Here is a common scenario which happens thousands of times per day all over the world. It might have even happened to you…
You go to the doctor for your annual check up. She does a complete physical, takes a sample of your blood and some body measurements. Nothing is found to be abnormal, and you are told that they will call you if there’s any issues with your blood test results. You are dismissed, with the parting words “everything looks fine, we’ll see you again next year”.
But is it? Is everything fine? Is no news good news?
I would contend that it is not.
The Forgotten Marker
There is a marker that has been forgotten. It’s something that is not considered that important anymore, because if it was, our whole health care system would operate in a different manner. It is resiliency.
Back in the day…I’m talking way back. Before the iPhone. Before the computer. Before the electricity. Even before the modern toilet. We lived, breathed, ate, slept, moved, pooped, and bathed outside in the elements. We lived in a kill or be killed type of environment. And for this environment we needed reserves. We needed to be able to adapt to changing weather, fluctuating food supply, and possible predators. We were able to adapt more often than not, or we wouldn’t be here today. You are proof of our ancestors resiliency.
In the past 100 years however, our living conditions have changed so much, that we’ve removed the need to adapt. As a result, the resiliency of individuals has plummeted. Most people are on the edge of crisis, waiting for that one thing – whether it be a stressful event, bacteria or virus, or chemical – to push them over the edge.
One definition of resilience is “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens”.
Being healthy isn’t about never getting sick, hurt, tired, or weakened, it’s about how quickly we can bounce back from a stressor, and return to optimal health.
We Use a Fraction of Our Capacity
In a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. James Fries describes how in youth, the function of our organs far exceeds what we need for daily living. For example the heart and the lungs can increase their capacity by up to four times what is needed for functioning at rest. But as we age, these reserves, which determine our resilience, can decrease.
Many people have come to accept this reduction in resilience as the natural course of aging. When this process gets out of hand, and reaches a tipping point, we then call it a degenerative disease. It turns out degenerative diseases are highly modifiable by diet and lifestyle.
Western Diet Equals Western Diseases
British surgeon Denis Burkitt spent most of his professional life in Uganda observing east African’s. What he noticed was that they consumed an indigienous diet high in fiber and had almost no degenerative diseases that he saw in “westernized” countries. These were people that maintained high levels of resilience.
The Goal Is Not To Restore Health, But To Restore Resilience
Many of my clients come to me with little-to-no reserve. They eat one wrong food and their joints flare up. They lose one night of good sleep, and they can’t function the next day. They need to work longer hours for a project at their job, and it takes months to recover.
Our main goal becomes getting them back to baseline. But then the secondary, and critical goal is building up their resilience; getting their health bank account loaded with health dollars. Then, when life throws them a curve ball, they aren’t back to square one.
This is resilience, and this is where we should all be and strive to maintain.
A clean bill of health from a doctor tells us not that our health account is full, but that we are not in health debt. It’s a great starting point for filling the health bank account, or keeping it full.
With this paradigm shift in the way we think about health, instead of adding years to our life, we will add life to our years.