The resource approach involves assessing health as a system of interrelated physical, mental and social resources, each of which can be determined and changed. I begin every form of health improvement with a health assessment — it is similar to how we define a patient’s health based on tests. In the primary prevention stage, we should not be reassured by the absence of diseases.
Imagine the future: you get tested and come to a doctor. He not only shows concern regarding your HIV or hepatitis analyses, but also thoroughly reviews the results of other tests, analyzes the dynamic of your sleep, physical activity, and multiple biochemical indicators, and then nods glumly:
man, it seems that you have begun to eat less fish? Your levels of
selenium and iodine have decreased. However, you eat enough vegetables,
as I can see by your blood carotene levels.
Strength tests show optimal numbers, but insulin sensitivity has lowered. Do you have a sedentary lifestyle?
Your waist is 2 centimeters bigger than it should be, and your testosterone is slightly lowered. You need to get rid of this excess visceral fat.
Psychological tests demonstrate that you have started to overreact to negativity. Do you watch the News too much?”
Of course, the requested biomarker rates will be personalized for you specifically. And you aim not just for the norm, but for the optimum — the value that signifies the minimal risk of diseases and ensures the highest level of effectiveness.
Health resources are the reserves, skills, or abilities that can be used for adaptation and which contribute to reaching the desired result in certain areas of life. Health is almost impossible to accumulate beforehand; you cannot sleep in advance, or eat well ahead of time (with rare exceptions; for example, vitamin B12 can be stored in the liver for a long time), so we will talk about potential in regard to health resources. A resource is an area under one’s direct influence that significantly affects one’s state of health. Remember how we imagined a person with a healthy lifestyle whose consciousness was moved into the body of an unhealthy person?
A person who has a well-developed nutrition resource possesses many useful skills and habits; they can plan their diet, choose good products, avoid overindulging in fast food, enjoy what they eat, combine food and training, monitor the level of important vitamins and minerals they intake, periodically practice intermittent fasting and much more.
A person with a well-developed stress-resistance resource possesses many important skills for situation management; they can get things under control, benefit from short-term stress, protect themselves from harmful stress and recover from difficult situations using optimal methods. The more energy and health you have, the less you expend them in ordinary situations.
The most important characteristics of health resources are autonomy and self-identification, through which you are able to build a lifestyle relatively free of internal and external factors, independently from the environment. Underdeveloped self-regulation and the inability to focus on your priorities usually lead to unhealthy and even destructive behavior.
Development or degradation. If a person “consumes” or wastes all their resources, their reserves naturally diminish, as do the chances of that person levelling up in their development. To move up, you need an abundance of resources that are properly invested. The best investments are in resources that generate new resources. Such habits are called “drivers”; for some, it can be a sport (like running, weightlifting, rock-climbing, etc.), which strengthens your willpower and belief in your own efficiency and automatically improves your behavior in other areas of life. Think about your future; how can you optimally spend your day and even invest your time so as to be healthy and energetic tomorrow?
In my online school of health resources, I often see how people say that a health resource course (of which I now have five: nutrition, stress, dopamine, posture, and habits) was the best investment of their time and money. After all, by improving each particular health resource, we improve ourselves as a whole.
Depending on the quantity of the resources we have available, we choose different ways of overcoming life’s difficulties. If our resources are abundant, we consider the problem more optimistically, use searching activities and constructive transformations, and strive for our goals. Our self-esteem improves through the process of overcoming, and even if we are subjected to stress, we recover from it quickly. However, if our resources are few, we use avoidance strategies, withdraw from problem-solving, and employ various psychological defenses, causing our self-esteem to decrease, and we perceive the world with utmost pessimism. In the latter case, if we are subjected to stress, our recovery is long and hard.
In stressful situations, high reserves lead to adaptation, and low reserves cause malfunction. Now, we can even scientifically predict the burnout of an employee due to stress; if the level of BDNF (the brain neurotrophic factor) lowers, the person will experience burnout, and if it increases, the person will be able to adapt and improve their performance. Adaptation becomes possible at the expense of the “abundance” of health, and it can actually be measured.
