There is an innate link between health and productivity that we generally seem to ignore. In fact, the current popular paradigm seems to be that one must sacrifice certain elements of their health in order to attain productivity, but I hold that this is not the case. The paradigm is flawed, basing its stance upon a narrow definition of "health", for a certain inaccurate definition of the word productivity.
Let's tackle health first. What is it? What is it to be healthy? In Body? In Mind? In Spirit? We consider a healthy body to be one that functions as is optimal. We consider a healthy mind to be one that functions in a normal way emotionally and logically. We consider the healthy spirit to be the happy spirit.
The Healthy Body
What is a healthy body? We talk about health in terms like a sound heart, proper breathing, an absence of illness. A healthy person can take the stairs from the lobby to his fourth-floor office without a second thought, we might say. An exceptionally healthy person might be able to run a marathon with a decent amount of preparation. Is healthy, then, cardiovascular endurance?
Sometimes we pay exceptional attention to what we eat. Nutritional science is well-developed, if not often misunderstood. With the exceptions of serious athletes and people with nutritional deficiencies or other disorders requiring special diet, most of us focus on what we eat as a way to control our weight. For many, the focus on weight is a concern of vanity, or image. For quite a few, however, weight is a legitimate concern, because of its implications for health, particularly of the heart. A healthy person's breakfast might be a bit of fruit and granola over yogurt, with a glass of water or orange juice. Is healthy, then, the state of an optimal weight and a carefully-considered diet?
Sometimes, we are concerned with illness. Many illnesses are hereditary, or at least congenital; skin conditions, malformations of the eyes, dysfunctions of organs like the pancreas or the kidneys. Quite a few more, and the ones we seem to worry most about, are contagious. Cold and Flu treatments are a multi-billion dollar industry. We've all seen the ubiquitous bottles of water-free hand sanitizer in schools, airports, malls, hospitals, and just about anywhere else where people gather. A healthy person, we can say, might go a year or more without getting sick, surrounded with all these modern aids. An exceptionally healthy person, on that assumption, might go so long with little more than a healthy diet and good hygiene. Is healthy, then, the absence of an actual illness.
None of these responses are incorrect, but none are the full truth. A healthy person can get sick. Depending on your age, you might not be able to get up the stairs like you used to. Sometimes even a very calorie-conscious person might want a nice piece of steak or some barbecue ribs. Moreover, taken to extremes any of these things can be dangerous. Too much running can be bad for the joints, or sometimes the heart. Too-much focus on the "scores" of the food can take the enjoyment out of it. Going too long without being at least exposed to the pathogens that cause illness will render the body unable to fight it.
The healthy body, therefore, is the one that can survive life with a minimum requirement of medical intervention or too much of a focus on the how and why of the body's functions. Think of the common analogy of a body being a car; the car you don't have to focus on keeping running is the optimal car. It is true, however, that preventative maintenance is important.
The Healthy Mind
We define mental health in so many ways that it is almost ephemeral, and fitting the symptoms to the disease is so much of an art form that if I were to attend 5 different psychiatrists' sessions, there'd be at minimum six opinions on which disease or flavour thereof I might exhibit on a given day. The healthy mind is less concerned with what the doctors say and what you feel. If the patterns of your thoughts suit your lifestyle and profession, and do not bring you into some form of harmful behaviour, your mind is sufficiently healthy.
This is also concerned, on a very real level, with creativity, logic, and problem solving. While a lot of those "memory-master" games have specious claims at best, they do have a utility. People, as they age, settle into patterns of thought. We have our "certain way of doing things". Consider the following mathematical example:
What are x and y? The most obvious path would be to take the first equation, where x equals y-1, and substitute, then solve algebraically. That's simple enough for this problem, but can become much more complicated with other factors. A simpler way is to re-arrange, like this:
In this new arrangement, the y values cancel out, giving an x value of five. Believe it or not, someone younger than me, with less experiences in mathematics, came up with the second method independently, though it had been previously established.
It can be said, then, that the healthy mind is also the mind which is still creative, can still learn, and can still apply concepts to one another to create new solutions.
The Healthy Soul
Call this what you will. Everyone has one, even if they don't use the same terms. A soul has many components we often ascribe to our "heart"; emotions, passions, conscience, loves, hates... anything that has an emotional component is a part of the soul. Of course, many would argue this is an extension of mind, and if that's your view, than that's your view.
Negative emotions can weigh us down, give us a "heavy heart". Hating people, holding grudges, feeling guilty, these things indirectly sap our mental potential by consuming, for lack of a better analogy, our inner RAM. You can also have a heard heart, deeply connected to the uncreative mind, becoming so fixed in one way of thinking that you can't even empathize with another, let alone properly comprehend it.
Having a healthy soul is more than just following a particular doctrine. There are men and women of all faiths and creeds whose souls are made unhealthy by guilt, bitterness, and loss. The best a man can do is to follow his heart in the direction it will lead him, and trust himself enough to be able to see truth among the chaff.
Tying it Together
What do any of these things have to do with productivity? It's simple. You can't focus if you are fatigued. You can't work effectively if your thoughts are scattered. You can't focus, either, if you're remembering that stupid thing you did three years ago.
The thing is that these three things are as intertwined with each other as they are with your productivity. A healthy body brings alertness to a stagnant mind, which, determined, empowers the body to greater health through dedication to diet and exercise. Our thoughts and behaviours are a major part of what form our conscience, which can come to terms with itself easier if we are enlightened by the powers of Reason. The time spent pursuing the healthy body allows a focus on the healthy soul, and the soul which is content with the progress of mind and body is itself happy.
Over the next week or so, I want to talk a bit about ways to improve these forms of health.