In 1948, the World Health Organization took a stab and defining health; they said that health was, “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Despite the fact that this definition is vague, unmeasurable, and practically unattainable, it’s still the definition the WHO uses today.
Generally, I think we accept that health is simply the absence of disease, illness or injury, but I’m not sure any of us see it as a state of COMPLETE physical, mental, and social well-being… especially if you define well-being as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.
[[ This makes the definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social health. ]]
The problem with defining health as the absence of disease is that there are people who can have symptoms of evidence of disease but do not feel ill, and there are people who have no evidence of any disease, but who do not feel nor function well.
A more useful definition would be that health is a state that allows the individual to adequately cope with all demands of daily life (implying also the absence of disease and impairment).
I really like this definition, but feel we can expand upon it…
Which is why today I’d like to put forth another possible definition.
I propose that health is a measure of Adaptability, Flexibility, and Resiliency.
Thus your physical, mental, intellectual, and social health can be seen as a measure of your adaptability, flexibility, and resiliency in these areas of your life.
Flexibility – able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances or conditions (short-term alterations).
Adaptability – able to adjust to new conditions (long-term changes).
Resiliency – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
So your “health” is your ability to adjust, modify, and recover from changes in your environment, conditions, or insults.
This could be anything from how your body reacts to a high load of sugar (drinking a giant sugary drink), how your knee reacts to a sudden change of direction (sharp turn in down-hill skiing), how you react emotionally to routine or scheduling plans (your friends suddenly cancelling your evening plans), or your ability to learn new things (there is the downloads folder on my new computer update??).
This new definition allows for possibly ways to “measure” health, and it also suggests different ways of “training” your way towards increased health.
[[ It also helps define disease by its ability to hurt or degrade our ability to be flexible, adaptable, and resilient. ]]
A model where flexibly, adaptability, and resiliency are ideals that can be both learned and trained.
In my small niche of health (nutrition and exercise), I see this as a new way of looking at nutrition (dietary flexibility, adaptability and resiliency) and training (exercise flexibility, adaptability, and resiliency).
Something to ponder: if the health of an organism depends on its ability to react to its environment, I see no reason why this shouldn’t be the same for us humans 😉