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Health: What does good health really mean?

Factors for promoting and preserving good health

 

Health can be defined as physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and as a resource for living a full life.
It refers not only to the absence of disease, but the ability to recover and bounce back from illness and other problems.

Factors for good health include genetics, the environment, relationships, and education.
A healthful diet, exercise, screening for diseases, and coping strategies can all enhance a person’s health.

 

In 1986, the WHO further clarified that health is:

“A resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasising social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.”

This means that health is a resource to support an individual’s function in wider society. A healthful lifestyle provides the means to lead a full life.

More recently, researchers have defined health as the ability of a body to adapt to new threats and infirmities. They base this on the idea that modern science has dramatically increased human awareness of diseases and how they work in the last few decades.

Mental and physical health are the two most commonly discussed types of health. We also talk about “spiritual health,” “emotional health,” and “financial health,” among others. These have also been linked to lower stress levels and mental and physical wellbeing.

 

Physical health
In a person who experiences physical health, bodily functions are working at peak performance, due not only to a lack of disease, but also to regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest. We receive treatment, when necessary, to maintain the balance.

Physical wellbeing involves pursuing a healthful lifestyle to decrease the risk of disease. Maintaining physical fitness, for example, can protect and develop the endurance of a person’s breathing and heart function, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition.

Physical health and well-being also help reduce the risk of an injury or health issue. Examples include minimising hazards in the workplace, practicing safe sex, practicing good hygiene, or avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs.

 

Mental health
Mental health refers to a person’s emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing. Mental health is as important as physical health to a full, active lifestyle.

It is harder to define mental health than physical health, because, in many cases, diagnosis depends on the individual’s perception of their experience. With improvements in testing, however, some signs of some types of mental illness are now becoming “visible” in CT scans and genetic testing.

Mental health is not only the absence of depression, anxiety, or another disorder.

It also depends on the ability to:

enjoy life
bounce back after difficult experiences
achieve balance
adapt to adversity
feel safe and secure
achieve your potential

Physical and mental health are linked. If chronic illness affects a person’s ability to complete their regular tasks, this may lead to depression and stress, for example, due to money problems.

A mental illness such as depression or anorexia nervosa can affect body weight and function.

It is important to approach “health” as a whole, rather than its different types.

 

Factors for good health
Health depends on a wide range of factors.

A person is born with a range of genes, and in some people, an unusual genetic pattern can lead to a less-than-optimum level of health.

Environmental factors play a role. Sometimes the environment alone is enough to impact health. Other times, an environmental trigger can cause illness in a person who is genetically susceptible.

Access to healthcare plays a role, but the WHO suggests that the following factors may have a bigger impact on health than this:

where a person lives
the state of the surrounding environment
genetics
income
education level
relationships with friends and family

 

These can be summarised as:

The social and economic environment: Including how wealthy a family or community is
The physical environment: Including parasites that exist in an area, or pollution levels
The person’s characteristics and behaviours: Including the genes that a person is born with and their lifestyle choices

According to the WHO, the higher a person’s socioeconomic status (SES), the more likely they are to enjoy good health, a good education, a well-paid job, afford good healthcare when their health is threatened.

People with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to experience stresses related to daily living, such as financial difficulties, marital disruption, and unemployment, as well as social factors, such as marginalisation and discrimination. All these add to the risk of poor health.

A low socio-economic status often means less access to healthcare. People in developed countries with universal healthcare services have longer life expectancies than people in developed countries without universal healthcare.

Cultural issues can affect health. The traditions and customs of a society and a family’s response to them can have a good or bad impact on health. For example, around the Mediterranean, people are more likely to consume high levels of fruits, vegetables, and olive, and to eat as a family, compared with cultures with a high consumption of fast food.

How a person manages stress will affect health. People who smoke, drink, or take drugs to forget their problems are likely to have more health problems later than someone who combats stress through a healthful diet and exercise.

Men and women are prone to different health factors. In societies where women earn less than men or are less educated, they may be at greater risk than men for poor health.

 

Preserving health
The best way to maintain health is to preserve it through a healthful lifestyle, rather than waiting until we are sick to put things right.

This state of enhanced well-being is referred to as wellness.

The McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois IL defines wellness as:

“A state of optimal well-being that is oriented toward maximising an individual’s potential. This is a life-long process of moving towards enhancing your physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental well-being.”

Wellness promotes an active awareness of and participation in health, as an individual and in the community.

Maintaining wellness and optimal health is a lifelong, daily commitment.

 

Steps that can help maximise health include:

a balanced, nutritious diet, sourced as naturally as possible
regular exercising
screening for diseases that may present a risk
learning to manage stress
engaging in activities that provide purpose and connection to others
maintaining a positive outlook and appreciating what you have
defining a value system, and putting it into action

 

 

Peak health will be different for each person, and how you achieve wellness may be different from how someone else does.

It may not be possible to avoid disease completely, but doing as much as we can to develop resilience and prepare the body and mind to deal with problems as they arise is a step we can all take.