One that celebrates progress, no matter how small, and recognizes the effort, not just the outcome.

It’s about creating a version of health that feels fulfilling and sustainable, not one that leaves us feeling guilty or inadequate. Your optimal health is not a static destination or a societal standard to meet. It’s a personal, ever changing state that reflects your own life, your needs, and your circumstances.

And it’s not just about the physical aspect. It also includes mental and emotional wellness too. It’s about finding balance and contentment in the way that we live and care for ourselves regardless of the challenges that we face.

Our health does not exist in a vacuum. It’s interdependent on every aspect of our lives. And it’s influenced by a variety of factors that extend far beyond diet and exercise. It’s shaped by our genetics, by our socioeconomic status, our access to resources, and even the stress we carry from day to day.

The image of maximal health, those hard bodies that we often see glorified is not just a matter of discipline. It’s actually deeply rooted in privilege. Wealth, time, access to facilities and nutritious food, and even our past experiences all play a significant role in determining what is achievable for us and our body.

So, I want to ask you. When you think about your health, are you considering these factors? Are you holding yourself to a standard that overlooks the intersectionality of your experience? The truth is that what we often picture as the pinnacle of health is not a universal standard but rather a reflection of privilege.

I’d like to share a little bit of my story. As a life and health coach, much of my work is sedentary. I spend hours sitting, recording podcasts, writing content, and coaching clients online. This lifestyle is a far cry from the more active work of personal training in a gym setting.

And as a result, I’m probably carrying a little bit more weight than I might if my job were more physically demanding. Sometimes the stress affects my sleep. And my fitness level probably isn’t what it could be if I had access to a gym and the time to use it regularly.

But here’s the thing. The set of habits that I maintain now works for me. My body reflects the balance I’ve found between my work, my health, and my personal life. Could I be leaner, more muscular, more fit? Maybe. But I’ve chosen a set of habits that suits me at this point in my life. And I’m comfortable with that.

This leads me to a critical question. What are you willing to do for your health considering your unique set of circumstances? It’s a question I explored in episode number 95, “What Am I Willing to Do?” And it’s one that I encourage you to consider.

Our health is not just a reflection of our physical activities, and dietary choices. It’s also about how we adapt to our realities, how we manage our stress, and how we prioritize our well-being amidst the other demands of our life.

Your health, your optimal health is not defined by someone else’s standards. It’s about finding what’s available for you, what works for you, and embracing your circumstances. And it’s recognizing that your best is enough. We can shift our perspective from chasing an idealized version of health to cultivating a lifestyle that brings us joy, fulfillment, and Optimal Health in a way that acknowledges and respects our unique circumstances.

Optimal Health. It’s a term that we hear often, but its definition is as varied as we are. In thinking about this topic, it’s crucial to understand that Optimal Health cannot be encapsulated by a single definition or image. Instead, it’s a deeply personal state. One that changes as we move through the different stages of our life, encounter various challenges, and evolve in our understanding of what makes us feel our best.

First up is age. It’s a significant factor in defining our health. As we age, our bodies naturally undergo changes. Our metabolism slows, our muscle mass decreases, and we may face more health challenges. But aging also brings wisdom, a deeper understanding of our bodies. And ideally, a shift towards prioritizing long term wellness over short term gains.

What was optimal in our 20s? Like pushing our bodies to the limits without adequate rest, may not serve us in our 40s, 50s, or beyond. Our focus shifts towards maintenance, prevention, and perhaps a gentler approach to exercise coupled with a more nuanced understanding of nutrition. And then, there’s our lifestyle and responsibilities.

These aspects dramatically influence what optimal health looks like for each and every one of us. For the single parent juggling multiple jobs, health might mean finding quick nutritious meals that can be prepared in advance and incorporating physical activity into daily tasks. For someone with a demanding career, it might involve managing stress through mindfulness practices, and ensuring enough movement throughout the day despite long hours of sitting.

Of course, we need to consider our genetics. Our genetic make-up plays a crucial role in our health. influencing everything from our risk of certain diseases to how our body responds to different types of food and exercise. Recognizing and accepting these genetic factors is crucial, not only as a determiner for our fate, but also as a guide to tailor our health practices in the most beneficial way.

