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What is Optimal Health?

Health is by definition the state of being free from physical and mental illness or injury.  Hence, optimal health is a peak or supreme level of freedom from illness.

However, how do we know
that we are free from an
illness or an injury?

In my medical practice, I generally attempt to detect illness by performing clinical evaluations.  This consists of obtaining information about health problems or symptoms as well as performing specialized tests to detect signs of illness.  Hence, I search for detectable illness.

Illness can exist in patients without symptoms and with normal test results, hence, in an undetected state.  Simply stated, the most fundamental aspect of illness is when a single cell deteriorates and has to be destroyed and replaced.  This underlying process of cellular breakdown and renewal is generally known as metabolism.  Hence, if we think of cell degeneration and destruction as fundamental illness and cell renewal as fundamental wellnessthen illness and wellness exist symbiotically at the cellular level.

Within this construct, the healthiest individual harbors some amount of undetectable illness at the cellular level.  At some point, cellular degeneration and destruction exceeds renewal such that the individual’s tissues and organs become dysfunctional.  When this level of dysfunction results in noticeable clinical signs and symptoms, we have detectable illness.  However, I have seen many patients with advanced organ dysfunction without detectable illness.  Therefore, we must consider optimal health beyond the state of undetectable illness.

Our patients frequently express the desire to relieve discomfort, reduce medications or lose weight. While these are reasonable goals, they fall far short of optimal healthOptimal health isn’t a finite state of being, but rather an ongoing, everlasting journey.  It’s not a simple matter of doing more pushups  or obtaining a skinnier waistline, but rather a process of maintaining symbiotic physical, mental, and spiritual growth.  

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We should evaluate health behaviors such as activity level, smoking or alcohol consumption, nutritional habits, social interactions, home and work environmental maintenance and the like.  These behaviors should be considered in the context of individuals’ health conditions as part of their overall assessment. For example, an individual with poor health behavior, without symptoms, and normal clinical tests may be in worse health than an individual with numerous symptoms, abnormal tests, and excellent health behavior.  The latter individual is likely to be on an upward health trajectory compared to a downward one for the former.

Additionally, discussions of health and wellness frequently fail to fully examine an important aspect of health which is performance.  Performance is the process of accomplishing an action, task, or function.  The more effectively we achieve these accomplishments, the better our performance.  This is an important concept because our contribution to our social environment depends on our ability to function effectively.  Our optimal social performance depends on our optimal physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. 

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Supreme performance.

Our work tasks, activities with our children and spouses, support for elderly parents are just a few examples of standard performances that may be necessary for effective daily living.  However, we may have the desire to go beyond the routine. Perhaps we have the desire to learn a new language in our 60’s, climb mountains, learn to dance or sing later in life.  Performances of these types are important as they add new dimensions to our life experiences. 

Performance, as the definition implies, is a dynamic process and requires a greater amount of effort to maintain or develop. Performance does not occur in isolation as it requires a healthy state of being with minimal to no overt illness.  Optimal health is a prerequisite to optimal performance and optimal performance is the pinnacle of optimal health. 

Our health exist in the context of special environments or ecosystems.

Our most local ecosystem is our personal mind, body, and soul.  The next level ecosystem are the people around us closely followed by our home and workspace.  Lastly, places of recreation and travel are more extended ecosystems of importance.  Our ecosystems must be kept in balance with the proper nourishment.  There are different aspects of proper nourishment.  They consist of the following types of input:  spiritual, physical, cognitive, conflictual, social, and environmental.    

Our approach to helping our clients and patients achieve optimal health starts with properly nourishing their local ecosystem – mind, body, and soul.  Moreover, we inspire our patients and clients to strive for supreme performance through optimal health.  Striving for supreme performance forces one to achieve and maintain optimal health. 

For example, an individual with arthritis, diabetes, obesity, on medications with daily pain could set a goal of losing weight, relieving their pain, and getting off medications.  Alternatively, that person could set a goal to run a marathon under 5 hours.  The first goal is one of improved health while the latter is one of supreme performance.  By attempting to achieve supreme performance, optimal health is a natural byproduct.  In the aforementioned example, this person would achieve much better health by striving for the marathon than simply the health improvements alone.

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