“Man, through the use of his hands as energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health”(Reilly, 1962).
How does this quote strike you?
Read it again. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
For me, it strikes me as empowering. Optimistic. Energizing.
I am learning much about the influence that our participation in occupation can have on our lives, particularly as it relates to our mental and physical health. In an article entitled, “Health and the Human Spirit for Occupation,”* the concept of occupation is defined as “self-initiated, self-directed activity that is productive for the person (even if the product is fun) and contributes to others.”
Think scrapbooking. Or gardening.
The author then goes on to define health in a unique way. “Health,” she writes, “is an encompassing, positive, dynamic state of ‘well-beingness,’ reflecting adaptability, a good quality of life, and satisfaction in one’s own activities.” Her definition is unique because it doesn’t define health strictly as the absence of illness or injury. Using her definition, health does not exclude people with disabilities. It focuses more on overall satisfaction, regardless of ability level.
So why does this all matter? How are occupation and health related? Who cares?
Well, when considering people who are recovering from spinal cord injury, strong support has been found for a relationship between activity level and survival. Those who are more active in participating in daily occupations – both in actually doing the occupations and in socializing during their completion – are more likely to survive. In the group of people referenced in this article, activity level was actually even more important than medical history or emotional state for these people who were recovering from spinal cord injury. Bottom line: the more engaged they were in daily occupations, the more likely they were to survive their spinal cord injury, regardless of severity.
Pretty amazing, right?
This relationship between health and occupation is continually being discovered and re-discovered, and so here is my question to you.
What occupations do you engage in that are meaningful and satisfying to you? Have you ever thought about how your involvement in these occupations can actually serve to enhance your overall health and well-being?
Of course, I am not suggesting that people live a destructive or overly sedentary lifestyle (e.g., sit around and eat candy bars all day), and then assume that if they engage in meaningful occupations that it will cover over their plethora of health-related “sins.” Yes, occupational engagement is important for promoting overall health. But it is not an excuse to ignore common sense healthy lifestyle practices.
However, if we can remember and trust that there is a powerful relationship between health and occupation, then maybe those of us who are over-worked, over-scheduled, and under-rested will think twice before we dismiss the importance of our involvement in personally meaningful activities. For the use of our hands, as energized by mind and will, can influence the state of our own health.
*The article referenced, “Health and the Human Spirit for Occupation,” was written by Elizabeth J. Yerxa and was published in the June 1998 edition of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.