Health is a central issue in people’s lives. People want to live as long as possible and as comfortably as they can. To do so, they need to take good care of their physical, emotional and mental health. This is why healthcare exists – to help people stay healthy. But what is health exactly?
Traditionally, doctors have defined health in terms of the absence of disease. This is still a valid definition. However, it is limiting in many ways. It ignores the fact that healthy people can have different experiences than unhealthy people. It also overlooks the fact that a person can be healthy and yet have diseases that are not easily detectable by modern medicine.
A person’s health is a complex mix of biological, social and environmental factors that come together to influence their life experience. Some of these factors are inherited such as genes that can increase the risk of certain conditions. Many of them are influenced by the social and economic environment such as the financial situation, work and education. Others are physical in nature such as the quality of air and water and the quantity of germs around.
Ultimately, health is about how well a person can adapt to their environment and cope with the challenges it presents. A person who can cope successfully with all the environmental factors that affect their health – including stress – will be in good health.
The World Health Organization defines health as a state of “complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is a more comprehensive and holistic definition of health than one focused only on the absence of disease or infirmity.
If we think about it, most of us would agree that a person is not truly healthy if they are suffering from chronic disease or illness or if their relationships with others are strained. This is because these types of conditions erode the quality of life and can cause stress.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate these issues. Imagine someone (Person A) who is physically healthy – they have boundless energy, a sharp mind, no chronic, inflammatory diseases and no colds or flus. However, this person has terrible relationships and a selfish attitude towards others. They don’t work hard to make a difference in the world and they don’t have fun or enjoy their lives. In other words, this person is not healthy despite their excellent physical health. On the other hand, imagine someone (Person B) who is not in perfect physical shape – they have an autoimmune disease, they often feel tired or have difficulty sleeping – but they have deep, nourishing relationships with other people, they do meaningful work that makes a difference in the world and they love to laugh and have fun. In this sense, Person B is healthy. They have a balanced lifestyle. They are coping with their health problems and adapting to their surroundings.