What does health mean to you?
Quite the question, isn’t it? Take a minute to consider your health, and what it means when you say you are healthy. Do you find that you are considering many factors within your life? Do you look for one specific indicator to evaluate your health? Or do you take into account multiple factors, including family history, mental health, and lifestyle? This multi-pronged approach is gradually replacing the common notion that health is simply the absence of disease.
Positive Health is an approach to wellbeing that focuses on an individual’s strengths which can contribute to a healthier, longer life. And, just as every individual is different, so are the parameters that determine health. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio is currently funding research to help identify which factors, or assets, contribute to Positive Health. Current speculation includes biological factors, such as high heart rate variability (a signal of a well-functioning nervous system), subjective factors such as attitude/optimism, and lifestyle factors such as stable relationships. As research continues, we will undoubtedly discover a wealth of ways in which we can promote health and prevent disease.
As Martin Seligman, PhD, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, states, Positive Health encompasses the understanding that “people desire well-being in its own right and they desire it above and beyond the relief of their suffering.” This is evident in the everyday, as mental health, self-care and home-health practices/routines rise in popularity. However, for scientists, the question remains: which biological, subjective and functional assets definitively link to long term health? The answers will hopefully lead to more than disease prevention and treatment – but define easy tools that enhance everyday wellness.
In efforts to understand the assets that can create positive health, researchers are examining 5 main concepts. These include:
By re-evaluating studies on illness predictors (risk factors) for cardiovascular disease, teams are attempting to determine whether individuals’ health assets, as opposed to those risk factors, also serve as predictors of the disease. For these studies, a team is reviewing responses given by participants related to their levels of happiness, exemplary blood pressure, and marital satisfaction to determine whether a correlation is present between their answers and their health outcomes
Studies and reviews evaluating relationships between attitude (optimism versus pessimism) and cardiovascular disease have already been published, including the Association of Optimism with Cardiovascular Events and All-Cause Mortality. The findings for the previously mentioned review state:
In this meta-analysis of 15 studies including 229,391 individuals, optimism was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events and pessimism was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events; the pooled association was similar to that of other well-established cardiac risk factors.
Evaluations continue to determine whether there is a definable set of subjective, biological and functional assets that will boost resistance to cardiovascular disease, as well as improve prognosis if a person has already had a heart attack.
We already know this to be true: those who exercise a moderate amount have increased health and low mortality. Exercise is considered a functional health asset.
Researchers and analysts are attempting to devise measures of psychological well-being that can be used in healthcare. This requires broadening the term psychological health past ‘the absence of psychological illness’ to include positive psychological well-being factors such as life satisfaction, positivity, social support and sense of purpose. With these factors, or assets, defined, it then becomes possible to find correlations between them and positive health. Once determined, these factors can then be used in positive health screening, as well as illness recovery.
It is widely agreed that we want our children to flourish. But what exactly that means is up for discussion. Researchers are now looking to define and measure positive health for children. Further, they are looking to determine whether it can predict future well-being.
While these studies continue, we can look to the stories of others who addressed seemingly single-source symptoms and saw improvements in overall health. Stories of individuals who battled stress with meditation and realized a positive change to their everyday wellness are abundant. As are accounts of people who treated skin disorders with clean eating habits, to later notice improvements in sleep, mood and mental health. Those who regularly practice mind-body exercises such as yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong tend to report increased overall wellness, regardless of the reasons they first entered the practice.
Do you have experience with discovering positive health assets? Did you discover renewed energy once you started to calm your mind? Did you discover better health once a relationship had been repaired? Has CBD helped you with more than what you originally intended? We’d love to hear about them.