Sunday, 15 June 2014

What Is Health?

Posted by speedygeoff on Sunday, June 15, 2014 with No comments

[Article for the July Vetrunner]
It seems a bit lame to define “health” as “not sick”. A bit like defining a dog as “not a cat”. Here’s a rough attempt at defining health at the personal level.

Our self- development goals ought not stop at just the physical. For a start, we are comprised of mind as well as body. And just as we exercise our bodies in athletics, we should also find suitable exercises to challenge and improve our minds, shouldn’t we? Everyone knows that a retired person needs to keep exercising the mind in order to stay alert and cognitively fit. Health doesn’t stop at just physical and mental, either. Other areas of health include emotional, spiritual, and relational.

The word "health" comes from the Old English word hale, meaning "wholeness, being whole, sound or well." An older meaning of “hale” was "whole, uninjured, of good omen". Medilexicon's Medical Dictionary has three definitions for health, the first being "The state of the organism when it functions optimally without evidence of disease or abnormality". The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" and "a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasising social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities."

Physical health means healthy because of regular physical activity, good nutrition, and adequate rest. The fitness industry emphasises physical health, and there is so much information available about physical health and wellbeing that one could focus one’s whole life on physical fitness to the exclusion of the other, equally important, aspects of health.

Just as physical health is about the body functioning well, mental health is about our mind functioning well. Mental health is more than “lack of mental illness”. A WHO definition of mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community". Mental health means healthy because we can enjoy life, overcome adversity, are flexible and adaptable. We are healthy because we keep the mind active and because we embrace truth and integrity.

Emotional health is all about having a happy, positive outlook and being content, with what we have and what we can achieve. More than that, there is a joy to life, a waking in the morning expectant about what the day will bring. Emotional health means healthy because we can manage our anger for example, deal with our emotions by giving them prompt and appropriate expression, and live in a way which minimises guilt and self-doubt.

Spiritual health means healthy because we have an appreciation of the bigger picture, knowing that we are part of a plan and a purpose greater than is obvious to us most of the time. Spiritual health involves having faith that what we are doing today will have consequences tomorrow of which we are scarcely aware. We are functioning well spiritually when our hope for what might be is stronger than our fear of what might be.

Relational health is about how we interact with others. We have relational health when we are part of a social scene where we experience acceptance and belonging.

Any one of these areas – and there are more but these are the most important – can be neglected at our peril. Health is a combination of all areas of our personal life, functioning optimally. Each area can be worked on; trained; if we take the trouble to make plans and carry them through.

"A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools." - Spanish Proverb

"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver." - Mahatma Gandhi.


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