Reduce disease and thrive

Reduce disease and thrive

Human flourishing is the highest level of psychological, social and emotional well-being. It’s a place that many of us want to reach, but only a few know how to get there. This article will show you one way.

It is good to flourish. Flourishing people bounce back faster in the face of adversity and get the most out of life. They enjoy an optimal balance of positive and negative emotions and report higher satisfaction and quality of life. They embrace their community and receive support from the people around them. They feel in control of their life and their environment and see meaning in it. They accept themselves as they are and enjoy strong personal growth. In other words, they have the resources to help them live a good life.

However, fulfillment is not something we catch and keep. It is a fluid state. It is not because we live it today that we will maintain it. For example, in a longitudinal study assessing levels of flourish over a decade, half of the flourished experienced a decline over time. Additionally, the decline from thriving health to moderate health, which most of us experience, is associated with a higher risk of depression and other mental health problems. It is therefore essential to act to improve and maintain our well-being.

Thriving doesn’t mean our lives are perfect. The opposite is true. The flourishers can be those who have just been diagnosed with a long-term illness, who are going through a divorce, or who are juggling the many daily hassles associated with their growing family. However, despite their situation, they have developed a range of resources that help them live well. These may include a support network, an ability to balance negative emotions with positive ones, or they have a hobby that allows them to lose themselves and take a break from life’s challenges.

Positive psychology contributes to various interventions that help individuals improve their well-being and thrive. They include activities such as:

  • Gratitude: Count your blessings or write a letter of gratitude to someone you haven’t thanked.
  • Acts of kindness: Random or not-so-random acts of kindness.
  • Savor: Think about the past or future event and savor it in your mind.

However, while most positive psychology activities aim to alter the thoughts or emotions of individuals, subsequently impacting their states of fulfillment, they often ignore the body. So when it came to thriving, we were sometimes seen as floating heads, unconnected to our torsos and limbs, as somatopsychic and psychosomatic effects are often ignored.

Searching for evidence of alternative interventions that lead to psychological, emotional and social flourishing, my colleague Padraic Dunne from the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences explored how engagement in lifestyle has an impact on psychological development.

Lifestyle medicine is the fastest growing branch of medicine that aims to save lives by preventing, treating, and helping people manage non-communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, 74% of annual deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases such as stroke, heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes. Most of these deaths are preventable. Six pillars of lifestyle medicine can make a significant contribution to reducing disease and death worldwide.

The six pillars recommended by doctors are good nutrition, physical activity, quality sleep, stress management, relationships, and reducing substance use and abuse. For each of the pillars, a range of interventions has been developed. For instance:

  • Good nutrition: Eat one extra vegetable per day.
  • Physical activity: Go out for 120 minutes a week.
  • Sleep: Turn off your phone an hour before you go to bed.
  • Stress management: Practice 10 minutes of mindfulness a day.
  • Relationships: Connect with one person (maybe a stranger) in a meaningful way per day.
  • Substance: Drink one less unit of alcohol per week.

We have enough evidence to suggest that taking action and making small changes to each of the pillars of lifestyle medicine reduces illness and hospital visits and prolongs life. However, until recently we had no evidence of their impact on psychological, emotional and social well-being.

That’s why Dunne and I recently conducted research with over a thousand participants and identified that not only is there a link between engagement in lifestyle improvement and well-being, but also that the use of lifestyle medicine predicts thriving.

Specifically, those who were thriving were three times more likely to use interventions for three pillars of lifestyle medicine and more than moderately well participants. Additionally, thriving people were nine times more likely to engage in the mainstays of lifestyle medicine than those with poor wellbeing.

What lifestyle medicine interventions will you perform today to prevent or help manage your non-communicable disease and contribute to your psychological, emotional and social well-being?

#Reduce #disease #thrive

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