Earlier this month, I had the honour of speaking at the 5th annual pelvic health symposium in Toronto. The presentation was about physiotherapy’s role in breastfeeding support and how to manage inflammation (blocked ducts, mastitis, etc) in a physiotherapy practice. For my readers who are in a healthcare profession, the symposium was recorded and is on the Embodia Academy platform.
The speaker preceding me was Dr. Jessica Drummond from the Integrative Women’s Health Institute. Her presentation focused on functional medicine in women’s health and had many great points. One stood out to me in particular, and I’d like to explore it further with you in this blog post.
Health is a skill set, not something that needs to be fixed.
– Dr. Jessica Drummond
Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.
A simple sentence can contain so much within it. Let’s dive deeper and explore this concept together, and if you have insights or perspectives to add, please contribute to the discussion by commenting below or posting on social media.
Although many of us don’t think about it on a regular basis, our language and our practices imply that we look at health as dichotomous: you’re either “healthy” or you’re not. We decide whether someone is healthy using a variety of criteria, and these depend on our personal experiences, biases, and cultures. I’ll put some pictures here and let you decide if the person in each picture is healthy.
What do you think? Were there clearly people who were healthy or unhealthy? Let’s look at the man on the beach drinking orange juice. His muscles are visible, so he probably eats well and does physical activity. But he’s tanned, which is bad for his skin, and he’s drinking juice. We know that juice is not a “healthy” option for hydration or nutrition. If he’s thirsty, he should drink water; if he wants the flavour, he should eat an orange. Right?
This false dichotomy puts us in perpetual failure; no matter how hard we try, something about our choices will be unhealthy. How are we supposed to get 8 hours of sleep each day, eat breakfast within an hour of waking, put on sunscreen every time we go outside, get 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day, stretch our muscles, practice deep breathing and meditation, cut out refined sugars, drink 2L of water, brush and floss our teeth, do crossword puzzles, and so on and so on…? If we don’t do it all, we are judged. The judgement can come from others or it can come from within.
Instead of working to attain the label of “healthy”, let’s look at health as a skill set to work on. The analogy that comes to mind is learning to use Microsoft Excel. We can take this analogy and imagine two people with different paths.
Person A starts as a child in a household that doesn’t have a computer. (Social determinants of health.) She has access to a computer at school and learns to type. Her math skills are excellent and she manages her life with a paper journal. As a teenager, she uses Excel to help her father do the book keeping for his business. In adulthood, Person A uses Excel for her personal budget.
Person B grows up with computers and the internet. She shows an interest in math in childhood, and her parents enroll her in computer programming summer camps. As a teenager, she uses Excel for financial analyses to help her father make investment decisions for his business. In adulthood, Person B works as a consultant and uses Excel to create industry-specific applications through the use of macros, formulas, and conditional statements.
It’s clear from these examples that Person B is “good at Excel.” But is Person A necessarily bad at Excel? That’s not so obvious. I’m sure that many of us have the same level of Excel knowledge as Person A. If we decide to, can we get better at using the spreadsheet program?
If we want to improve our health skills, are there good resources available to us? Person A didn’t have a computer at home and she learned basic typing at school. Some of us live in food deserts and don’t have access to fresh food. With conflicting messages about what’s healthy and what’s not, how are we supposed to cut through the fog and see a clear path forward? We’re supposed to spend more time with our kids so we drive to and from work. But we also know that commuting by car for more than 30 minutes is associated with increased stress and poor health outcomes. How do we choose?
If you got that reference, good for you! I admire your nerdiness. If you didn’t, I encourage you to look into it and try out the game.
The bottom line is that we should strive to look at health as a skill set rather than a static trait. Improving your health can involve a whole village of people including your friends and family, your doctor, physiotherapist, dietitian, psychologist, aerobics instructor, and even your dog! Learn a little bit from everyone and ask lots of questions. This approach will likely be much more successful in the long run than trying to “make healthy choices.”
Let me know what you think! Comment on social media and continue the conversation.
© 2018 All rights Reserved. Design by Vida Health & Wellness