What is Health?
How do you define health? Is it a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being? Is it merely the absence of disease or infirmity? Or is health a resource for everyday life, rather than the objective of living; a positive concept, emphasising social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities?
Good health is harder to define than bad health (which can be equated with the presence of disease), because it must convey a concept more positive than mere absence of disease, and there is a variable area between health and disease. Health is clearly a complex, multidimensional concept. Health is, ultimately, poorly defined and difficult to measure, despite impressive efforts by epidemiologists, vital statisticians, social scientists and political economists. Each individual’s health is shaped by many factors, including medical care, social circumstances, and behavioural choices.
While it is true to say that health care is the prevention, treatment and management of illness, and the preservation of mental and physical well-being, through the services offered by the medical, nursing and allied health professions, health-related behaviour is influenced by our own values, which are determined by upbringing, by example, by experience, by the company one keeps, by the persuasive power of advertising (often a force of behaviour that can harm health), and by effective health education. Healthy individuals are able to mobilise all their physical, mental, and spiritual resources to improve their chances of survival, to live happy and fulfilling lives, and to be of benefit to their dependants and society.
Achieving health, and remaining healthy, is an active process. Natural health is based on prevention, and on keeping our bodies and minds in good shape. Health lies in balancing these aspects within the body through a regimen consisting of diet, exercise, and regulation of the emotions. The last of these is too often ignored when health advice is dispensed, but can have a pronounced effect on physical well-being.
Every day, or so it seems, new research shows that some aspect of lifestyle – physical activity, diet, alcohol consumption, and so on – affects health and longevity. Physical fitness is good bodily health, and is the result of regular exercise, proper diet and nutrition, and proper rest for physical recovery. The field of nutrition also studies foods and dietary supplements that improve performance, promote health, and cure or prevent disease, such as fibrous foods to reduce the risk of colon cancer, or supplements with vitamin C to strengthen teeth and gums and to improve the immune system. When exercising, it becomes even more important to have a good diet to ensure that the body has the correct ratio of macronutrients whilst providing ample micronutrients; this is to aid the body in the recovery process following strenuous exercise.
If you’re trying to lose weight by “dieting”, don’t call it a diet, first of all – successful dieters don’t call what they do a “diet”. A healthy diet and regular physical activity are both important for maintaining a healthy weight. Even literate, well-educated people sometimes have misguided views about what makes or keeps them healthy, often believing that regular daily exercise, regular bowel movements, or a specific dietary regime will alone suffice to preserve their good health. Despite the ever-changing, ever-conflicting opinions of the medical experts as to what is good for us, one aspect of what we eat and drink has remained constantly agreed by all: a balanced diet.
A balanced diet comprises a mixture of the main varieties of nutriments (protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins). Proper nutrition is just as, if not more, important to health as exercise. If you’re concerned about being overweight, you don’t need to add the extra stress of “dieting”. No “low-fat this” or “low-carb that”; just healthful eating of smaller portions, with weight loss being a satisfying side effect. Improve health by eating real food in moderation. (For many reasons, not everyone has easy access to or incentives to eat a balanced diet. Nevertheless, those who eat a well-balanced diet are healthier than those who do not.)
Physical exercise is considered important for maintaining physical fitness and overall health (including healthy weight), building and maintaining healthy bones, muscles and joints, promoting physiological well-being, reducing surgical risks, and strengthening the immune system. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, running and swimming, focus on increasing cardiovascular endurance and muscle density. Anaerobic exercises, such as weight training or sprinting, increase muscle mass and strength. Proper rest and recovery are also as important to health as exercise, otherwise the body exists in a permanently injured state and will not improve or adapt adequately to the exercise. The above two factors can be compromised by psychological compulsions (eating disorders, such as exercise bulimia, anorexia, and other bulimias), misinformation, a lack of organisation, or a lack of motivation.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist what exercises are best for you. Your doctor and/or physical therapist can recommend specific types of exercise, depending on your particular situation. You can use exercises to keep strong and limber, improve cardiovascular fitness, extend your joints’ range of motion, and reduce your weight. You should never be too busy to exercise. There’s always a way to squeeze in a little exercise, no matter where you are. Eliminate one or maybe even two items from your busy schedule to free up time to fit in some exercise and some “YOU” time. Finding an exercise partner is a common workout strategy.
