Health Tips for Today - What is Health?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The word health means different things to different people, depending on the situation. If somebody says "I was worried about my husband's health when he climbed Mt. Everest", it is clear that the woman is referring to her husband's physical health, possibly his heart, skin (frostbite) and risk of developing hypothermia (when the body's temperature drops too low. Health Tips for Today - What is Health?.

On the other hand, if you hear the phrase "With all these deadlines, presentations and working weekends, I wonder what the effect will be on her health," most likely the word "health" refers more to mental health than physical health (although the two are often linked).

The words "health" or "healthy" can also be used in non-medical contexts. For example "A healthy economy needs an ideal GDP growth rate that is sustainable, one that remains in the expansion phase of the business cycle as long as possible."

The English word "health" comes from the Old English word hale, meaning "wholeness, being whole, sound or well,". Hale comes from the Proto-Indo-European root kailo, meaning "whole, uninjured, of good omen". Kailo comes from the Proto-Germanic root khalbas, meaning "something divided".

World Health Organization's (WHO's) definition of "health" 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
The most famous modern definition of health was created during a Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

The Definition has not been amended since 1948.  Health Tips for Today - What is Health?.

During the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion in 1986, the WHO said that health is:

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

The Lancet questions WHO's definition of health An article in The Lancet states that health is not a "state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being". Neither is it "merely the absence of disease or infirmity". The article says the WHO definitions of health will not do in an era marked by new understandings of disease at molecular, individual, and societal levels. (The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9666, Page 781, 7 March 2009).

Two aspects to health
Most people accept that health can be divided into two broad aspects - physical and mental health.

Mental health
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
Mental health refers to people's cognitive and emotional well-being. A person who enjoys good mental health does not have a mental disorder. According to WHO, mental health is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community".

No matter how many definitions people try to come up with regarding mental health, its assessment is still a subjective one. Health Tips for Today - What is Health?.

People have always found it easier to explain what mental illness is, rather than mental health. Most people agree that mental health refers to the "absence of mental illness". For some, this definition is not enough. They argue that if you pick 100 people who do not suffer from any mental disorder or illness that could be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, some people within those 100 will be mentally healthier than others. Most people also agree that mental health includes the ability to enjoy life, the ability to bounce back from adversity, the ability to achieve balance (moderation), the ability to be flexible and adapt, the ability to feel safe and secure, and self-actualization (making the best of what you have).

Physical health
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
For humans, physical health means a good body health, which is healthy because of regular physical activity (exercise), good nutrition, and adequate rest.

As a country's or region's people experience improved nutrition, health care, standards of living and quality of life, their height and weight generally increase.

In fact, most people, when asked for a definition of health talk about physical health. Physical health relates to anything concerning our bodies as physical entities. Physical health has been the basis for active living campaigns and the many nutrition drives that have swept the industrialized world. People are exposed to so much "physical health" data these days that it is hard to decide what is relevant and what is not.

Another term for physical health is physical wellbeing. Physical wellbeing is defined as something a person can achieve by developing all health-related components of his/her lifestyle. Fitness reflects a person's cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. Other contributors to physical wellbeing may include proper nutrition, bodyweight management, abstaining from drug abuse, avoiding alcohol abuse, responsible sexual behavior (sexual health), hygiene, and getting the right amount of sleep.

Some people divide physical health into two separate sections:

Chemical Health  
Good chemical health means that the chemicals in the person's body are correct, that tissues contain the right balance of nutrients, etc., and there are no toxic chemicals.

Structural health
This refers to sound bones, muscles, organs etc. That the structures in the body are performing the functions they were made for properly. Structural health is associated with a person's height/weight ratio, their BMI (body mass index), their resting pulse rate (heart rate), and recovery time after doing exercise.

We may inhale or swallow natural and synthetic chemicals; they can also get into our body through skin. In most cases, the body can break these chemicals down or excrete them, so that there is no risk of toxic overload.

Some chemicals can harm or destroy cells and tissues, while others may affect genetic material directly, which can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Determinants of health 
The health of individual people and their communities are affected by a wide range of contributory factors. People's good or bad health is determined by their environment and situations - what is happening and what has happened to them, says WHO. WHO says that the following factors probably have a bigger impact on our health than access and use of health care services:

  • Genetics
  • Our education level
  • Our income
  • Our relationship with friends and family
  • The state of our environment
  • Where we live
WHO says the main determinants to health are:
  • Our economy and society ("The social and economic environment")
  • What we are and what we do ("The person's individual characteristics and behaviors")

  • Where we live, what is physically around us ("The physical environment")
As our good health depends on the context of our lives, praising or criticizing people for their good or bad health is wrong. Most of the factors that contribute towards our good or bad health are out of our control. According to WHO, these factors (determinants), include the following, among others:

Access and use of health services 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
A society that has access and uses good quality health services is more likely to enjoy better health than one that doesn't. For example, developed countries that have universal health care services have longer life expectancies for their people compared to developed countries that don't.

Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
The traditions and customs of a society and how a family responds to them play an important role in people's health. The impact could be either good or bad for health. The tradition of genital mutilation of women has an impact on infection rates and the mental health of millions of girls and women in many countries. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that when young people dress according to the customs of their own ethnic group, they may be less likely to have mental health problems later in life.

Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
People with lower levels of education generally have a higher risk of experiencing poorer health. Their levels of stress will most likely be higher, compared to people with higher academic qualifications. A person with a high level of education will probably have greater self-esteem.

A study carried out by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, found that elderly people who had a higher level of health literacy were more likely to live longer.

Another study from San Francisco VA Medical Center found that literacy at less than a ninth-grade level almost doubles the five-year risk of mortality among elderly people. Health Tips for Today - What is Health?.

Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
Men and women are susceptible to some different diseases, conditions and physical experiences, which play a role in our general health.

For example, childbirth, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer, are experienced only by women, while prostate cancer, testicular cancer are only experienced by men.

During wars, more men than women tend to be called up to fight, and subsequently become injured or die. Adult women are more likely to be the physical victims of domestic abuse, compared to adult men.

In some societies women are not given the same access to education as men - education is a factor that influences health. Many studies have revealed gender disparities in healthcare services, even in developed countries.

Genetic inheritance 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
People's longevity, general health, and propensity to certain diseases are partly determined by their genetic makeup. Researchers from Vrije Universiteit, Holland, the Medical College of Georgia, USA, and Duke University, USA showed that people's genes play a key role in how they respond both biologically and psychologically to stress in their environment.

Job prospects and employment conditions 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
If you have a job, statistics show you are more likely to enjoy better health than people who are unemployed. If you have some control over your working conditions your health will benefit too. Researchers at State University of New York at Albany found that workers who lost their job through no fault of their own were twice as likely as continuously employed workers to report over the next 18 months that they developed a new illness, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

Socioeconomic status 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
The higher a person's socioeconomic status is, the more likely he/she is to enjoy good health. The link is a clear one. Socioeconomic status affects all members of the family, including newborn babies. Australian researchers found that women of lower socioeconomic status are less likely to breastfeed their newborn babies - a factor which will have an impact on the health of the baby just as he/she enters the world. A South Korean study revealed a clear link between low socioeconomic status and heart attack and stroke risk.

Physical environment
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
If your water is clean and safe, the air you breathe is pure, your workplace is healthy, your house is comfortable and safe, you are more likely to enjoy good health compared to somebody whose water supply is not clean and safe, the air he/she breathes is contaminated, the workplace is unhealthy, etc.

A study carried out by researchers at Zuyd University, The Netherlands, found that just an hour of sniffing car exhaust fumes induces a stress response in the brain's activity.

Another study carried out at Indiana University-Purdue University found that chronic lead poisoning, caused in part by the ingestion of contaminated dirt, affects hundreds of thousands more children in the United States than the acute lead poisoning associated with imported toys or jewelry.

Support from people around you 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
If you have family support, as well as support from friends and your community your chances of enjoying good health are far greater than somebody who has none of these things. A team from the University of Washington found that strong family support, not peer support, is protective in reducing future suicidal behavior among young adults when they have experienced depression or have attempted suicide.

What we do and how we manage 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
What we eat, our physical activity, whether or not we smoke or drink or take drugs, and how we cope with stress play an important role on our physical and mental well-being.

What is wellness? 
Health Tips for Today - What is Health?
The term wellness was first used by a doctor called Halbert L. Dunn, USA, who published a small booklet entitled "High Level Wellness" in 1961. The term is much more widely used in North American than in the United Kingdom. Health Tips for Today - What is Health?.

According to the Mickinley Health Center, University of Illinois, wellness "is a state of optimal well-being that is oriented toward maximizing an individual's potential. This is a life-long process of moving towards enhancing your physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental well-being."

The University of East Carolina defines wellness as "the integration of mind, body and spirit. Optimal wellness allows us to achieve our goals and find meaning and purpose in our lives. Wellness combines seven dimensions of well-being into a quality way of living. Overall, wellness is the ability to live life to the fullest and to maximize personal potential in a variety of ways. Wellness involves continually learning and making changes to enhance your state of wellness. When we balance the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, occupational, spiritual, and environmental aspects of life, we achieve true wellness."

Please read our previous post Health Tips for Today - How to Eat Healthy
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