Well-Being, an essential asset for better living and aging!

Prof. Jacques Proust

Nescens, Clinique de Genolier

May 10, 2021

Today the life expectancy at birth continues to increase, it is a fact known to all. What is a little less known is the evolution of healthy life expectancy at birth, which equals the number of years we will live healthy, which is stagnating. In other words, we risk living longer but with more years in poor health.

A British study looked at demographic projections of the population and the occurrence of diseases… in 2035. The results show that the number of people over the age of 85 suffering from at least four diseases is expected to double by now 2035. But the most striking concerns those of us today aged 50-59 who will therefore be between 65-74 years old on that date. They will be more likely to get two or three diseases than they are today.

The reasons for this development are better understood today. Of course, our genes play a role, but they are not the only ones responsible, we have a lot to do with it!

The influence of genetic heritage on life expectancy is only estimated at 25%. If genetic factors are involved in longevity, we modify the expression of our genes (epigenetics) at every moment of our existence through our behavior, our diet, our lifestyle, and our environment.

The deleterious impact of certain risky behaviors (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) is widely accepted, as is the direct correlation between the increase in obesity and physical inactivity with the risk of the appearance of multiple diseases (chronic diseases, cancers …)

We also know more about the negative impact of chronic stress on health. This would promote the onset of many diseases or worsen the course. Thus, stress increases the risk of contracting a myocardial infarction by 2.5. In addition to cardiovascular disease, chronic stress affects the development of many other conditions (certain skin conditions, type 2 diabetes, and cancer). It also decreases the immune system.

While maintaining and improving health is a collective issue dependent on external or environmental factors (including health care systems), it is also an individual responsibility through one of the lifestyle choices aimed at preserving one’s well-being to be physical and emotional.

THE CORRELATION BETWEEN WELL-BEING AND HEALTH IS NOT A COMPLETELY NEW FACT, BUT AWARENESS OF IT IS

It has long been known that health and well-being are linked. As early as 1946, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, which does not consist solely of the absence of disease or infirmity”. Health, in its most comprehensive definition, is associated with the notion of well-being.

The change in behavior has taken place much more slowly. It is easier to understand the difference between health and well-being, health is a state of being while well-being is a state of living. We are responsible for our own choices, behaviors and lifestyles, but they are also strongly influenced by the physical, social and cultural environments in which we live.

The current world, with its developments too rapid to allow human adaptation, its health and food crises, its environmental phobias have, with the ultra mediatization, reinforced the anxiety-inducing component of our lifestyles. To cope, the need to find answers to take care of oneself in order to maintain emotional balance and physical integrity has continued to increase.

To be convinced, just look at the number of searches linked to the topic of well-being by Internet users, or the number of articles on this subject. Even the scientific and medical community has resolved to take an interest in the subject. Now that she has a better understanding of it, she readily admits that well-being has a role to play, complementary to medicine, in preventing disease and aging better.

WELL-BEING IS NO LONGER DEFINED ONLY AS A QUEST OF HAPPINESS

The definition of the word well-being cannot be reduced to “a pleasant state resulting from the satisfaction of the needs of the body and the calm of the mind (Larousse)”. Therefore, it is certainly more correct to use the English word “wellness” to name it.

The concept of wellness appeared in the United States at the end of the 60s, to qualify the positive aspects of health that people can achieve, beyond the simple avoidance of the disease.

Its meaning is different from the term “well-being” which is more associated with happiness and close to the French definition.

Since then, the wellness approach has gained visibility under the impetus of an informal network of American doctors and thinkers (such as Halbert Dunn, Jack Travis, Don Ardell, Bill Hettler, and others) whose actions and works have allowed us to better define this concept of well-being as we know it today and what are the different actions that allow it to be optimized, in particular: 

  • physical: keeping our bodies healthy through exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.
  • mental: engaging with the world around us through learning, problem solving, creativity, etc.
  • emotional: being in touch with our own feelings (and those of others), being aware of them, accepting them, and being able to express them.
  • spiritual: seeking meaning and purpose in our existence.
  • social: to connect, interact, provide support to other people and to our communities.
  • environmental: create an environment conducive to health and without danger; become aware of the role we play in improving rather than degrading our environment. 

TOWARDS A TOTALLY HOLISTIC WELL-BEING

Awareness of the negative impact of lifestyles (multi-tasking, screen, stress, etc.) but also of nutrition or physical activity on the health of our brain has been one of the significant developments in these last years.

With increasing lifespan, degenerative diseases of the brain (Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions) have become of particular concern. Their number should triple by 2050. One of the consequences is also a better understanding of the mechanisms of action of the different techniques (meditation, cardiac coherence, neuro-training…) which contribute to healthy cerebral aging by acting in the areas of emotions, cognition (with particular emphasis on attentional processes), and the preservation of related brain structures.

By way of illustration, it is now shown that the practice of meditation reduces anxiety, depression, stress and promotes positive emotions. It also improves cognitive functions, including attention, and helps preserve brain structures.

Other studies are underway to demonstrate the impact on the prevention of degenerative diseases of these techniques but also on nutrition. Can we, for example, through a change in eating behavior, delay the onset of certain dementias: the answer is yet to come… 

WELL-BEING THE ALLY OF BETTER AGING

You will have understood that maintaining an optimal level of well-being and that in all its dimensions (physical, emotional, and societal) is essential to living a better quality life, prevent disease and also stay in full health as well. long possible.

When we analyze the lifestyles of populations in regions of the world where there is more the high density of centenarians (the famous blue zones), the common denominator is that we find in their way of life all the physical and mental characteristics. and societal that promote well-being. The main difference between them and the rest of the world is that they are not in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle: they have lived like this forever! Whatever its definition, well-being remains an individual and proactive approach which consists of becoming aware and making choices, they still have to be sustainable and that is the whole challenge.

This is perhaps the paradigm of well-being for the future: ensuring that a healthy lifestyle becomes natural again, no longer experienced as a constraint but is perceived as a source of well-being and pleasure. The impact on quality of life, health, and aging well would then become a consequence and not an end.

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