What Is Health?


In the broadest sense, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It includes a person’s capacity to live life to the fullest in a changing total environment and the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

Throughout history, concepts of health have changed along with medical advances and social changes. Today, many definitions of health have shifted away from focusing solely on the absence of disease to considering how people cope with challenges and thrive in their environments.

A healthy diet, regular exercise and good sleeping habits are all pillars of a healthful lifestyle and are linked to lower risks for chronic diseases and a longer life. However, there are many smaller daily activities that contribute to a healthy body and mind, too. These may be as small as putting the seat down when you’re standing up or making sure to take a walk around the block when you’ve got a free moment. It’s easy to forget all of these little things that can add up to a healthier, more enjoyable life.

The idea that health is more than just the absence of disease was largely established by the World Health Organization’s 1948 definition, which defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or disability”. The second edition added the important idea that good health is founded on a person’s ability to function in their environment, acknowledging that a person’s ability to achieve health is determined in large part by their surroundings and their relationship with them.

A person’s health is influenced by factors such as the quality of food and water, their job, housing, social connections, access to education, healthcare, environmental exposures and many other determinants of health. These are often referred to as risk or protective factors, and the way they interact can shape whether a person is healthy or unhealthy.

It’s also important to consider a person’s personal expectations of health. It’s common for most people to believe that health is about achieving a good balance between their inner forces and abilities and the pleasure they get from interacting with their environments. However, as expectations change over time and as individuals are unique, strategies for improving health must be individualized.

The third edition of the WHO definition of health, which was released in 1994, removed the idea that a state of health was only possible when there was no illness or disease present and replaced it with a more dynamic view of a person’s health as being determined by the extent to which they are able to realize their potential and satisfy their needs in a complex society (Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008). This shift is one reason why a modern view of health must go beyond treatment to prevention and promote a holistic approach to the health of an individual.