What is Applied Human Health and Performance?

At the Institute of Motion, we’ve always been laser-focused on two things: human health and human performance. And in times like these (read: pandemic), the importance, benefit, and, well, challenge, of achieving health and performance in the modern world has found its way on to everyone’s radar.

It’s All Connected

Technology companies and globalization experts have been talking about how globally connected we are for years. And yet, I think we have been surprised by the extent to which our health is also connected. 

We have been surprised by how a physical illness can spread through our international travel networks. And we have been surprised by the mental health difficulties and social isolation that have travelled with it.

Of course, chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, have been a global phenomenon for years. The overconsumption of empty calories, once linked only to affluent nations, is now just as likely to be found in poor countries. Why? Because these are often the cheapest calories in our increasingly global food system (Source).
But we’ve learned that global performance is also connected to health. We now realize how much the global supply chain depends on the health of workers in shipping, logistics, and manufacturing. We’ve learned how much economic growth depends on parents and women being able to fully participate in the workforce.  And the burnout and resignation amongst healthcare professionals has shown us how much we depend on the physical and mental health of these workers.

Global and Personal

“Global” connections are hard to conceptualize. They’re impersonal – they sound like things that are happening to other, faceless people. They sound a little unreal. But these global connections are reflected in our experiences of health and performance in our communities, workplaces, and personal lives.

We’ve written before about the determinants of health. This systems perspective looks at health in terms of the choices we can make as individuals as well as our health environment – the societal, community, and organizational influences. 

We like to think of this as “two sides of the house” – the social determinants of health are things that can be shaped by politics, workplace policies, and community initiatives, where the individual determinants of health are where each of us has a little more control.(Read more about the determinants of health)

An Applied approach to Health and Performance

The difficulty with the big, systems view of health is that it often seems so large and complex, it’s hard to know where to start making changes. At IoM, our main interest is in how we can take big, evidence-based concepts and translate them into something practical. Taking this applied approach means considering the “system” of health and looking for points at which we can impact the system in positive ways. 
Applied Human Health and Performance lets us target both the individual and the environmental level. This point in the system is about helping individuals build the skills that help people live and perform well in the modern world, and about shaping the environment of communities and workplaces to support the health of their people.

It starts with Strategy

In order to be effective, any intervention needs to be strategic. It needs to tie into the needs, wants, goals and interests of the people it helps. This, by its very nature, addresses the wider determinants of health: understanding how social determinants of health impact the individual determinants of health means we can help people achieve better health and performance outcomes more efficiently and effectively.

Simplify the Parameters

At the individual level, we can take action to improve health in 3 main domains: Physical, Mental-Emotional, and Social-Economic. As you can see in the table below, separating the interconnected health system into these three categories helps us target behaviours and highlight opportunities.

PhysicalMental-EmotionalSocial-Economic

How do you stress?
(exercise and activities of daily living)
How’s your mindset? (thoughts, feelings, attitudes)How are your relationships? (friends, family, colleagues)
How do you recover?
(sleep, recovery protocols)
What matters most to you?
(Purpose and values)

Are you part of a supportive system? (community, personal support, contributing back)

How are you eating?
(nutrients, hydration, habits)
How are you performing?
(cognition, focus, productivity)
Do you feel secure? (financial, relational)

At the environmental level, Applied Human Health and Performance can help organizations address personal, team, and performance challenges by shaping three key pillars:

Pillar 1Pillar 2Pillar 3
Wellness LeadershipOrganizational ConnectionHealth and Wellness Practices

Ensuring a strong wellness leadership to shape a culture of well-being
Connecting health and wellness to people, process, and the organization.Establishing the programmes, policies, and resources that support well-being.

This approach builds community and considers social connection and organizational culture as part of the wellness of staff. It supports mental health from a proactive perspective, looking for ways to minimize disruptors. And it contributes to a culture of healthy striving (rather than perfectionism).

Differentiated Solutions

Our approach makes for a highly differentiated set of solutions. We ask, “What are your goals and what can we make happen?” It takes a SMART approach by identifying the small steps along the route to a big goal. This means identifying priorities, and taking a realistic view of the situation.

Humans are masters of adaptation, and our health solutions need to do the same. We adapt our models to each individual and we adapt to new information or evidence. This means we never have to give up if something isn’t working. Instead, we can pivot or make a lateral move, always with an eye to our client’s objectives.

It’s also an approach that relies on data. What needs to be measured in order to understand what’s working (and what’s not)? Different types of data are key here – qualitative, enjoyment data is important, as well as leading and lagging health indicators.

A final key differentiator is how we nest the standard concept of “fitness” within the broader notion of “wellness.” If wellness is a measure of the overall state of a person’s life, fitness sits inside of this as a set of parameters that support health and performance. 

To put it simply, we’re not interested in some magical “best life.” We know that everyone brings their own context, needs, and perspective to the project of living well.

Sources

Diseases of Affluence (aka double burden)

Wellness Industry Research

Statistics & Facts, Global Wellness institute