unbroken courage heal

Lifestyle: the choices that aren’t always choices.

I’d be preaching to my choir of geniuses to say our lifestyle choices effect genetic expression, biology, and all our life outcomes, right?

But are they choices?

Many of them aren’t choices at all, are they? Which is both our problem and solution.

Read on.

From our review of the terrain of healing presented in my new book, Unbroken, Reclaim Your Wholeness (coming 2024!).

Lifestyle habits.

You knew we’d get to these, didn’t you? How we live determines our genetic and biological life potential one hundred percent of the time. We get the most epigenetic bang for our buck through healthy lifestyle practices. We can never bypass (or “hack”) how we take care of ourselves in the healing process.[1]

We know more about the genetic-biological-disease risk aspects of lifestyle than any other parts of the terrain, but our lifestyle choices can be the hardest to change.


Many lifestyle choices aren’t really choices at first—not until we’re looking for answers to our problems. If they were as simple as choices, we’d easily make them, wouldn’t we?

Some lifestyle is pure habit. It’s how we learned to do things. The habits suit us just fine until there’s friction. We don’t feel as well. Something inspires us to look more closely at how we do things. What can we change to live longer or feel better? While habit change may take planning and patience, when it’s simple habit change and there’s nothing standing in our way, we can do it. We breeze from one way of doing things to another.

But sometimes changing lifestyle habits isn’t so easy.

Lifestyle can represent deep traditions that tie us to our people. It’s what our families and communities do. In this, it’s how we belong. These well-worn, thoroughly practiced habits help us feel connected and safe.

Lifestyle can bring us comfort and solace. We use many of our lifestyle choices to soothe and settle our frazzled nervous systems, to make us feel more alive, to ease our anxiety and lift our spirits.

Intentional lifestyle can be hard. It takes time. We often live like we’re short on time.

Intentional lifestyle requires change. Change challenges us to learn new things. But also, to reckon with what the old habits did for us. Sometimes we bump into our unmet needs and old traumas.

As we move into our Core Resilience steppingstones in the next section, we’ll practice many lifestyle changes. We’ll be doing it with tenderness, compassion, and safety, in reverence for what our habits, even those that no longer serve, have done for us. In this way, we honor the need the old habit met.

For now, consider the following lifestyle habits that we know powerfully influence genetic expression, biology, disease risk, vitality, longevity, energy, and resilience. Even small shifts can lead to big change.

  • Diet.
  • Sleep.
  • Rest.
  • Movement.
  • Sitting.
  • Stress balance.
  • Play, fun, and laughter.
  • Connection with others, community.
  • Meditative and mindful activities.
  • Time in nature.




When life experiences make us sick.

Healing: nature or nurture?

[1] Karyn Shanks MD. Heal: A Nine-Stage Roadmap to Recover Energy, Reverse Chronic Illness, and Claim the Potential of a Vibrant New You. 2019.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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