You may have heard about the benefits of diet and exercise ad nauseam, but may be unaware of the effect that your emotions can have on your physical well-being and, indeed, your longevity. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life. Mental health is how we think, feel, and act in order to face life’s situations. Prolonged psychological stress may have a negative impact on health, such as weakening the immune system.
Children are particularly vulnerable. Caring for and protecting a child’s mental health is a major part of helping that child to grow into a normal adult, accepted into society. Mental health problems are not just a passing phase. Children are at greater risk for developing mental health problems when certain factors occur in their lives or environments. Mental health problems include depression, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia and conduct disorder. Do your best to provide a safe and loving home and community for your child, as well as nutritious meals, regular health check-ups, immunisations and exercise. Many children experience mental health problems that are real and painful, and they can be severe. Mental health problems affect at least one in every five young people at any given time. Tragically, an estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need. Mental health problems can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug abuse, family discord, violence, or even suicide. A variety of signs may point to a possible mental health problem in a child or teenager. Talk to your doctor, a school counsellor, or other mental health professionals who are trained to assess whether your child has a mental health problem.
Control your emotions. If a driver overtakes you on the wrong side, or pulls out of a side road in front of you, don’t seethe with rage and honk your horn; You’re hurting no one but yourself by raising your blood pressure. Anger has been linked to heart disease, and research has suggested that hardening of the arteries occurs faster in people who score highly in hostility and anger tests. Stay calm in such situations, and feel proud of yourself for doing so. Take comfort in the knowledge that such aggressive drivers only increase their own blood pressure. Your passengers will be more impressed with your “cool” than with your irascibility.
If you are in a constant rush, feeling that every second of your life counts, just slow down a little. Yes, every second does count, but consider the concept of quality of life. Compare how you feel when you’re in a hurry with how you feel when you’re not. Which feels better? Rushing everywhere increases your stress level. The body tries to overcome stress by making certain physiological adjustments. Some time after you slow down, the physiological adjustments and the stress symptoms revert to normal. If you don’t ever slow down, the physiological adjustments and the stress symptoms persist. It is this persistence of the body’s response that matters. You may develop physical, physiological or psychological problems, and may not be able to lead a normal life. Many cases of stress are somehow connected with money, or rather the lack of it. Such people struggle to make ends meet or to acquire more material possessions. This brings us to our final discussion: attitude.
It is always pleasant to enjoy the fruits of our labours, of course. Sometimes, however, it seems that whatever we do, it’s just not enough to be able to afford that new car or that foreign holiday. So, what do we usually do then? We work harder, longer; we increase the stress on our minds and bodies; we spend less time with our families and friends; we become more irascible and less likeable people. If you find yourself in this situation, just stop for a moment, and consider: Is it all worth it? What is the purpose of life? Surely it is to be happy. You’ll probably be happier if you adopt the philosophy that true quality of life is not to be found in material things. If you convince yourself that you want less, you’ll need less. If you need less, you’ll cope with life more easily, and the happier, and therefore healthier, you’ll be. Buddha called this “enlightenment”. Enjoy a “good-health attitude”. Focus on your abilities instead of disabilities. Be satisfied with what you have, rather than be dissatisfied about what you don’t have and probably never will have.
If you simply cannot cope with a healthy diet, exercise and emotional control, but genuinely prefer to eat junk food, be permanently drunk, be under constant stress, and be disliked by others, then enjoy your life while it lasts, but understand that the trade-off is that it will probably not last long. If you accept this willingly, you’ll be happy. There is some merit in the philosophy that it is better to live a short, happy life than a long, miserable one.