The state of health


Annually, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World Health Day on 7 April. This year the organization has its 66th birthday, and although it has done some great work over the years, it faces big new challenges. Challenges such as work-related stress associated with the increase in cases of depression and burnout, which affects one-in-four employees.

With these very real and pressing challenges, let’s ask the foremost but somehow overlooked question: ‘What is health?’

It may seem obvious, but have you ever asked yourself this question or thought about its relevance?

According to WHO, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (infirmity = physical or mental weakness). This definition hasn’t been amended since 1948.

However, is health a state, a particular condition that someone is in at a specific time? My personal opinion is that if you look at health as a state then you’re facing a Sisyphean task.

On the other hand, when you look at health as a dynamic process that adapts itself constantly to external and internal demands then it becomes a much more accessible living concept, something you can attain.

Here’s an example to illustrate this. You’ve caught a virus and your body is defending itself with a fever. You feel fatigued, muscles ache and your mood has changed – in other words, your body has adapted itself to new demands. Once the virus is contained, the body will regulate its temperature to the normal range again, reducing the immune reaction. Muscles will relax and you’ll feel better, restored and mentally alert again after a few days of regeneration. Every second the various parameters that were influenced are dynamically adapting themselves to offer the best means of survival for the body: that is health at work.

This example also illustrates that illness shouldn’t always be seen as something bad or a thing to get rid of as quickly as possible. Illness is often a survival-protection mechanism or a signal that we’re out of balance because we didn’t take care of ourselves. Restore that balance and health will reset itself.

Health is the ability of the body to adapt. It’s a dynamic process that is active 24/7, from conception till death, in order to stay in balance. If health wasn’t this dynamic process then we wouldn’t be the kind of human beings that we are.

Like a river, health flows and changes constantly. However, just like a river, health can be obstructed in its flow and aid is needed to overcome those obstructions.

Health is a personal responsibility that must be nurtured and invested in every day. Health also adheres to the laws of nature, and it is susceptible to the environment we create, our thoughts and our behaviour.

Health from a body perspective is also very different than health from a mind perspective. Look at it this way: in your mind you can run a marathon without training and stay completely healthy, but try it with your body and… well, I think you get the message. Illness resulting from imbalance in the dynamic health process is often a result of copying and pasting the mind’s potential into the body. This can also lead to behavioural changes, such as mood swings, anger and psychological problems, including anxiety and depression.

Health is not about ‘not being ill’, nor does it always demand big changes or rigorous diets. Health is about little adjustments and taking time to relax, recuperate and regenerate in this hectic world. Standing on one leg all the time is tiring. It raises your breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and it creates discomfort.

To be chronically in stress mode (fight and flight) does the same.

I’d like to invite you to reflect on the question ‘What is health?’, on health’s ingredients from a body perspective and to ask yourself if you adhere to a health-promoting lifestyle.

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Photo: Tevaprapas Makklay