Salutogenesis might be an unfamiliar term to many of you. It is the study of the origins and creation of health.

I read a scientific paper last week that sought to explore the use of quality management methods to improve our health.

Based on the work of business and corporate experts in improving systems, processes and technology, it proposed that salutogenesis provides a framework to improve health promotion efforts.

This term hearkens back to the wellness movement that started in the 1980s.

The concept of wellness focuses on optimizing health and well-being, rather than merely focusing on treating or even preventing disease.

Salutogenesis and wellness both acknowledge that 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 and joyful life.

Recall last week’s column in which the following salutogenic life choices were discussed.

By saying yes and achieving one or more of these, you will add years of health and happiness.

Four keys to promoting a healthy, wellness oriented life are:

1) Not smoking;

2) Weight control (Body Mass Index less than 30);

3) Activity (at least 150 minutes of weekly exercise); and

4) Nutrition (at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily).

To that group, I would add stress management.

A nice example salutogenesis is the athlete-in-training. He or she trains to perform with excellence, not merely to avoid injury.

If athletes emphasized training only to avoid injury, it seems highly unlikely they would optimize their agility, strength, endurance, coordination and balance to perform at the top of their own capabilities.

Similarly, there is a limit to what avoidance of disease can help us to do. Like an athlete, we need to take an active role in health creation.

Such behaviors, even among older persons, improve the health of their DNA. As we age, the ends of our chromosomes, called telomeres, get shorter, increasing our risk of health problems.

Telomeres are like the aglet, which is the little plastic sleeve at the end of your shoelaces. And no, dear Aggie fans, an “aglet” is not a baby Aggie.

Healthful, salutogenic practices harden the ends of the telomeres and keep them from unraveling, as would a shoelace if you cut that little aglet off.

Last week, I also described three of the seven steps to health. Reviewing steps one through three, these are: (1) Maintaining a healthy weight, (2) staying active physically and (3) staying mentally active by challenging yourself to learn new things daily.

The rest of the seven steps in salutogenesis or health creation are:

• Get adequate sleep. Somewhere around 8 to 8.5 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 7 or more than 9 hours of sleep nightly are correlated with poorer health outcomes.

Sleep deprivation also increases obesity. So get your beauty rest and weight loss sleep.

• 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.

• Stay connected. Social support is clearly related to improved health outcomes.

Loneliness, isolation and disconnection lead to depression and overall increased health risks.

At a recent conference, I learned that these factors also can 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 community — take an Osher Lifelong learning Institute or college class; volunteer with Meals on Wheels, St. Vincent’s House, your faith community or any of the many worthwhile local charitable organizations.

You will be of service to others while contributing to your own health and happiness.

• 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 health creation, as is true in all areas of life, trying to do something is better than doing nothing.

Trying to do everything is likely to result in doing nothing. And a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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