The Missing Link between Human Health and Performance

February 11, 2014

A Unifying Theory of Human Health and Wellbeing

A person is what a person does

Our performance, all that we do and how well or how poorly we do it, is the ultimate manifestation, the furthest downstream effect, of our health and well-being.

Proof of the Health∞Performance link

It begins with the most fundamental of all scientific principles, that is the natural relationship between an object’s structure and function. Architects like to think they created this relationship with their motto, form follows function. Apparently the architect, or whatever force that created the Universe, was already familiar with this principle. For whether an element on the periodic table, a single-cell organism, a forklift or a distant galaxy, regardless of its scale, from subatomic to astronomical, inherent within every object in the known universe is both a structure and a corresponding function. The human being, arguably the most complex object in the known universe, is no exception.

Human performance is defined as accomplishing tasks according to agreed upon standards of accuracy, completeness, and efficiency. If human performance is the willful and measurable part of a human-being’s function, what then, is the structure of human performance?

To answer this, imagine human performance as if it is an onion. If we peel back the outermost layer of this onion, we will see that performance is a collective of individual behavioral  components, each of which is executed exclusively and entirely by the moveable human body; its skeleton, muscles and connective tissues. Just beneath this layer we will see that each component behavior is the immediate reflection of the innermost layer, or the core of the human performance onion; the molecular structure of the human Central Nervous System (the human brain). 

While at the macroscopic level it seems a solid structure, at the microscopic reality the human brain is more like a liquid or soup whose molecular ingredients continuously and instantaneously change by the process of neurotransmission, which in its collective form drives what has come to be known as, neuroplasticity. To illustrate this process, consider a soldier who suffers a shrapnel injury to his shoulder. The first thing the battle-field medic does when she comes upon the wounded soldier is inject him with enough morphine to ease his pain so he can stay still, allowing her to safely examine and treat the soldier’s wound. If this soldier received this exact dosage of Morphine, even a millisecond before he was wounded, he would have died instantly due to Morphine’s suppressive effects on the soldier’s ability to breathe. However, at the exact instant shrapnel penetrated the soldier’s flesh, the molecular ingredients, or the surface receptors on his 100 billion neurons (brain cells), structurally changed in a way which allows Morphine to exert its analgesic, rather than its respiratory suppressive, properties. This is neuroplasticity in action, and it occurs faster than you can add a dash of salt to bland soup.

It does not need a mortal wound to set neuroplasticity into motion. In fact, neuroplasticity occurs continuously from the time the brain forms during the embryonic stage throughout the lifetime of a human-being. As in the wounded soldier, the effects of neuroplasticity can be instantaneous. However, the effects of neuroplasticity can also be sub-acute, as in a soldier exposed to heavy combat who develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or chronic, as in a soldier, or the civilian for that matter, who suffers a minor physical injury but instead of the injury healing normally over time it gets worse leading to a Chronic Pain Syndrome known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in which the pain spreads to every part of their body. This later example graphically illustrates the case in which the process of neuroplasticity is maladaptive.

Neuroplasticity is a variable process within every human organism that occurs spontaneously as well as in response to a stimulus, or collectively to multiple stimuli, whether internal (within the person) or external (in the person’s environment). Neuroplasticity is both a highly evolved process, while at the same time is the primary process that has continuously driven human evolution forward. Neuroplasticity is the chisel from which the human brain, the only human organ which definitively distinguishes humans from every other species on the planet, has been meticulously sculpted over millions of years. Neuroplasticity is what allowed our prehistoric ancestors to successfully adapt to an ever-changing, ever-challenging environment we commonly refer to as Planet Earth, through a process, which in evolutionary terms is known as natural selection. For millions of years neuroplasticity has played, and continues to play, the leading role in the continuing saga, first documented by Darwin and referred to ever since as the evolution of our species. Neuroplasticity is the process that can singularly be credited with making humans fit to survive and fit to strive.

The impact of neuroplasticity on human performance is ubiquitous. The effects on our health and performance from doing regular exercise, how we eat, how we sleep and the effects of our taking drugs, both prescribed and illicit, favorable and unfavorable, are all mediated via this single process called neuroplasticity. Therefore, when we peel back the last layer of the human performance onion, at its core is a soup whose molecular ingredients are constantly changing and are all contained within a bowl that is easily identified as every one of our thick skulls. To the extent that an internal stimulus, such as a disease or an injury, or an external stimulus, such as soldier in battle or winning the lottery, affects the ingredients within this bowl of soup, is the same extent to which it affects a person’s performance.

Conclusion

Human performance is a direct reflection of neuroplasticity, making it the last crossroad between the health (structure) and performance (function) of the human being. Thus, performance is our ultimate vital sign, for within each human beings’ performance, their health is fully revealed.

The author has logically derived that the missing link between human health and performance is neuroplasticity. You will want to stay tuned to this blog to see how this theory, when applied in the arena of workplace wellness programs, can get them to actually work well.

End Post

Mitchell R. Weisberg, MD, MP

Internist-Psychopharmacologist-Corporate Wellness Consultant

Founder-CEO and Personal Physician at:

Optimal Performance MD

 

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