February 12, 2018
What Is Good Health?
By Michael D. Shaw
Sometimes, it’s useful to go back to basics. After all, good health is a goal that virtually all of us are seeking—especially those of a certain age. But how much do we think about what this term really means? In 1946, the World Health Organization’s Constitution defined “health” as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Eight additional precepts are articulated in the preamble of that Constitution, and WHO remains firmly committed to all of them. However, at least this one: “The achievement of any State in the promotion and protection of health is of value to all.”—as it might be understood today—conjures up notions of a nanny state. Should the State really tax sugary drinks and ban certain size containers of these beverages? Aren’t some “healthy” fruit drinks just as high in sugar content, for example?
Not surprisingly, many folks have opinions on the matter of good health. Let’s consider a few viewpoints…
An article in the BMJ cites statistics from the Global Burden of Disease study suggesting that only 4% of the world’s population is now free of disease. As such, health is not the norm but an anomalous state, and only a tiny fraction of the world’s population could meet WHO’s ambitious definition. The article then focuses on chronic disease, which will necessarily increase—or at least be more frequently diagnosed—as we live longer. But self-reported health trends “good,” so we must be careful not to conflate diagnosis with illness or morbidity. Besides, are these conditions being over-diagnosed?
Sarah Walls, personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, tells us that “When we focus on being healthy, we can’t just focus on one thing. Good health is a package of things that go together.” Walls offers five metrics to help you determine the state of your health:
1. It’s not just your weight. Check your waist circumference. Use a tape measure to measure around the middle section of your waist after breathing out. Excess belly fat—more than 35 inches (89 cm) for a woman or 40 inches (102 cm) for a man—can be unhealthy.
2. Try these two simple fitness tests. Can you hold a plank position for at least 30 seconds? (Tests strength) Can you walk a mile (1.6 km) in 15 minutes? (Tests cardio fitness)
3. What’s going on in your mind? Healthy people tend to be able to handle stress, are able to work productively, contribute to society, have good coping skills, and try to stay positive.
4. How about your skin, nails, and hair? If you are suffering hair loss, have dull skin or other dermatological conditions, such as yellowing or ridged nails, there may be underlying health problems. Possibly, you are lacking certain nutrients.
5. Ask yourself how you really feel. If you try taking a walk and feel winded or you feel like you can’t play with the kids like you once could, then it may be indicator that you need to focus on improving your health and fitness level.
I’ll give the final word to health writer Mark Sisson.
“By and large, we get it totally wrong when we try to estimate our own health. We think we’re healthier than we actually are, have less weight to lose than we actually should, and are more physically fit than the previous generations.” He asks us, are you normal or just common?
“Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal. For humans in the United States and other developed nations, being overweight and on pills is common. For the human animal given access to sunlight, good food, regular movement, and a healthy happy community life, leanness and effortless metabolic health are normal. That’s the normal we should be aiming for, not the common state of health we see on a daily basis.”