And something that we really don’t like to talk about are our socioeconomic factors. Access to resources significantly affects our health. Not everyone can afford a gym membership, organic foods, or even live in an area where safe outdoor spaces for exercises are available.

Health for someone in a low income neighborhood may focus on utilizing community resources, finding affordable ways to eat healthy, and integrating physical activity into daily routines in an accessible way.

Recognizing and accepting these variables is the very first step towards achieving personal optimal health. It’s about understanding that health is not a one size fits all concept, but a deeply individual one. It’s about making peace with where we are at this moment, acknowledging the external factors that influence our health, and taking proactive steps within our means to improve and maintain it.

This approach to health is empowering. It shifts the focus from feeling inadequate for not meeting an arbitrary standard to celebrating our own efforts and achievements, however small they might seem. It’s about setting realistic goals based on our current circumstances and then gradually building upon them as our situations change.

It’s understanding that some days, just getting out of bed and choosing a healthy meal is a win. Other days it might be completing a workout or choosing rest over exercise because that’s what our body needs. Optimal health on a personal level means tuning into our bodies, listening to its signals, and responding with kindness and understanding. Not excuses.

It’s acknowledging that there will be good days and challenging ones. But each day offers an opportunity to make choices that support our health. So, how do we define optimal health for ourselves? Well, it starts with a conversation. A conversation with our bodies, our minds, and perhaps a health coach or a medical professional who can guide us through this process.

It involves setting aside societal expectations and focusing on what truly makes us feel healthy, energized, and alive. It’s a commitment to ourselves to prioritize our health, not as a pursuit of perfection, but as an act of self-care and self-respect.

It’s important to embrace the diversity of what health looks like. We can celebrate our unique paths to wellness, supporting one another in our individual journeys. And so, by doing that, we not only achieve our version of optimal health, but also create a more inclusive and compassionate health culture for everyone.

In this light, optimal health is not a destination, but a continuous journey of adjustment, learning, and growth. It’s about finding balance and harmony within the complexity of our lives, and it’s a journey worth taking on every single day.

So, my client Carrie’s story begins at a pivotal moment in her life. She had recently completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, and she was on a mission to reclaim her health. Carrie’s initial steps towards wellness were quite honestly commendable. She focused on reducing alcohol, eating more vegetables, drinking more water, and meeting her daily step goal of 10,000 steps. And her efforts reflected a deep commitment to her health.

Yet, as life often does, it threw a curveball that tested her resolve. Her family came to visit. In this visit, while she loved it, it disrupted Carrie’s routine, exposing the fragile nature of her newfound habits. It wasn’t just the visit itself, but the realization that came with it.

Life is unpredictable, and it can be a challenge. Carrie struggled to maintain her habits and grappled with consistency and a harsh inner critic that chastised her for any deviation from her plan. Hotels, social gatherings, and the sheer chaos of life seem to conspire against her challenging her ability to stick to her long-term health goals.

It was within this context that our coaching sessions became transformative for Carrie. Our coaching unearthed insights that would reshape her approach to her health. One of the first themes we tackled was being flexible. It became clear that Carrie’s health strategy needed to accommodate life’s ebbs and flows. Allowing her to navigate these disruptions with flexibility.

We also revisited the role of tracking her routine. Rather than using it as a tool for self-criticism, illustrating what she wasn’t doing. Carrie began to see tracking as a way to acknowledge her progress, however small. And so, this subtle change in approach helped to alleviate the pressure that she placed on herself. Making her health journey more about celebration than condemnation.

Perhaps the most significant concept that we explored was the idea of having a minimum baseline plan for times when her schedule wasn’t ideal. And this is something that I do with all of my clients. This safety net ensured that Carrie had achievable goals to aim for when perfection wasn’t possible because it’s not all the time.

And so, this was a game changer for her. It provided her with a sense of security and control even when she didn’t have a routine. Through our sessions, Carrie underwent a profound transformation. She learned that self-worth was not tied to external circumstances or the flawless execution of having her plan.

Instead, she discovered the importance of adaptability, setting realistic goals, and embracing imperfection. Carrie’s journey was not just about refining her approach to maintaining health, but it was about doing what she could with self-compassion. And ultimately, achieving optimal health for her.

