Today SO many people talk about their health. But what does it mean to be healthy? Does being healthy mean you have a certain cholesterol level? A particular weight? Or that you’re simply disease-free?
Health is a complex idea to define. The World Health Organization said health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Other definitions are “the state of being free from illness or injury”, or “the condition of being sound in body, mind or spirit.”
I believe health is difficult to define in words because it is different for every person. It is important that we remember that we are human beings with many complex physical, mental and emotional components. We are not lab rats in a sterile environment. We think, feel and interact with others. We have different genetics, backgrounds, cultures and histories. We deal with physical and mental limitations, diseases and other conditions. The word “health” cannot just refer to our physical bodies because we are so much more.
For me, health means that I am getting enough sleep, I’m getting some movement into my day, I’m eating a wide variety of foods, I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, I manage my stress, I engage in social interactions, my mental health is in good condition, and my body is free from sickness or disease.
However, I am well aware that exercise and eating are what people usually think about when discussing health. So here's some advice.
When it comes to nutrition, “healthy eating” will be different for every person. Instead of dieting, “eating clean” or “careful eating”, think instead about your body and how you feel. Does your body feel good when you restrict and diet? Does your body feel good when you eat way past your normal fullness? Does your body feel nourished and satisfied when you are only eating salads all day? Do you feel energized and comfortable when you have eaten cookies all day? Pay attention to your body and nourish your body with all types of foods. Listening to your body is the key!
When it comes to exercise, “healthy activity” will be different for every person. You don’t have to work out at the gym for an hour every day in order to be healthy. Find some movement you enjoy! Find some movement that makes your body feel good. Go for a walk, dance around the kitchen, take a class, do yoga at home. There are so many ways to get movement into your day that don’t involve spending hours at the gym!
Know that some days you might not eat a wide variety of foods, or have time to exercise, or get enough sleep. But you don’t have to be perfect to be healthy. Have compassion for yourself by understanding what healthy means to you and how you can try your best to feel good.