The Health and Wellness FAQ: Advice to Practitioners
Wellness Exists at the intersection of Contentment and Aspiration.
To live there, You Must First Choose to Move Out of the Village of Someday…
Over the years I’ve been asked a number of questions about the health and wellness industry. This is question #10 of the top 10 most frequently asked questions. The responses are, of course, neither right nor wrong. They are simply my impressions from over 35 years of field experience.
QUESTION #10: After spending so many years as an executive, educator and practitioner in the field of health promotion and disease prevention, what advice do you have for the next generation?
RESPONSE: Before giving advice, let me express my absolute joy in having spent my entire career as an educator in the area of health promotion and disease prevention. It has been, and continues to be, a wonderful adventure; one that has allowed me—for the most part—the luxury of following my passion, defining and pursuing a purposeful life and avoiding anything close to what we think of when we use the term, “work.” I am humbled and grateful for the opportunities that continue to come my way.
As for advice, I urge teachers, students and practitioners to recognize that we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to having an impact on the overall health and wellness of this, or any other, country. Remember that the process of change goes from intellectual (information stage) to emotional (engagement stage) to visceral (action stage) and, finally, to cellular (sustained engagement stage). We have done a reasonably good job with education and awareness; however, for the most part, this has not translated to sustained actions resulting in improved health and wellbeing.
This is not for a lack of effort and, certainly, there are isolated pockets of impact; however, the overall investment of blood, sweat and tears has failed to produce an adequate return. Why is this the case? What should we be doing that we haven’t done? What should we do differently? What, perhaps, have we done that we should not have done?
For over three decades. I have lectured and written on the importance of primary prevention, early detection and early intervention as the three keys to improved health. While these three areas are, indeed, important elements in the health equation, I’ve missed a fourth and, arguably, the most important ingredient. My advice, my urging, is that much, much more attention be given to:
Primary prevention is the identification and mitigation of risk factors, i.e., smoking leads to lung cancer, so don’t smoke; obesity leads to heart disease, so reduce your fat and sugar intake, exercise more and lose weight; hypertension kills so lower your blood pressure with a proper diet, exercise and stress management.
Primordial prevention looks to not only identify and mitigate risk factors but slices deeper to identify and mitigate the root cause of these risk factors. The emphasis changes from, “What are the risk factors?” to “What are the environmental, cultural, economic, social and behavioral conditions that allow these risk factors to emerge?” With primordial prevention comes comprehensive and collective impact efforts targeting poverty, inequality, environmental toxins, hunger, malnutrition, child abuse, housing, education and other determinants of population health.
According to The Institute for Functional Medicine, “Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engages both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.
By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.
Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.”
From my perch, this blend of collective-impact sociology and patient-centered medicine holds great promise for the advancement of community as well as worksite health and wellbeing. I strongly encourage you to investigate the area of primordial prevention including the critically important pursuits of The Institute for Functional Medicine.
I am indebted to Dr. Howard Schwartz, an Integrative Cardiologist located in New York City, for providing me with an introduction to primordial prevention and functional medicine.
Dr. Schwartz has more than 23 years of field experience in the areas of preventive cardiology, general wellness and prevention, stress reduction and lifestyle modification. Dr. Schwartz specializes in assessing the healthy heart status of organizations, and custom designs education and intervention strategies to advance both personal and professional performance.