7 Steps to Living a Life of Wellness

by Victor S. Sierpina, MD

Have you heard the term salutogenesis? It is a term that harkens back to the wellness movement that began in the 1980’s. Salutogenesis is the study of the origins and creation of health. It provides a framework to improve health promotion efforts. The concept of wellness focuses on optimizing health and wellbeing rather than merely focusing on treating or even preventing disease.

People do not seek health for health’s sake, but for what a healthy life allows them to do. It can help them achieve their dreams, build relationships, serve others, make discoveries, develop spiritually and in general, live a good, joyful life.

Seven basic steps of salutogenesis practically guarantee a healthier lifestyle and more productive, positive aging:

1. Maintain a healthy weight.

This involves portion size, realizing that since food is nearly always available in our society, we need to restrict our primeval, caveman urges to eat as much of it as possible in case there won’t be more food tomorrow. This worked for the caveman because periods of feast and famine plus constant movement kept our primitive ancestors lean and mean, though they often died of natural causes and diseases that we survive today.

2. Exercise at least 150 minutes a week.

Though this doesn’t sound like much, less than half of those surveyed reported getting even this amount of exercise. It is surprising to look at disease morbidity curves to see how much benefit this amount of exercise weekly can confer. While less is a problem, more isn’t really that comparatively beneficial. Some simple strategies are to get a pedometer and gradually increase the number of steps you take on a daily and weekly basis; park further away from your work or destination; take the stairs; get off the bus or train a stop early and walk the rest of the way.

3. Stay active mentally.

Try to learn something new every day. Find stimulating and ongoing activities to study and learn. Take a class. Engage in lifelong learning. Maybe going to college or doing a study tour would be fun. It has been shown our brains are highly plastic and even as we age, we can make new neural connections, and improve our memory and cognitive skills.

4. Get adequate sleep.

Somewhere around eight to eight-and-a-half hours of good quality sleep is essential to optimal health. Growing children need more, while some adults get by easily with less. Studies have show that less than seven or more than nine hours of sleep nightly are correlated with poorer health outcomes. Sleep deprivation also increases obesity. So get your beauty rest and weight loss sleep.

5. Reduce inflammation.

Exercise regularly, follow a plant-dominated diet, eat healthy fats, avoid processed foods and practice stress management techniques. Another and often overlooked source of inflammation is your mouth. Poor dental hygiene increases inflammation and cardiovascular risk. Floss and take good care of your gums and teeth. Your dentist, cardiologist, and friends will all thank you.

6. Stay connected.

Social support is clearly related to improved health outcomes. Loneliness, isolation and disconnection lead to depression and overall increased health risks. These factors can also influence our genes and thereby reduce our ability to fight infections and promote increased inflammation. Make an effort, if you don’t already do so, to get engaged in your social community, your faith community, or any of many worthwhile local charitable organizations. You will be of service to others while contributing to your own health and happiness.

7. Outsmart stress. An easy acronym for this is BREATHE:

Breathe — be present in the moment.
Realistic goals — make these for the moment, the day and celebrate their achievement.
Everyday events — notice positive events in everyday life, recognize, share, and celebrate when things go right.
Acts of kindness — create positive and even random, unexpected events for others.
Turn negative events around — reframe, look for the silver lining, recall the power of positive thinking.
Humor — remember a good belly laugh softens social stress, improves immunity, strengthens relationships, and fosters confidence.
End each day — with gratitude and appreciation, perhaps keeping a gratitude journal for all the good things that happened to you that day, or gratitude for the bad things that didn’t show up.

Remember that in salutogenesis, or health creation, doing something is better than doing nothing. Trying to do everything is likely to result in doing nothing. And a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

About the Author

Victor S. Sierpina, MD is Professor of Integrative and Family Medicine at UTMB—Health. His lifelong medical interests have included holistic and integrative approaches to health and healing including blending acupuncture, tai chi meditation, nutrition, and other complementary methods with conventional medical care. He is a well-known speaker, writer, and award-winning medical educator.

by Victor S. Sierpina, MD