What is health?
Updated: Jul 23
When I say the word “health” or “healthy,” what comes to mind?
Do you think of certain behaviors or actions, specific objective measures, or maybe even a particular physical appearance or body type?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these words: what “health” or “healthy” means to me, and what messages we get from the outside world about what defines health and how that influences our thoughts and behaviors.
A quick Google search gives me the definition of healthy as “indicative of, conducive to, or promoting good health,” and health as “the state of being free from illness or injury,” both of which seem fairly vague and unrepresentative of what I see and hear in the media and from society in general.
I imagine that most people have a definition of health that expands beyond simply being free from disease or injury. And with the messages around us about what it means to be healthy and what it looks like, I think we get pretty biased representations and distorted ideas about what health and healthy really mean, and why it’s important (just take a look at the headlines on any health/fitness magazine next time you’re at the grocery store!).
Some questions I have been pondering:
Is health a state of “doing” or a state of “being?” Does it involve taking certain actions or having a certain mindset?
Does it involve just yourself and your own personal body or does it include those around you or even your greater environment?
Who determines what health is or what healthy means? Is it your doctor? The corporations or groups who are determining RDA guidelines, “normal” blood test ranges, and BMI calculations?
I’m not entirely sure how I would define health, but it’s definitely less about specific numbers or objective measures or even being free from illness or injury (I could have an injury, illness, or disease and still feel that I have my health or am healthy).
To me, health involves feeling comfortable physically, mentally, and emotionally – while also being able to handle and manage discomfort. And being able to live in and interact with the world safely, to feel secure in my environment.
And while I might think of certain behaviors as being more healthy or less healthy, my definition of health does not involve performing specific exercises or physical feats, eating (or not eating) certain foods, or having visible abs.
Which is not to say that this has always been my view of what health or healthy means: before I started paying more attention to the messages I am seeing and hearing repeatedly, I was absolutely influenced by what others were telling me about what I should value when it comes to health.
There was a time when “healthy” would have meant getting a certain number of minutes of exercise every day, having a specific physical appearance, or even being within a certain weight range. But over time it’s become clear to me that health is so much more than arbitrary numbers or metrics determined from who knows where.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to defining health – it’s a complicated subject that is personal and ever evolving. But thinking about what these words truly mean to you can help you gain clarity on your values around health, what actions you may want to take (or not take), and what other influences might be shaping how you think about your health in the past, present, and future.
If you’d like to share your own definition of what health or healthy means for you, please leave a comment!
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*I’ve also been learning more about the Health At Every Size movement (HAES) and really appreciate the message and information they are putting out in the world – that health is not defined by a certain size or shape, that the word obese is arbitrary and misleading, and that everyone should be able to live free from stigma and bias regardless of their body size. For more information about HAES, their mission, and additional resources, visit https://haescommunity.com/