The term salutogenesis comes from Latin. Salus means safety, health, well-being. Genesis is Greek and means origin. One could literally translate it as: the emergence or generation of health. The medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky (1923 – 1994) does not see health or disease as an “either – or”, but as two opposite points on a straight line. The two end points are never quite reached. No living human being is completely sick or completely healthy. Even in a terminally ill patient, parts or individual organs are still healthy. On the other hand, everyone who seems perfectly healthy also has an infirmity. Just think of the short-sighted, who would be lost without their glasses but is otherwise healthy.
The most important question now is: In which direction am I moving? Am I going towards health or towards disease? Each person takes their position between the two endpoints in a very individual way. Aaron does not see health as a condition, but as a process. Losing health is a natural process happening by itself. It is popularly said that dying begins at birth. From this point of view, health has to be built up again and again. Let’s now think about what promotes health.
Understanding and Trust
If I understand to a certain extent what is going on in my life and in my environment, then I can deal with it much better. When I know where I come from, what I live for and where I’m going, I have a lot more confidence in my life. This is good for my health. I can largely understand what is happening to me, it is mostly predictable and explainable. But I don’t have to understand everything, life is too complex for that. It presents me with great challenges; but I can handle them and it’s worth the effort.
But I can also set limits. And within these boundaries lie my feelings, my most important priorities, my relationships with other people and existential questions such as personal mistakes, failure, conflicts and dealing with death.
Let’s summarize: I should essentially understand my life, cope with it and recognize the meaning. But how many people suffer because they don’t understand what’s happening to them, because they can’t find a job, or because their most fulfilling occupation is not giving any meaning? If this happens to me, can I change something in my life, or do I need to reconsider my attitude? The serenity prayer fits very well for that: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Power Sources and Resources
It is very important for health to know where I draw strength from. Some tools lie within me. What can I do myself to stay healthy? Just it is often necessary to accept help from outside. Friends, relatives, therapists and doctors can help me. In concrete stressful situations, the help of a reliable support network is considered a very important health factor. This can mitigate the impact of stressful life events and has a positive effect on your well-being. Believers have the greatest source of power at their disposal: God! Am I ready to accept these sources of strength outside of me?
Joy and Cheerfulness
Joy of the heart and a happy mind work like medicine. The effectiveness of laughter has been scientifically proven. Cheerfulness and laughter are important protective factors for the cardiovascular system and the immune system. Constant worry and brooding makes you sick. A lack of joy goes hand in hand with a lack of drive and increased fatigue, as well as reduced concentration and alertness. Then it’s not far to the loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. Pessimistic future prospects and sleep disorders plague depressive people.
Restful sleep is undoubtedly essential to good health. It is known that cell damage and even genetic material can be repaired during sleep and rest. Learned knowledge is also stored during sleep. A periodic change between mental and physical exertion and relaxation phases is vital.
Moderation in Eating Keeps You Young
On the Japanese island of Okinawa live many centenarians. When asked about the secret of their age, many of them reply, “Stop eating before you’re full.” Restricted energy intake does indeed keep you young and healthy. The body then produces substances called sirtuins, which affect cell metabolism. Cells live longer and there is more time to repair genetic defects. Our affluent society with their temptations in the spur of the moment would do well to eat slowly and in moderation. That would give the body enough time to inform the appetite center in the hypothalamus that enough food has arrived and that you are feeling full.
Health as a Human Right
Health is a fundamental human right. But it doesn’t come about by itself. When something is left to its own devices, it always tends toward chaos. Let’s think of rooms that are not cleaned up. Health is an integral part of daily life. It’s a positive concept that challenges the state as much as it challenges the individual. Let’s not primarily look at what makes you ill, but at what makes you healthy or keeps you healthy. That’s the principle of salutogenesis.
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Esther Neumann studied Nutrition at the University of Vienna. Since then she served as an author for the health magazine “Leben und Gesundheit” and conducted health lectures in various locations of Austria.