How would you respond if I asked you what it means to be “healthy?” I believe the common answer would sound something like this: “when you feel great!” While someone who is healthy should definitely deserve to feel amazing, I challenge you to think one step further. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines health as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, and spirit,” or “a condition in which someone is thriving.” Let’s critically think about the nature of that statement. If health means to thrive in body, mind, and spirit, then is a person who simply feels good thriving? The answer to that question is sometimes, but not always. What we’ve found through research is that symptoms can be clues as to the underlying function of the body, but they are not always the most reliable indicators of function. In many cases, a person can survive for several years with dysfunction or disease before any symptoms arise; think of a heart attack - this unfortunate person’s arteries have been slowly plaquing for decades before the chest and arm pain, and/or pseudo-reflux sensation occurs. When the symptoms became apparent, it was too late to change the diet; the infarction was well underway. This is common sense, and also why doctors recommend special tests and routine blood work to objectively measure the function of the body, rather than relying purely on symptomatology. Function is more reliable than feeling.
So health then, is one’s capacity to not only survive, but thrive. To thrive indicates an optimal level of functioning, not simply the absence of infirmary or disease. In order to thrive and achieve optimal function of body, mind, and spirit, the brain, which synergistically controls and coordinates all systems of the body, must be able to clearly recognize its internal and external physical and chemical environment and take necessary action to allow for appropriate adaptation. For example, if the lungs inhale a seasonal pollen, the brain should recognize these small proteins as foreign, but harmless. If the brain cannot receive an appropriate signal from the body about the nature of its external chemical environment, it will tell the immune system to attack and destroy the harmless proteins, and now you have an unnecessary autoimmune response in your airways that we commonly call seasonal allergies and asthma. If your body can’t adapt and change as a result of that experience, then your brain never recognizes the pollen, and every year you get the same uncomfortable, and potentially life threatening, response. Adaptation requires constant change; when we become stagnant, our health declines.
"OK, I understand what you mean, but what changes can I make now to ensure that I continue to not just survive, but thrive?" Focus on the tiny decisions you make each day; the longer your streak of small healthy decisions, the more excited and motivated you feel to continue making those decisions, and eventually the better your health outcomes. There are no “home runs” in health, only “base hits.” There are no magic elixirs, special dances, or secret tricks to explode your health into the next dimension. A wellness lifestyle consists of making continuous conscious decisions that reflect your health goals, with moderation to ensure sanity and mental health. There are three types of stress - physical, chemical, and emotional - and everyone has a different capacity or threshold to manage this stress. When the stress load exceeds the body’s ability to effectively manage it, the body breaks down. The goal should be to eliminate as much chemical, physical, and emotional stress as possible, while also improving the body’s threshold, or capacity, for managing the stress load. Great “base hits" to reduce the stress load and increase the body’s threshold include: eating organic fruits and vegetables free from toxic pesticides, running/walking in parks or on roads with very little car traffic away from exhaust exposure, regular mild-moderate exercise (3-5x/week) including yoga/Pilates/stretching to prevent becoming “stuck” in your own body, meditation/mindfulness/prayer for mental and emotional well-being, scheduling time for healthy recreational activity that gives you energy, being completely present-minded during family time free from electronic distractions, and getting regularly checked by your chiropractor, and adjusted when indicated, to not only improve nerve flow and communication between your brain and your organs, but also to improve posture and reduce the physical stress load on the spine and nerve system, allowing your brain to more effectively recognize its environment and make appropriate adaptations necessary for optimal function!