Carrie’s story is a powerful example of the role that coaching can play in navigating the health journey, especially post chemotherapy. It highlights the importance of personalization in achieving optimal health and underscores the value of flexibility, self-compassion, and realistic goal setting.

Carrie’s journey reminds us that health is not a static achievement, but rather an evolving process. One that requires patience, understanding, and the courage to adapt.

One of the core principles that I uphold in my coaching practice is compassion. Helping clients cultivate self-compassion as they strive for optimal health for them. This approach acknowledges that life is dynamic, ever changing, and it’s always going to be different.

Stress levels ebb and flow, family dynamics evolve. Our bodies need shift, and the demands on our time fluctuates. Expecting yourself to maintain a static level of fitness or a rigid health routine in the midst of these changes, not only is unrealistic but it’s also counterproductive. It often leads to a cycle of self-criticism and guilt, which can hinder progress towards our health goals.

Coaching helps break this cycle. It starts with a deep understanding of your current life stage, responsibilities, and constraints. And together, we explore what optimal health looks like for you at this moment. Recognizing that it may look different from one season of life to the next.

The aim is not to add more to an already overflowing plate, but to integrate healthful practices into your life in a way that feels manageable, enjoyable, and mostly, sustainable.

So, for instance, a busy professional with a demanding job and family responsibilities may not find it feasible to commit to a lengthy workout at a gym. Instead, coaching can help identify efficient home based exercises that fit into your workout schedule or find ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine like walking to meetings or active play with your kids or grandkids.

Similarly, we can tailor nutritional strategies to fit your individual preferences, your lifestyle, and your nutritional needs. Focusing on nourishing your body without overwhelming it with complicated meal plans or restrictive diets and rules.

A significant part of coaching involves teaching you to be gentle with yourself. It’s about shifting the focus from what you’re not doing to celebrating the steps that you are taking towards your health. This shift in perspective is so incredibly powerful. It fosters a positive relationship with health and wellness. Encouraging you to make choices from a place of self-care rather than obligation or guilt.

Moreover, coaching provides the accountability that so many of us need to stay committed to our health goals. Knowing someone is there to support, guide, and celebrate with you can make all the difference.

But more than accountability, a coach is a partner in problem solving. I help my clients navigate obstacles and adjust their strategies as life changes. Ensuring that your path to optimal health remains clear and accessible regardless of what life throws your way.

In essence, coaching empowers you to take control of your health journey. It provides the tools, the knowledge, and the support to make healthful living feel less like a chore and more like a natural part of your life. It encourages adaptability, resilience, and most importantly, kindness to yourself.

By focusing on what’s achievable and sustainable, coaching helps you build a foundation of health that supports you through every stage of your life. Celebrating your victories, learning from challenges, and continuously evolving towards your definition of optimal health.

In this way, coaching is not just about achieving a specific health outcome. It’s about transforming the way that you relate to your health and guiding you towards a state of wellness that honors your individuality, respects your life circumstances, and enriches your overall quality of life.

So, I want to circle back to the reflective questions that we started out with. These questions aren’t just rhetorical. They are invitations for you to dive deep into your own health story. To uncover what optimal health truly means for you in the midst of the complexities of your life.

Can someone who no longer has the use of a leg, or an arm achieve optimal health? What about those going through chemotherapy or managing chronic illnesses? How does the single mom juggling jobs and raising children find her path to wellness?

These questions challenge the standardized view of health and fitness. Pushing us to rethink and redefine what being healthy means in the context of our unique lives. Through today’s discussion, we’ve seen how optimal health isn’t a static goal or a universal standard. But rather a deeply personal, evolving concept that adapts to our circumstances, resources, and stages of life.

So, I want to invite you to consider your answers to these questions. Reflecting on the insights that I’ve shared. Think about the variables in your life, your age, your lifestyle, your responsibilities, your genetics, and your socioeconomic factors. How do these elements shape your vision of optimal health?

