Health by the numbers

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My dad dabbled in paint, mostly wall and house paint, but occasionally he tried his hand at a paint-by-numbers kit. Remember those? Craft Master kits were the rage. Just follow the numbers and a beautiful picture appeared after some trial and error.

In many ways, that fad reminds me of current health care approaches. Get the numbers right and you paint a picture of health. You might be familiar with some of those numbers, like 98.6, 120/80 and 72 bpm. And more complicated numbers are now being utilized with the advent of mobile tech and wearable sensors, all cataloging voluminous numerical sequences that are designed to uncover sharper insights into what’s going on in our bodies.

But then the old adage comes to mind, “You are much more than a number.” Numbers can’t give an accurate snapshot of man’s essence. His spiritual self or individuality is invisible to biomarkers and data points. He is as much about qualities as he is quantities. “Man is more than physical personality,” Mary Baker Eddy once put it.

I appreciate what Amy McGuire had to say at the recent TEDMED conference. The Director of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine was discussing genetic determinism. She was making the point that in defining humanity you have to include more than numbers, letters and sequences. “There is no genome for the human spirit,” she concluded.

Picture yourself in terms of spiritual vital signs.

What does that look like? If you are a Bible reader you might recall this tip, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.”

Describe in detail a friend or loved one and I doubt you would use numbers such as age in your analysis. Wouldn’t your portrayal include abilities, attitudes and demeanor, unique soulful qualities? You can tell more about a person in the glint in their eyes than in their color. Temperament paints a better picture than shoe size. Generosity gives a clearer picture than height or weight.

Spiritual markers or assets can include:

Love – Marked by generosity, forgiveness, selflessness

Gratitude – Marked by appreciativeness, thanksgiving

Childlike heart – Marked by trust, obedience, expectation

Non-physical descriptors have a real impact on health. As a matter of fact, individuals who express spiritual qualities like generosity, charity, and forgiveness have reported better health in case studies. Something as simple as wearing a smile has health benefits.

It has been said that numbers don’t lie. But they certainly don’t give the whole picture when it comes to our quintessence. Taking the time to contemplate our inner self, those thoughts and things that make us exceptional, will go a long way in promoting our health and revealing the masterpiece we are.

Paint me healthy.


Steve Salt is a syndicated health blogger and a Christian Science teacher and practitioner. This post was originally published on the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Follow him on twitter @saltseasoned.

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