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Adaptive vs Maladaptive: How does your body adapt to your environment?

North Shore Chiro blog - How does your body adapt to your environment

Do you know that the environment around us has a big impact on our health and well-being?

No, we’re not referring to ‘mother earth’ or a trip to a nature park.

What we meant by ‘environment’ here is the stressors that surround you— they could be anything (could be physical, chemical, or emotional stressors) that you expose yourself to every day. It could be your daily job, or that medication you’re taking, or maybe that one neighbour who is hard to get along with. All of these things surrounding you can potentially put some degree of stress on your body.

As we encounter stressful conditions, our body tries hard to cope with the demands and adapt to the change. If the body is able to cope up and adapt to the stress, then the body will go through what we call ‘adaptive change‘. This is a positive type of change that helps our bodies grow and evolve, resulting in better function and health.

Let’s illustrate how this works using exercise as the stressor. Stress will be placed on your muscles as you do your stretches and weightlifting. If you do this regularly with good adaptive habits like exercising with proper form, eating a healthy diet, or getting enough sleep— then high chances are your body will be able to adapt. You will build muscle, you will become stronger and more flexible.

On the other hand, there’s what we call ‘maladaptive change’. This happens if your body cannot provide adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environmental stressors. Usually, this change is brought by:

#1 Maladaptive behaviours or habits that hinder you from adapting to stressful situations

To illustrate this— let’s use the same stressor which is weightlifting, but this time imagine if you are using maladaptive habits to cope up.

If you do not use proper form while doing your lifting, this can put heavier stress on your spine, back and neck. This may even result in pain and injury if you are not careful. Also, imagine if you still eat junk foods or only sleep 4 hours a day, do you think that your body will be able to adapt in a good way? Of course not. Using these maladaptive habits to counter stress will only result in maladaptive changes later on (like dirty weight gain, poor recovery, injury etc).

#2 The stressor is so distressing that it’s difficult for the body to keep up with the demands

There are also some instances where the stressors are just too much for our bodies to handle, it has no choice but to undergo maladaptive change.

One of the most common examples of this stressor is prolonged sitting whether in your car, on the couch, or at your desk. Seems pretty harmless you may think, but in reality, this is very detrimental to our health. As humans, our bodies are designed to move. And since we are designed to be active creatures, any form of inactivity and being slumped in one position will only cause pain and stiffness.

Read Article: Active Sitting: how to sit better, for better health

Another example is slouching/ poor posture. Any form of slouching (forward head, hunched back) is just unnatural because the spine is not designed to be used in that way. If you make this a habit, it will put a tremendous amount of stress on your neck, back, and spine which can lead to spinal deformity, chronic pain, and loss of function over time. When people develop these problems later in life, it is mostly because their spine and body have been maladaptively changing over time.

Watch Video: 3 Tips To Sustain A Better Posture


Now that you know the 2 ways on how the body adapts to stress (adaptive and maladaptive)— can you now differentiate what your current habits contribute to your life? Do they make your body adapt better or adapt in a bad way? Do they lead you to health or disease? More importantly, do you make an effort in reducing negative stressors in your life?

With so many stressors surrounding us, learning how to integrate the good ones and remove the bad ones is the best way to adapt to the environment and sustain our health. From this perspective, chiropractic care can help! Not only does it help reduce/ remove any interference from your nervous system, but it also strengthens the brain and body’s innate ability to adapt to stressors. This way, you will be able to manage stress better and reduce its impact on your spine and overall health.

Schedule your appointment today. Please call ph 09 4424310 or book online here.