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Health is a human experience

Sometimes I feel I am living a version of the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

Do you remember? Kevin Costner plays a farmer, Ray Kinsella, who is moved to build a baseball field on his farm. This field becomes a beacon back to a simpler time where life was easier, and the foundational values of service, community, hope, purpose and a mindset of abundance existed for each American.

Through this field, his father, a baseball player in his youth, comes back to play baseball. In the process, he repairs his damaged relationship with Ray to one of love.

Can we repair the trauma of lifetimes and to get back to the simpler time where the American Dream was available for all?

This framework is what health is about - the impact of our human roots, our beliefs and our perception in determining our health.

We are learning that health is a human experience, rather than a technical list of things.

A groundbreaking study by the Nobel prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel measured cellular age – the physical manifestation of aging -- in a group of moms with chronically ill children and compared them to age-, income- and education-matched moms with healthy children. They showed that it was the mothers’ perception of their own chronic stress that was the critical factor for aging biologically as measured by telomere shortening of cells.

This was true of moms of either group. Moreover, feeling grateful for their experience and time with their children, instead of stress and worry, appeared to protect the moms with ill children from early aging.

Their new book, The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, makes the case that it is not the amount of stress that one has, but rather perceiving that one is under chronic stress is the critical factor in aging.

Stress releases the flight or fight hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, which chronically, can negatively impact the body.

Some researchers now speculate that childhood trauma (as quantified by the Adverse Childhood Experience survey), may influence life health through the chronic release of these two hormones and the resulting programming of our brain and nervous system.

Similarly, a scarcity mindset that makes people feel unloved, hopeless and unsafe induces the same hormonal axis and may be a root cause of accelerate biological aging. This disease results in the poor health metrics and low wellbeing index we see in West Virginia.

The antidote to this is resilience. Resilience involves feeling loved, purposeful and safe. These feelings may be involved in the body’s release of oxytocin, a protective hormone that creates the bond between parent and child; on great teams; and in great relationships.

Thus, the influence between the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol, and the protective hormone oxytocin, may influence people's outcomes and health. This chemical balance is directly related to how you view the world and our place in it.

Human perception and experience.

The determinant of health, then, is from feeling loved, safe, connected, having a purpose and feeling we have everything we need – the abundance mindset.

Like Sheryl Crow sang in Soak Up the Sun, we should want what we have, not have what we want. Appreciating the great gifts we have is key.

This is why community is so important.

Community and family provides the framework for connecting to others, to purpose and to hope.

This may be why a community of people who move from an area of longevity, like the Blue Zones of the world, who move to a country of lesser lifespan, seem to have the same lifespan as their native land.

In contrast, individuals who move from these areas of longer lifespan and move, succumb to the shorter lifespans of their new home.

If health is a human experience, then let’s make West Virginia a Blue Zone of the future, filled with positive experiences of love, safety, purpose, deep connections and a mindset of abundance.

It is our time to realize this great potential.

As Ray and his dad reconnect, his dad asks Ray if the baseball field is heaven.

Ray says, "No, it’s Iowa."

I say, "No, it’s West Virginia."

It’s our time to rise - together.