Understanding the Concept of Health


Health is a multifaceted concept with a variety of definitions. One common definition of health is that it is a state of being free from disease and infirmity. This view of health is the focus of medical practice and healthcare systems around the world.

It is also possible to define health in terms of an individual’s function and capacity to adapt to life situations. This concept of health reflects the fact that a person’s health is influenced by their environment as well as their own behaviours and beliefs. The underlying idea behind this concept of health is that it is not enough to simply treat or prevent disease. It is necessary to understand and promote healthy lifestyles, which are associated with higher functioning individuals and societies.

The concept of health is a complex one that cannot be easily defined or understood by any single individual. In order to gain a more thorough understanding of the concept of health it is useful to examine how different people think about and consider the meaning of health. This can help health professionals identify what factors can influence a person’s perspective on their own health and wellbeing as well as how to best support them in developing a healthier lifestyle.

One of the biggest problems with defining health is that it changes over time. As the science of medicine continues to advance, it becomes increasingly difficult to declare an individual as being completely healthy. A person who is considered healthy by a medical professional today may be found to have a disease or condition tomorrow when more sophisticated tests are available. Alternatively, an individual may be able to avoid the detection of any disease by regularly visiting their doctor and having regular health checks.

In 1948, the World Health Organization defined health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. While this is a step forward from a negative conception of health, it still fails to recognise that there are many factors that contribute to an individual’s ability to function effectively at the biological, societal and cultural level.

There is a close relationship between an individual’s health and the circumstances in which they live, work, play and age. These many factors are referred to as the ‘health determinants’ and they include genetics, the quality of health care they receive, the lifestyle choices they make, and their broader social context and environment. They can either be risk or protective factors and they interact with each other to affect the health of the individual and their communities. This article has been adapted from an earlier version published in 2008. Health is a complex topic, but there are some simple things you can do to improve your health. These are called ‘healthy habits’ and include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, controlling your weight and getting enough sleep. Click on the pictures below for easy-to-follow checklists on how to start implementing these positive health habits into your daily routine.