What Does Health Mean to You?

When we think about health, what exactly comes to mind? Is it physical appearance? Is it having enough stamina, or energy to make it through your day? Or is it just being able to get up in the morning?

There are so many different ways that people perceive what health means, and these differences can be so varied depending on the person themselves.

Lets take a look at what health really is…

The definitions of health are also varied, which can create some internal conflict-

  • Classical Medical Research: The absence of disease
  • Oxford dictionary meaning: The state of being free from illness or injury
  • The World Health Organisation defines health as “… a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

If we were to split these meanings open, which one resonates with you?

“Health” can be complex and have very different meanings to a whole bunch of different people. Not only what they view or perceive health to be, but what it actually means and looks like to them…

The term ‘health’ not only has a variety of different perspectives, but also has 5 ‘Dimensions’ and also ‘Determinants’ of health. Lets have a look at these…

fang wei lin H1IRUS1vEFA unsplash 1The general population can have very different perspectives of health than a health professional. Some of the perspectives on health can include:

  • Health as not ill/ diseased
  • Health as a reserve
  • Health as physical fitness
  • Health as energy and vitality
  • Health as social relationships
  • Health as function Health as psycho-social wellbeing

If the last 3 years, (post-covid) have taught me anything, it’s made me look at health in a very different way. Whilst  I can see the validity in all those perspectives, being a health professional, I think if I were to look at 3 of those perspectives above, just as a ‘person’, they ones that make me consider health and what that means, they would be- health as a reserve, health as energy and vitality and health as social relationships.

Health as reserve: Well, what does this mean? Health as a reserve identifies a person’s ability to recover quickly should they fall ill. For example, if an individual developed a cold, their health reserve would allow them to quickly combat the cold and return to good health. Someone who does not have a health reserve may take longer to recover, even for minor injuries and illnesses. It’s never too late to start working on building a good health reserve!

Health as energy and vitality: This encompasses the overall energy and enthusiasm of an individual to complete various activities on a daily basis. Energy and vitality can be signified by various abilities, including; ability to get up easily without effort or strain, not feeling tired or lethargic, the ability to continue with activities, maintaining energy and enthusiasm for work related tasks, generally feeling good and well.

Health as social relationships: Various age groups have slightly different approaches and views when it comes to health as social relationships. The older generation identifies health as social relationships with regard to helping others and the enjoyment it bought to them, whereas the younger generation identifies this as spending time with family members. Health as social relationships can be seen in many different ways depending on age, gender, interests, and personality.

These 3 perspectives have been somewhat more enhanced for me post-covid.

Now let’s look at the 5 Dimensions of health; Social, mental, spiritual, emotional and physical dimensions of health.

  • Social- Social health relates to the interpersonal relationships a person is able to make and maintain with others. Good social health requires an upkeep of relationships, which involves behaving appropriately, and maintaining socially acceptable standards. Some attributes to good social health can include strong communication skills, accountability, and intimacy. A poor social life can be detrimental to someone’s health as it may increase the likelihood of feeling depressed, increase negative thoughts about themselves, decrease their self-esteem and leave them feeling isolated.
  • Mental health- is defined as a state of wellbeing in which a person realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to their community. An increase or decrease in mental health will directly impact the remaining health dimensions. Mental health is not to be confused with mental illness.
  • Spiritual- is integral to good health care and contributes to the health and well-being of the entire community. Spiritual health not only encompasses religion and prayer, but also the ability to establish harmony and peace in one’s life, the ability to develop congruence between actions and values, and the ability to perceive a common purpose that links creation. Overall health is impacted by spiritual health by increasing a person’s positivity and resilience to stressful events.
  • Emotional- Emotional wellbeing includes a person’s ability to manage their own feelings and associated behaviours, cope efficiently under pressure or stress, and adjust to changes in their lifestyle. This dimension of health emphasises the importance of being aware and accepting feelings and stressors, whether positive or negative.
  • Physical- Physical health encompasses an individuals entire health status and can be defined as the absence of disease. It can also be viewed as simply the physical capabilities and fitness levels of an individual. A decline in physical health can trigger a decline in one of the other health dimensions.

arthur poulin NhU0nUR7920 unsplash new

Now that we have an understanding of the Dimensions, lets look at the ‘Determinants’ of health.

The Determinants of health refers to any influence that directly impacts or shapes an individual’s community’s or population's health, either positively or negatively. Determinants of health refer to environmental and circumstantial situations which are not necessarily in the complete control of the individual.

Some examples of determinants of health include:

  • Genetics
  • Income
  • Education
  • Relationships
  • Residency
  • Community environment

On a larger, more broader scale of ‘Determinants of Health’, lets have a discussion on the following 3:

Social, economic and political determinants: This determinant includes factors such as income, employment, education, social support and housing, which are all intricately linked to health. In general, individuals from poorer social or economic backgrounds or with poor government policies are at greater risk of poor health, have higher rates of illness, disability and live shorter lives than those who are more advantaged.

Cultural health: Different cultural values and characteristics may shape an individuals concept of what health is. Common cultural beliefs relate to an individual’s weight and physical appearance, age, form and function. Many cultures still believe that weight is a direct indicator of health.

Population/ social health vs individual health: both are intertwined since the same external factors affect both, social constraints affect the health of the individual as well as the health of the population. To improve the health of the community, these factors need to be considered.

I hope that by sharing this article, it has shed some light on how complex health can be, how it can be influenced by a number of factors, and that health is more than just being one dimensional.

If not, then I hope it just got you thinking about how you view health and what it means for you.

Illustration with a word cloud related to fitness.