Measuring health resources. You can find a way to measure and assess your health resources even without laboratory tests. For example, sleep quality, physical activity, the noise level at night, etc., can be estimated using smartphone applications. Thus, we have two connected levels of diagnosis: evaluating health resources (which shows the reserves) and laboratory-functional diagnosis (which shows the state of organs and systems such as the muscular, nervous, cardiovascular, hormonal, and other ones). Both these levels are tightly connected, allowing more effective monitoring of the dynamics of change.
does a person’s state change depending on their different levels of
health? Let’s note that with few health resources, there might be no
diagnosed disease, but the person may feel unwell. A large number of new
diagnoses have emerged in the modern world that basically reflect low
resilience: psychosomatic disorders, fibromyalgia (chronic
muscular-skeletal pain), chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel
syndrome, and more. They have no shared cause and are generally linked
to a low health level. Technically, a person might be all right, but any
impulse, even the most insignificant one, can throw them off balance
and cause disease.
With few resources, a person is subject to a high risk of developing practically any disease: stress disorders, infectious diseases (as a result of “weak immunity”), and diseases of civilization like cardiovascular problems, metabolic disorders, locomotor system illnesses, etc. Without thorough health enhancement, such a patient can switch their health experts and still have no solid chances for radical improvement.
Moderate health resources demonstrate that while a person leads their usual lifestyle, they are under no danger. However, heavy overloads can significantly decrease the resource indicator, causing disease and adaptation failure. If resources are plentiful enough, a person will have a reliable safety cushion and protection from external threats; they can withstand stressful overloads and life’s trials without becoming ill.
Physical, psychological, and social health resources can be used as a reserve of life opportunities for further personal development, plan implementation, and the overcoming of circumstances. The doctors joke: “If a patient wants to live, then medicine is powerless”. Developed resources increase our “resilience”; the higher our reserves are, the more slowly we age.
James F. Fries, a researcher investigating the aging process in the Stanford University School of Medicine writes: “The biggest percentage of function loss linked to disease in elderly individuals is a result of the progressive loss of ‘organ reserves’”. When we are young, each organ has a function reserve along with the one necessary for completing the organ’s main objective. However, with aging, organ reserves get drained. Stresses to which we previously adapted now exceed our resilience, resulting in health crises. Fries highlights that organ reserves are connected to biological age.
Health improvement. By improving your health resources in general, you can automatically improve your condition even without the precise treatment of many specific diseases; a person starts to sleep better, their mood improves, they lose weight and their psyche becomes more resilient — everything changes at once. Health improvement stalls the development of existing diseases, meaning that a person’s accumulated reserves aren’t passive, but are used to prevent vulnerabilities from spreading and advancing.
improving our health, we also improve our mental state. I think that
every one of you has encountered a state of mental laziness (foggy head,
anxiety, inability to focus). It turns out that an increased
inflammation level in the body leads to changes in brain functionality
and extremely unpleasant disorders. By measuring the inflammation level,
determining its causes, and then eliminating them, we can improve our
biomarkers, as well as noticeably improve our mental productivity. So,
very often, the “aging norm” is defined as the average dynamic of
However, “average” does not mean “normal”, and function deterioration cannot be considered natural; instead, we need to actively resist this process. Even the average numbers for a certain age group can signify deterioration.
Instead of health improvement, we can speak about self-care. After all, health is self-care, since you are your main resource. Self-care is a conscious, daily series of choices that make you stronger, healthier, and happier in life, things that improve your levels of energy and general satisfaction. And self-care is often far from what you want, but it is what you need. You might want fast food, but you simply need to relax and relieve your stress. You might not want to go to the dentist, but you need to take care of your teeth. You might not want to get yourself tested, but you need objective knowledge about your state of health. Neglecting yourself starts with little things. It is easy to eat an apple or do pull-ups, but it is even easier not to do either. Negligence concerning these details can corrode your health and self-care like rust.
