How To Define Health
Most books on health intentionally define it in a narrow fashion that suits their agenda, or they define it in a way that would only work for someone who has the potential to achieve good physical and/or mental health.
I wanted to be more inclusive in my definition, for example someone who suffers from a chronic health problem may never be able to run, hike or even walk so a definition of health that works for them may not include aerobic fitness.
I also wanted a definition that included a balanced view of health, avoiding defining as healthy the person who eats a superbly healthy diet, but has a dysfunctional family life, or the person who exercises all the time and maybe as a result manages to eat a terrible diet and still not gain weight, or the person who is addicted to exercise and uses this as a prop because the rest of their life is s shambles. More interesting is the person who might be ill, in constant pain, or physically disabled but who has come to terms with it, has deep, rewarding relationships, meaningful work, and a rich, vibrant life. . maybe this person is the healthiest of these examples.
Of course we all want good physically and health but the cold, hard truth is that not all health problems are solvable. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we don’t have full control over all of the conditions of our lives. Equally importantly we don’t all have the time, discipline and priorities that align with achieving good health in every area of our lives.
I looked at all manner of different definitions for health n writing this post, but in the end I decided to share the one that google returns, it defines heath as:
the state of being free from illness or injury
I chose to share just this one, because it showed that the conventional view of health is a long way away from the way I’m thinking. I don’t believe that defining health as the absence of illness or injury is useful. Health needs to be defined positively, n terms of what it enables in life.
So getting off the fence I’m going to define health as:
the physical and mental attributes required to enjoy the whole of life, make a positive difference in the world and to be at peace with yourself
I chose these words for the following reasons:
- I wanted to include physical and mental health, for most people these two sides of health are going to positively re-enforce each other. The more we discover about our body and mind, the more we understand how they are part of a single interconnected system
- I wanted the focus to be on the attributes of health that enabled different individuals to enjoy life, not some externally defined, idealised, view of physical and mental health
- I wanted some focus on how these attributes might change over the course of life, what it means to he healthy at 20 and 100 are very unlikely to be the same
- I wanted to include some recognition of the fact that choices that a person makes when they are resilient and young might negatively affect them when they are fragile and old
- I used ‘enjoy’ because, for me, it’s consistent with the idea of living well despite challenges that might stop a person hitting a high bar like life long happiness. Equally I didn’t want a selfless definition of health that wouldn’t resonate with most people including me
- I included making a positive difference in the world because I didn’t want a hedonic description of health, i.e. one that only serves the individual. Physical and Mental Health should allow a person to achieve something worthwhile with their lives
- Finally I felt it was important for a person to be at peace with themselves and the world, to accept their limitations, to not crave what they can’t have.
I hope you find it useful to think through how you would define health yourself before you read my little guide, so that I don’t just impose my own values.
I chose todays picture of the sun setting behind the wind farm at Cleveleys because I felt it was a beautiful reminder of the characteristics of heath. To make time in our busy lives to stroll, or roll, along the promenade with family, enjoying the setting sun, despite or enhanced by the presence of the wind turbines.