Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of “complete physical, mental and emotional well-being” and not just the absence of sickness and disease. Different definitions have been utilized over the years for different purposes. Generally, health is considered to be the sum total of all of the individual’s characteristics that affect his ability to sustain life and work. These include his physical health, psychological health, and social health. These three aspects are then balanced in order to bring about the total quality of health.
The definition of health has long been a source of controversy. Proponents of some forms of health care believe that the definition should be expanded to include all bodily processes and systems at all times. Such proponents argue that health systems should be designed to address all of a person’s needs regardless of his or her age, health status, or comforts.
The other camp contends that the definition should only exclude those conditions which are directly related to sickness or disease, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and infection. These conditions, they believe, can create problems within a person’s wellness and should therefore be excluded from the wellness concept altogether. Advocates who support the first camp point out that these conditions are unavoidable and thus, there is no way to avoid them. However, if healthy living is adopted as part of the wellness practice, individuals will be healthier, have greater self-esteem, and will have fewer health problems as they age. The optimal state of health will likely involve a blend of healthy lifestyle practices, such as regular exercise, balanced diet, and controlled consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. These practices will also improve a person’s mood and well-being.
The third definition emphasizes prevention and control of diseases through a comprehensive health system. Prevention is always better than cure, as it lessens the damage to the individual’s body and enhances his or her well-being. Preventive measures include promoting a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, watching ones weight, limiting or avoiding exposure to certain diseases, and quitting smoking and/or drug use.
The fourth definition defines good health as having a reasonable level of health and fitness. The good health value is enhanced by having a balanced diet and physical activity. Individuals who exercise and eat a healthy diet and receive regular medical care are likely to remain in good health for a long period of time. This definition is sometimes considered inclusive of the third definition. It may, however, be used in conjunction with the first and second definitions, as well as the definition of disease, to identify the preventive measures necessary to prevent serious diseases and their complications.
The fifth and most recent definition emphasizes the relationship between wellness and risk factors. Wellness is associated with a number of positive benefits, including an improved sense of well-being, a decreased risk of death due to any cause, and a decreased risk of disease, illness, disability, and mortality. These benefits are enhanced when people engage in behaviors that reduce their risk for disease, such as healthy diets, regular exercise, and cessation of smoking and other tobacco use. Healthy individuals also have lower chances of developing depression, substance abuse, and anxiety.