Understanding the Concept of Health

Health is a complex phenomenon and there are many definitions of it. The simplest one is that health is a state of being free from disease, and the more sophisticated definitions recognise that the experience of health can vary and that it may not be possible to reduce this to an objective measure. In the context of public health, there has been a shift away from thinking about a state, which can be measured and treated, to a concept that includes functioning and participation. This change was largely fostered by the WHO when it encouraged the development of the health promotion movement in the 1980s.

There are many factors that contribute to health, such as genetics, environment, lifestyle choices, and behaviours. These are referred to as the ‘health determinants’. Some of these determinants are protective and others are risky. Some have the potential to create differences in health outcomes between people within a population, or between social groups. This is referred to as health inequality.

As a result of the complexity and variety of health determinants, there is no single definition of what constitutes good or bad health. However, there are some basic principles that can guide us to better understanding and promoting health. These include the idea that good health is a resource for living, and that it is essential for participating in society. In addition, it is important to recognise that health is a holistic experience and that there are both physical and mental components of it.

In practice, the most useful way to think about health is to focus on the behavioural aspects of it. Getting plenty of exercise, eating well, not smoking and taking medication as prescribed are all important components of healthy living. However, it is sometimes hard to find the time to fit these ‘little things’ into our daily lives. This is why it is often helpful to take part in group activities such as walking clubs and exercising with friends.

It is also important to remember that even if an individual has a healthy lifestyle, they can still suffer from diseases like cancer or heart attacks. It is therefore important to be able to detect and manage these diseases when they do occur. This means having regular health checks, including blood pressure, cholesterol and eye tests.

Although there has been a significant improvement in the prevention of some diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer due to changes in diet, smoking, drinking alcohol, and vaccination, other health problems remain common. These include obesity, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, and some infections such as influenza and pneumonia. These are a major cause of death and disability in Australia. The good news is that these deaths are preventable. By making small changes to our lifestyles, we can all improve our health and wellbeing. These small changes, such as eating a balanced diet, being active, not smoking, limiting alcohol and getting enough sleep can have big benefits to our health.