Recognizing and accepting these variables is crucial in the pursuit of personal health. Allowing you to set realistic, compassionate goals for yourself. It’s important to remember that health is not just a physical state, but rather a balance of mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

As you consider your unique answers, think about how you can integrate health practices into your life in a way that enhances this balance, without adding undue stress or expectations.

This process of discovering your Optimal Health is not about comparing yourself to others or adhering to prescriptive standards. It’s about listening to your body, acknowledging your needs, and making choices that support your well being in a sustainable, joyful manner. It’s about being kind to yourself, celebrating your progress and understanding that your best is enough.

So, as we wrap up the episode today, I want you to feel empowered to define and pursue your version of optimal health. Remember, you are not alone in this whole process. Whether through coaching, community support, or personal reflection, there are resources and people ready to support you in finding your answers and living your healthiest, happiest life.

So, what does optimal health mean to you? How will you adapt your approach to health to honor your unique circumstances and goals? I encourage you to take these questions with you, reflecting on them in the days to come and to remember that your path to wellness is yours to shape in a way that feels right and fulfilling for you.

Embracing your own health journey is a courageous step towards self-discovery and fulfillment. It’s about acknowledging where you are today and envisioning where you’d like to be tomorrow, all while understanding that the path is unique to you, shaped by your life circumstances and limitations.

This journey is not about perfection, but rather about progress, resilience, and the joy found in the process. Your health journey begins with a candid look at your circumstances. Are you a caregiver, balancing the needs of others with your own? Perhaps you’re navigating the demands of a busy career or dealing with chronic health conditions.

Whatever your situation, recognize that these are not barriers to optimal health, but rather factors that tailor your journey, making it deeply personal and real. Consider these circumstances as the framework within which you build your health goals. They’re not excuses but realities that provide context for your achievements.

And embracing your circumstances means working within them, not fighting against them to craft a health plan that’s both achievable and doable, and satisfying. Something that you like to do.

So, as you start this process, be prepared to adjust your health goals. Again, life is not static, it’s not going to be the same all the time, and neither is your path to health. What works for you today may not fit tomorrow. And that’s totally, okay. Flexibility is your ally, allowing you to adapt your goals to your life changes. Set goals that reflect your personal progress and current life situation.

If you’ve recently experienced a significant life change, such as a new job or a new family member, recalibrate your health goals to align with these new realities. Small, manageable goals often lead to the most significant, long lasting changes. Success in health is measured not by the loftiness of your goals, but rather by your commitment and progress towards them.

Starting can be the most daunting part, but it’s also the most exhilarating. Begin by identifying one or two areas that you are most motivated to change. This could be incorporating more movement into your day, improving your sleep quality, or making more nutritious food choices.

Start small to build confidence and build momentum. Engage with resources and support that resonate with you, whether that’s a health coach, a supportive community, or reliable health information. Surrounding yourself with positivity and encouragement can significantly impact your motivation and resilience.

Finally, celebrate every single achievement, no matter how small. Each step forward is a victory on its own right, contributing to a larger picture of health and well-being. Your path to optimal health is about embracing life with all its complexities, finding balance, and discovering what makes you feel best.

As you move forward, let your path be guided by self-compassion, by curiosity, and the understanding that health is very personal, and it always is evolving. There will be challenges, but each one is an opportunity to learn more about you and yourself and what you need in order to be successful.

You’re not alone in this journey. There’s a whole community out there and each person on their own unique path to health. Share your experiences. Learn from others and let the collective wisdom and support uplift you.

I want to hear what you have to say about this. So, I would love it if you would connect with me on social and tell me what your thoughts are about this episode. What the idea of optimal health means for you before you listen to the episode, and now that we’ve discussed it, how you feel about it right now.

So, have an amazing day, everyone. I will talk to you soon. Bye-bye.

Thank you for tuning into today’s episode. If what we’ve discussed resonates with you and you’re eager to take your health journey further, I invite you to schedule a one-on-one call with me. It’s an opportunity for us to dive deep into your health goals, explore your unique challenges, and discuss what you’ve tried before.

To book your slot, simply click the link in the show notes. Once you do, you’ll answer a few thought-provoking questions to get us started. Then, all you need to do is show up, and we’ll take it from there.

Let’s make your health journey a priority together. See you on the call!

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