Our health resources are the difference between our maximal and minimal capacities. Sadly, few people reach the extent of their abilities. Among these, “programs maximum”/”genetic limit” for muscle mass gain has been researched best, while the thresholds of running speed and information absorption have also been determined. However, most of our rates are still nowhere near their maximum values; we do not use most of our possible capabilities, do not realize our potential fully, and do not even try to get close to our individual genetic limits.
Mental health. Often, people focus solely on physical illnesses, forgetting about mental health. Mental health is a state where you can realize your potential, cope with stress and work effectively. Meanwhile, mental health and mental illness are different concepts; people without mental illnesses might have poor mental health, and people with mental illnesses might have good mental health.
For example, McWilliams defines a range of main mental health criteria. Among them is an awareness of one’s continuous “I”, a critical approach to oneself and one’s actions, coordination between one’s reactions and circumstances, the ability to regulate one’s behavior according to norms, the ability to plan and fulfill those plans (and to change depending on the situation), and the ability to form safe connections and relationships.
In the chapter “Stress-resilience”, we will talk extensively about stress, which will help you gain such important mental health skills as the ability to cope with stress constructively without escaping into eating, drinking, or other addictions. It is important to have realistic and sustainable self-esteem, to treat yourself well regardless of the opinions of others, to have a system of personal moral principles, and to apply those principles with care. It is important to be flexible in using psychological defenses in different situations without escaping from stresses into denial or fantasies, and also to have the ability to make peace with what cannot be changed and move forward.
In the chapter, “Awareness”, we will consider the following criteria of mental health: the ability to cope with one’s emotions and thoughts, the containment of one’s emotional reactions, the separation of emotions from actions, the consciousness of one’s individuality, the use of mentalization as way of understanding others and their boundaries, reflection, and the ability to put oneself into perspective. The balance between personal and societal interests also has significance, as does the feeling of vitality, i.e., “perceiving oneself as a living and acting being”.
Types of health resources. The formula of health is defined by the following factors: 50% is lifestyle, of which 25% — food and intestine health, genetics and environment each respond for 20%, and healthcare system — for 10%. In turn, a person’s lifestyle consists of separate elements: health resources. Later in the book, we will discuss these in detail, and consider how each of them can be improved. My dream is for each person to be able to learn to manage their health consciously.
Health resources need to follow these main criteria: be universal to all people, have reliable scientific support for their influence on health, and be accessible for independent assessment and correction.
All resources are tightly linked with each other, and a decrease in one leads to a decrease in a number of others. The opposite is also true; with the improvement of one resource, others are also strengthened. For example, sleep depends on physical activity, as well as nutritional, environmental and mental factors.
Physical health resources are considered basic: movement, nutrition, sleep, and routine. Movement includes physical activity of any kind (i.e. all situations where you are not lying, sitting, or eating), and any type (aerobic, anaerobic, or mixed). It also encompasses corporeality, flexibility, bodily sensitivity, posture, and trauma prevention.
Nutritional resources include multiple skills: “what,” “how much,” “when,” and “how” you eat. The level of food processing, eating schedule, thorough chewing, and even table company are significant.
Sleep and biorhythms are the key recovery resources; it is important to organize your day in an optimal schedule, coordinating movement, stress, light, temperature, and noise. It is important to synchronize all your actions for better optimization and coordinate it with the natural functions of your inner clock.
Mental resources include stress-resilience and awareness. Resilience entails the ability to handle a high level of stress, choose the most effective and appropriate coping strategies (e.g. cognitive, emotional, and behavioral methods of stress handling), and also the inner locus of control and motivation. Awareness includes the ability to control one’s attention, to be spontaneous, to live in the moment “here and now”, to treat emotions and worry for oneself and others with understanding and attention, to be able to empathize, love, and sympathize.
Social health resources include social status and social environment and interaction. Social status consists of income, attractiveness, education, and influence. Social environment is the people located at different distances from you, yet who still affect your health — just like status does. Does it sound scary or scarily interesting?
Questions and Assignments
1. Which skills and healthy habits do you have, and which do you lack?
2. By which signs can you identify an especially high level of health in yourself?
3. How much does your workload drain your health resources? How long do they last?