Today is the 1st January, the start of a new year and a new project for me! January is a time when lots of us want to get healthier and fitter. To get back to some healthy habits after indulging over the festive period or maybe lose some holiday weight. When we want to make changes to improve our health, it is first important to understand what health actually is. Therefore, I have been reflecting over the last week on the question, what does it mean to be healthy?
As a Nutritionist and Women’s Wellness Coach, I help people to reach their health goals and feel better in their bodies. However, I don’t really resonate with the traditional messages of control and restriction in the health and fitness world. So I decided to start a daily blog series called “Real Health January”. In this series I will share tips on how you can work with your body and guide you to make small changes gradually to move towards better physical and mental health. As all Bridget Jones fans will know, new years resolutions should never start till the 2nd January. So for today I just want to focus on the question, what does it mean to be healthy?
What does it mean to be healthy? Definition of health
Think of the healthiest person you know. How would you describe them?
- The absence of diseases or illness?
- Behaviours that they follow e.g. eating well or exercising?
- Healthy appearance e.g. slim with good skin or shiny hair?
- Emotional stability e.g. happy and stress free?
- A good social life or family network?
- All of the above???
The World Health Organisation defined health in 1948 as:
“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”
This is quite a holistic approach but still definitely brings up some questions! Can someone with a disability be healthy? What about someone with a lifelong genetic condition? If someone has a chronic disease which can be managed and does not affect their quality of life, are they healthy? And what does complete well-being mean anyway and who can actually achieve it?
The answer to these questions is that there is no answer. Defining health is actually a really difficult thing to do as it has different meanings depending on the individual. People tend to describe health based on their own situation and experiences. Someone with a chronic disease or disability that they are managing might be less likely to describe health as peak physical fitness. Instead, they might focus on the emotional and social aspects of health.
A shy person who might not have the most active social life can still feel healthy and happy. They might describe health as having a healthy lifestyle and the lack of disease. For some, being healthy means maintaining a slim physique. But others living in a larger body might feel healthy, confident and energetic just as they are. Health can also be seen simply as being able to participate in and enjoy life to the fullest.
Health as a resource not a goal
Regardless of the specific definition, it is important that we see health as a resource for a fulfilling life. Health should not be the ultimate aim or achievement in life.
Medical News Today also reports health as:
“health is a resource to support an individual’s function in wider society, rather than an end in itself. A healthful lifestyle provides the means to lead a full life with meaning and purpose.”
A problem with the current health and wellness industry is that it abuses an image of health to keep people trapped and chasing an unattainable goal. We are constantly bombarded with images of skinny or athletic women (men too!). We are made to believe that if we don’t have abs or we have too much cellulite then we aren’t healthy and we need to do something to fix ourselves. This could be a new restrictive diet, weight loss program or exercise regime.
Good health is a priority for many of us and we are willing to pay crazy sums of money for nutritional supplements, fitness programs and other products which promise to bring us closer to this image of health. We can quite easily revolve our life around trying to be healthy. Unfortunately, this obsession can take away from our emotional and social well-being. It is important to ask ourselves the question, what does it mean to be healthy? This is the way to true health rather than just a facade of health.
What does it mean to be healthy for me?
I know for sure that my definition of health has changed over the last few years. I used to think I was healthy as I was slim, I looked reasonably well and exercised like a fiend. People around me thought so too and I was complimented for being the fit one. However, looks aren’t everything and inside, my body wasn’t functioning like it should. I was stressed and anxious and my obsession with food and exercise was detracting from my social life.
Good health is something many of us take for granted. We don’t think twice about neglecting our bodies until things start to go wrong. But a small amount of time and effort spent on learning how to look after ourselves and actually going out and practicing it can really make a difference. These days, I take a much more holistic approach to health. I definitely focus more on keeping my stress levels down over everything else. Which is not an easy job when we’re in the middle of a pandemic!
Today’s challenge: What does it mean to be healthy for you?
That is entirely your call!
Your challenge for today is to reflect on the question what does it mean to be healthy? Maybe make a mind map including all of the elements of health for you. Or, take 5 minutes to visualize your healthiest self. Think about how you might act, think and feel. What you would do or say if you were your healthiest self. Let it really sink in and the energy permeate throughout your cells.
Some examples of what does it mean to be healthy:
True health to me is…
… feeling comfortable, light and free in my body
… challenging myself and experiencing life to the fullest
… nourishing my body and mind with healthy food and movement
… feeling free and unrestricted in my food choices
… sleeping well and feeling energetic and happy
Maybe some of these resonate with you. Or maybe you have your own idea of what it means to be healthy. Everyone’s image of health will look slightly different and that’s a good thing! For me right now I define health as feeling strong and energetic in my body. I want to have a solid support network around me. For me, health is also feeling like I am following my purpose and sharing my passions through my work.
Tomorrow’s post will be on how to set achievable goals to work towards your image of true health. Follow my blog to be updated daily throughout this series!
Over to you…
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