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 a physical object’s structure and function. Architects like to think they created this relationship with their motto, form follows function. Apparently the original architect, or whatever force that created the Universe, was already familiar with this principle. 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 physical object in the known universe is a structure and a corresponding function. The human being, arguably one of the most complex objects 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,let’s rely on the often used onion analogy and peel back the layers of human performance. When peeling back the outermost layer, we see that performance is the collective of individual behaviors, each of which is executed exclusively and entirely by the moveable human body; its skeleton, muscles and connective tissues. Pull back the next layer to show that each of these component behaviors is the immediate reflection of the innermost layer, or the core of human performance; the neuroplastic molecular structure of the human Central Nervous System(brain and spinal cord).

To the naked eye it seems a solid structure, at the microscopic (molecular) level the human brain has significant plasticity, bordering on liquidity or soup whose molecular ingredients continuously and instantaneously change via the inter-neuron communication process known as 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 his wound. If the same soldier received this exact dosage of Morphine, even a millisecond before he was wounded, he would have died instantly due to Morphine’s respiratory 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 allowed Morphine to interact and 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.

A mortal wound is not necessary 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 can be 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, such as an infection ) 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 regular exercise, good nutrition and sleep as well as the impact the of drugs, both prescribed and illicit, favorable and unfavorable, are all mediated via this single process called neuroplasticity.  So, when we peel back the layers of human performance (function), at its core we find a soup whose molecular ingredients are constantly changing based on the stimuli to which we are being exposed. To the extent that an internal stimulus, such as a disease or an injury, or an external stimulus, a battle wound or winning the lottery, affects the ingredients within this bowl of soup, is the same extent to which it affects a human being’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. When this principle is applied to workplace wellness programs, they can 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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