What is “Health”?

By Marilyn Landreth, M.A.

All the debate about Health Care Reform has reopened the question, “What is health?” Most of what is being discussed in the current debate is actually sickness care or sickness insurance. If the current debate is not about health care, then what does “Health” mean to you?

The Center’s definition of health: “Health is having the reserve to do what you need to and want to do with energy and enthusiasm.” 

One authority, the World Health Organization (WHO), defines health as: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” WHO has used this definition since 1946.

Sometimes it is easier to define what health isn’t rather than what it is. In a recent Lancet article entitled “What is health? The ability to adapt,” health is defined as: “Health is not a ‘state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being’ nor is it ‘merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’” Georges Canguilhem, a French physician, wrote that “Health is not a fixed entity but health is the ability to adapt to ones own environment and circumstance. Depending on his or her own circumstance, it varies for every individual.” He believes that health needs to be defined by the person and not the doctor.

How one person views his or her own health in some instances can be amazing.  She/He may have diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease but when asked about their health they may reply that she/he is perfectly healthy. The Center’s definition of health may fit that scenario: “Health is having the reserve to do what you need to do and want to do with energy and enthusiasm.”

The meaning of health for the individual has been highlighted at The Center staff meetings this year. The Center has always encouraged staff development. One way to do that is by providing opportunities for personnel to give one 3-5 minute talk at a staff meeting during the year. This year the topic was to find out what health is for each individual staff person.

The Center funded the “Health is…” program for all schools in the state of Kansas for three years. The contest gave students the opportunity to respond in prose, poetry, song, film, art, collage, etc. the meaning of “Health is…” For The Center presentation, the individual could select one of these mediums to express what they think “Health is…” for them. While there were themes that ran through many of the presentations, there were also some unique viewpoints. All of them were very creative.

Michelle B. said “To me, health is the energy to do what I want to do and the confidence to follow my dreams.”

Everyone has to decide what health means to him or her. For me, it is the ability to know and trust my body and mind, as well as the capacity to feel real joy and to have meaningful relationships with my family, friends, and within the community.

Our health not only affects us individually but it also affects our family, friends, and the world. With today’s rising health costs, self-responsibility seems to be the only avenue for each of us to take.” Mona W. thought that attitude, diet, healthy relationships, exercise or moving your body around, expressing creativity, breathing, knowing what nutrients you may be missing in your body, and finding ways to reduce stress in your life all play a part in being a healthy person.

Pets play a major role in some people’s lives. Marla S. said that her dog’s unconditional love helps her when her life hits a rough patch. Her dog also gets her to exercise, encourages socialization with her neighbors and other pet owners, and always gives her something to laugh about. She further explained that research has shown that pets can help a person be healthier by lowering his/her blood pressure.

Learning to find humor in many situations is important for a healthy body. Jean V.N. is well known in the clinic for her joyful laugh and finding humor in difficult situations. She  referenced a Health Hunter Newsletter article by Sister Ann Cecile Gaume that said that laughter nourishes our body, mind, and soul. Laughing exercises our lungs and helps us breathe better, reduces blood pressure, fights infections, and heightens mental functions.

Mavis S. divided her health into three areas. 1. Mental health which requires a variety of interests and keeping an open mind to try new things. Dr. Riordan was very good at “moving our cheese” and pushing us to increase our potential. 2. Spiritual health is an awareness that we need to be part of something bigger than the world around us. An affiliation with a church, meditation, a belief in a higher power, or other spiritual awareness is important to wellbeing. 3. Physical health – while there are some things we cannot change about our health, such as age, our physical structure, and genes we inherit, we can take care of our bodies. We need daily exercise, rest, and proper food and water. We can measure our biochemical individuality to determine what is needed to achieve optimal health.

Jolene D. thought health involved good nutrition, including whole foods, exercise, restful sleep, and drinking water. It is important to develop a good relationship with your body and learn to find balance and moderation. Her soul is fed by love of her family, friends, and pets. Developing her career and finding time for hobbies helps her be healthier. Health is a journey that is different for each person and may be different at different times in his/her life. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes hard, and sometimes we just have to slop through the gunk. It is also beneficial to keep things in perspective.

Mind/Body/Spirit also played a role in Jan’s vision of health. She listed balance as a part of dealing with mental and physical stress, energy to think and focus, and attitude as being important. She mentioned that we can only have rainbows when we have rain. Life does not always run smoothly. Finding ways to cope when life is difficult is major to health. Then she gave a quote that reflects her basic philosophy. “Life is learning to dance in the rain.”