January 2, 2014

Salutogenesis: New Concept for the New Year

"Less is More" was my mantra for last year and it's still valid. But the January 2014 issue of the Mayo Clinic's Health Letter offers a new notion for the new year in an article titled "The Mystery of Health: Salutogenesis."

Salutogenesis -- Latin for "origin of health" -- is an important concept in the study of healthy aging. So often, issues of aging focus on fighting disease. Salutogenesis redirects the discussion to what supports health and well-being.

Aaron Antonovsky, a medical sociologist who studied the narratives of Holocaust survivors, established the salutogenesis theory. He explored the factors that kept people -- especially those in difficult circumstances -- healthy.

Antonovsky reasoned that a person's ability to successfully weather life's bumps and bruises -- or worse -- depended on two key factors:
  1. Having a sense of coherence -- being able to make sense of your life -- that helps you use resources to manage stresses.
  2. Having resources that help you understand and structure your life. These resources may be tangible, like money and housing. But they also include factors such as life experience, intelligence, social support, and traditions.
Life Experiences that Shape a Sense of Coherence
Antonovsky felt our sense of coherence was shaped by recognizing that: 
  1. Life has a certain predictability. It can be understood.
  2. You possess sufficient resources to manage personal challenges.
  3. Because your life makes sense and has meaning, it's worth your energy to address those challenges.
A fourth -- emotional closeness -- was added later. Having a sense of connection to others is critical to feeling part of a community, central to good health and well being.

Aging Can Help with Salutogenesis
I've occasionally used the trite saying "aging is not for sissies." But salutogenesis reminds us it's not helpful to focus on adversities of advancing age. The Mayo newsletter commented:
Life lived in the present moment -- bringing a mindful approach to all aspects of your life -- can be very helpful in navigating through the storm of a sudden health crisis or in coming to terms and living well with a chronic condition. 
Antonovsky suggested that older adults -- drawing on previous experiences managing stressful situations -- possess greater capacity to make sense of the world.

Preview of Coming Attractions: My Salutogenesis Factors
I wanted to begin 2014 with a series of blog updates on several of my major health issues.

"Salutogenesis" offers an interesting framework to do just that.

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