The word health is a noun that comes from the old English word "hǣlth". With Germanic roots relating to "whole", but it today can mean a variety of things to us. In this article, we ask the question of what is health and what does it mean to us today.

Dictionary Definition of health

Health is a noun that can be used in a number of ways in English:

  • The condition of body or mind
  • Freedom from disease
  • To have one's health
  • A polite wish for a person's health and happiness, especially as a toast

Synonyms for Health

Synonyms for health include:

  • Vigour
  • Vitality
  • Strength
  • Fitness
  • Stamina

WHO Definition of Health

The World Health Organisation's (WHO's) definition of health is:

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

In 1986, the WHO clarified their definition of the word by adding:

“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.”

What this means is that health is a resource we all have that support's an individuals function in socie, rather than an end in itself. A healthy lifestyle gives us the means to lead a full life with plenty of meaning and purpose.

Lancet Definition

In 2009, researchers publishing in the Lancet contradicted the WHO by stating that:

Health is not a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being”. And nor is it “merely the absence of disease or infirmity"

The researchers continued to say that health is better defined as:

The ability of the body to adapt to new threats and infirmities

Types of health

In the modern world, we typically see the two most frequently discussed types of health as mental and physical. But they aren't the only types of health that exist, we also have spiritual, emotional and financial health and collectively they combine to overall health and wellbeing. Medical professionals have linked these to lower stress levels and improved physical and mental health.

For example, people with better financial health my worry less about finances and have the means to buy fresh healthy food on a regular basis. Individuals with good spiritual health may well feel a sense of calm which fuels positive mental health.

Physical health

A person who is in good physical health is likely to have their bodily functions operating smoothly and without issue. Positive physical health isn't only due to the absence of disease, but also via regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate rest. In order to maintain the balance of positive physical health people may receive medical treatment.

In order to reduce the risk of disease one should pursue a healthy lifestyle, such as maintaining physical fitness, for example, can protect and develop the endurance of an individual's breathing and heart function. Looking after your physical health also involved reducing the risk of injury or potential health issues such as:

  • reducing hazards in the workplace
  • using contraception during sex
  • being hygienic
  • Avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs
  • taking recommended vaccines for certain conditions or when travelling

Good physical health often works in tandem with positive mental health, leading to an overall quality of life.

Mental health

According to the Mental Health Foundation:

Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem.

They also point out that you're in good mental health if you can:

  • Fulfil your potential
  • Cope with life
  • Play a full part in your family, workplace, community and friends

Sometimes referred to as 'emotional health' or 'well-being' mental health is seen as being just as important to good physical health.

If you enjoy good mental health, you won't only be free of depressionanxiety or another illness, you'll also:

  • Enjoy life
  • Bounce back after difficult experiences
  • Balance different elements of life
  • Feel safe and secure

Mental and physical health are connected, for example, if a chronic illness affects an individual's ability to function normally, it may well lead to stress and depression.

Similarly, mental illnesses such as depression or anorexia can affect a person's weight and overall function, leading to negative physical health.

Because of the link between physical and mental health, it's vital that any approach to 'health' is done as a whole, rather than a series of separate factors. Returning to the start of this article, the old English word for health, which is hǣlth is connected to 'whole', so perhaps our ancestors had a better understanding of health than one may first think.

Healthy Living

Healthy living is not just the absence of disease or illness, it's a state of complete mental, physical and social well-being.

In order to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, avoid tobacco and other drugs and get plenty of rest.

It could be said that our bodies are like machines that require the perfect balance of nutrients in order to operate effectively. Protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and water all play a key role in maintaining good physical and mental health. Get the balance wrong and your overall health will suffer.

A balanced diet means eating only as many calories as you need during the day to function, anything in excess of that will be store as fat if you eat more than you burn off.

The benefits of a balanced diet

There are numerous significant benefits of a balanced diet, such as:

  • a strong immune system
  • lower risk of certain types of cancers
  • lower blood pressure
  • more energy
  • a healthy weight

Which foods to avoid

There are no foods that you need to completely avoid, but there are certain foods that should be enjoyed in moderation:

  • junk food such as crisps and chocolate
  • fast foods such as hamburgers and fried chicken
  • microwave foods and ready meals

Staying active

Staying active is a significant part of maintaining both positive physical and mental health. Our bodies aren't designed to just sit around and for things to be kept in good working order you need to exercise. If you stop walking, your body will stop working.

Our bodies are brilliant in that they find it far easier to deal with threats such as sickness and disease if you are active. Exercise also helps us to keep a healthy attitude to problems and can relieve mental pressures and stress.

Exercise gives you more flexibility and strength, helps you sleep and prevents boredom. Finally, it helps you learn new skills and even find new friends.

Needless to say, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental well being.