It may be time for a new definition of health.
WHAT IS HEALTH?
Health is an amorphous state that is in constant flux based on internal and external inputs that directly influence cellular functioning. The vitality of our cells then impacts how our organs and biological systems (e.g. digestive) function and how our biological systems integrate to promote functioning networks for overall health.1
While there are various positions from which one may view health, an integrated appreciation of all aspects of an individual’s life (e.g. physical, emotional, social, spiritual, financial) is a comprehensive framework that enables practitioners to assess health based on patterns of imbalances that may or may not have led to a diagnosable health condition. With a keen awareness of individuality and extant physiological and biochemical knowledge, practitioners may partner with individuals to personalize care in a manner that supports resolving imbalances and reversing disease.2,3
Thus, health resides on a continuum and relates to how well our bodies are functioning based on the interaction between our unique environmental conditions and genetics.
INDICATORS OF HEALTH BEYOND THE ABSENCE OF DISEASE
The statement, “Health is more than the absence of disease,” communicates the importance of internal and external factors that contribute to our state of health. And it relates to recognizing patterns of imbalance often made apparent by signs and symptoms. Notably, individuals may take medications to alleviate symptoms, but the underlying causes of those symptoms persist. As long as the sources remain, so do the imbalances that assault the state of wholeness.
Conversely, individuals who report symptoms without evidence—laboratory assessments and/or physical exam, for example—of dysfunction, may experience reduced quality of life.4 For some individuals, life becomes about living another day rather than thriving. What was once a fire ablaze in the body (i.e. optimal health) dwindles to an ember—capable of burning out or rekindling the fire, depending on the inputs it receives. Therefore, indicators of health include qualities and actions that encourage the vitality elicited by holism. And they are measured by quality of life.4,5
General indicators of health constitute a cultivated mind-body-spirit triad. Although there may be individual variation, these encompass balanced cellular and bodily functions, mind-body connection, spirituality, optimized external environment, supportive relationships, engagement in hobbies/interests, mindfulness, wish to learn/grow, appreciation for each day, and ability to adopt a childlike mindset of hope and possibility, among other lifestyle elements.
Each person is a whole in which a vital force lives, capable of healing, maintaining health, and preventing dis-ease. Thus, identifying and appropriately responding to the signals our bodies communicate to us leads to health beyond the absence of disease.
CAN SOMEONE WITH A CHRONIC DISEASE BE “HEALTHY”?
Health is not limited to basic principles regarding the absence or presence of disease, but is multifaceted—involving physiological, environmental, socio-cultural, and spiritual dimensions. As a result, the health continuum and factors influencing where health is positioned relative to optimal health underpin the concept that someone with a chronic disease can be “healthy.”
Although physiological and biochemical imbalances may exist, an individual with a chronic health condition may thrive in deeply nourishing aspects of life (e.g. relationships, spirituality). This further enhances health span—rather than exclusively addressing life span—and encourages balance in less vitalized areas that are contributing to dis-ease.3 For example, maintaining a positive mindset while experiencing a chronic disease fosters coping skills that may improve symptoms.6,7
It’s essential to attend to one’s whole body, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realms, as opposed to a body composed of parts in need of “fixing.” Throughout this process, an individual’s position of health may slide along the continuum, but a state of “health” may be maintained as its relation to optimal health fluctuates.
Health is an individualized state of being that may change throughout life. Learning to ride the waves enables you to thrive wherever each tide brings you.
What is heath according to your standards? Share in the comments below!