Understanding the Definition of Health


A healthy definition of health depends on a person’s environment. A fragile individual may suffer from heart attacks or anemia when shoveling snow. A sea-level resident may have shortness of breath or anemia when living in the mountains. A nation’s definition of health must be flexible enough to reflect the needs of a growing population. For example, a person suffering from arthritis may have a different definition of health than a person in a city.

According to the World Health Organization, health is the capacity to function as a human resource and to contribute to society. It is vital to have good health in order to handle stress and lead a long, healthy life. However, the U.S. lives shorter than people in other developed nations. A lack of access to healthcare and lifestyle choices are major contributors to this shortfall. Good health is critical for a healthy lifestyle, and is essential for coping with stress and living a longer and more active life.

A ‘complete health’ definition of health may seem appealing, but it is unrealistic. Few people will ever experience complete wellness all of the time, and such a goal is counterproductive. Furthermore, it fails to account for the prevalence of disability and chronic illnesses in society. Further, this view of health does not take into account the role of people’s subjective feelings about their health, and instead relies on clinical observations. Ultimately, a person’s perception of their health should be based on how they interpret their own behavior and not on what others may perceive as ‘normal’.

Physical health and mental health are inextricably linked. Evidence of this relationship has accumulated over the past few decades, challenging the historic notion of mind-body separation. Mechanisms of association may be physiological, behavioral, or social. A biopsychosocial model of health identifies these links. The relationship between the two varies, and a healthy lifestyle is an integral part of overall well-being. There is no one size fits all for physical and mental health.

Despite the complexity of global health problems, no single sector can achieve them alone. To find solutions to the biggest health challenges, partnerships between sectors and individuals are essential. Partnerships must bring different perspectives, organizations, and skills to the table. These partnerships must include the countries most impacted by health problems. The key to success for these partnerships is that each member of the partnership will benefit from their participation and contribution. By working together to develop a wellness-promoting lifestyle, they can achieve a better quality of life.

Despite its widespread use, the term “health equity” is still often misused. While there are many definitions of health equity, consensus is important to overcome misunderstandings and foster productive dialogue. Clear definitions help reduce disparities and help bridge divides. Developing consensus will facilitate a productive dialogue and reduce detours. Ultimately, equity in health will help us achieve better health for all people. But what are the steps necessary to improve health in all communities?