Health: Why even bother?

Health: Why even bother?

When I was seeing clients one-on-one as a nutritionist, I’d often ask them why they wanted to get “healthier”. Usually, they would say some variation of the following: “To live longer” or “To reduce the risk of disease”.

That’s great and all...but it’s far too abstract for most people. 

Instead, people tend to respond to more immediate goals such as: having more energy, improving brain function, looking better, getting pregnant. These types of goals can be much more motivating, but I think there’s yet another layer to consider.  

I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on why it’s important to prioritize health: because it’s a foundational human need and optimizing it allows you to access your highest potential - as a parent, as a partner, as a professional, as a friend, as a community member.  

For this, let’s take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He defines 5 categories of needs- physiological, safety, love / belonging, self esteem and self-actualization. At the simplest level, it is thought that you must satisfy lower level deficit needs (like hunger and safety) before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs (like self-actualization). Maslow summarizes this well: 

"It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?

At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency." - Abraham Maslow

Health is foundational. When you are sick, most of your time, energy and thought are devoted to getting better; you don’t have the mental space or capacity to focus on much more. However, if you are in good health, you are able to access higher planes of contemplation and exploration (though you may or may not choose to). 

This doesn’t mean that 100% of your lower level needs need to be met 100% of the time to progress through the levels; however, your basic needs need to be satisfied adequately enough to free your brain up to contemplate higher order issues. You can’t be problem solving world peace if you don’t have a safe place to sleep - your survival instinct will overshadow any higher level thinking. 

Ultimately, this suggests that it’s hard (though not impossible of course) to be fully realized or reach your full potential without good health. There are certainly people who’ve done it and they have incredible stories of triumph, but it’s the exception, not the rule. You can certainly make it by on so-so health, but you’re not batting at the top of your game, so to say.  

Get your health in order so that you can do what you’re uniquely here on this earth to do, both personally and professionally. Health is necessary, but not sufficient for living a good life. It is a critical ingredient, but not the only ingredient. Health frequently comes first, meaning and purpose usually follow. 

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