What Is Health?

There is a lot of talk in the media and in our relationships about “health”. It almost always comes down to what your body looks like — how much do you weigh, what is your Body Mass Index, what is the relationship of your hips to your waist?

I find the conversation frustrating. There are so few of us that meet all the “numbers”. The people who do meet the numbers often do so because of conditions that can’t be deemed “healthy”, yet they look the part.

Obsession over weight also skews our relationship with our body and our responses to aches and pains. I find so many people coming to my table with aches and pains and saying, with no small measure of self-disgust, that they are sure it’s because they’ve gained weight.

If your neck aches, it’s more likely to be your computer or your pillow than your weight. If the cartilage in your knees is gone, your pain will not disappear if you drop 50 pounds; you still don't have any cartilage in your knees! If your Achilles tendon is inflamed, it’s more likely to be your stride or your shoes than your weight.

Health is an ever-moving target. We don’t arrive at “health” and then we’re there for good. Tomorrow, we’ll be a different person and a different body. Our health will be different too.

Talking about health primarily in terms of weight and size ignores a myriad of other factors that go into calculating our health.

Dictionary.com defines health as: the general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor. Soundness and vigor. I would define that as having most of your subsystems functional and being able to do most of the things that are appropriate for your age.

How would I measure health?

Can I go to sleep in less than 30 minutes and sleep through the night most nights?

When I want to turn my brain “off”, can I?

Are my numbers — thyroid, cholesterol, resting heart rate, blood pressure, etc. — in the safe range?

Do I have relationships that have endured and deepened over time?

Do I have someone I can talk openly to about stupid things I’ve done and know I’ll be supported and challenged?

Do I have opportunities (and take advantage of them) to learn new things and challenge my assumptions about the world?

Do I laugh regularly, especially at myself?

Can I cry when I need to?

Can I do the things I want to do with my body — walk, run, swim, play, dance, etc?

Am I able to set time aside for simple pleasure and enjoy it?

Do I take the opportunity to meet new people and ideas?

Can I name and express my emotions productively and honestly?

Do I exercise my spiritual life?

When something is out of whack — in body, mind, or spirit — can I recognize it and do something about it?

Do I ask for help when I need it?

Can I eat the foods I want to without regret or pain?

Am I gracious to everyone, regardless of their status in the world?

Life is intimately about our body but it’s not exclusively about our body, so health must be too.