What is health?

Nowadays more than ever, we see the word ‘health’ banded around everywhere. 20 years ago it was much simpler; eat your 5 a day, visit the dentist every 6 months, do a bit of exercise and that was about it. However recently, the concept of health is becoming more confusing by the day. Surrounded by conflicting studies regarding what is and isn’t good for us, and the millions of health related hashtags, from #eatclean to #vegan to #mindbodysoul. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a little overwhelmed by it all.

But what actually is health? I think nowadays, the definition is less of a fixed ideal and more of a personal opinion. After a great deal of pondering over this question, I have come up with my personal definition of what healthy looks like. I will always hold onto the belief that ‘health’ is quite simply, an even balance of wellbeing in both mind and body. It’s quite easy to think of the word health and put it all down to physical components; what we eat, how much we exercise and so on, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. My reasoning for coming to this conclusion comes down to my most solid belief that the body is much more reliant on the mind than we’re led to believe, and vice versa. One of these components cannot be in complete peace without the wellbeing of the other.

For example, if you were to line up 10 people in order of physical fitness, it would be easy to simply assume that the fittest person is the most healthy. This may well be the case. However, what if this person is also unhappy? What if they live their life beating themselves up whenever they make an unhealthy food choice? What if the reason they work out so much is because they have low self-esteem, or body image issues? I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone who is physically fit and healthy deals with these issues, this is simply a hypothetical example. If that person, who on the surface appears to be very healthy, does not also have a healthy mind, then are they really as healthy as they appear to be? Personally, I would argue not. I would argue that someone who lives a reasonably active lifestyle and eats healthily a good proportion of the time, but doesn’t feel guilty about treating themselves to a biscuit or two with their cup of tea or a takeaway every now and then, is probably more healthy overall. That balance of a having a forgiving attitude towards yourself mentally, whilst also taking reasonably good care of you body is, I believe, a very healthy approach.

The reason I describe my definition of health as a balance between mind and body, is because I think they key is to put similar amounts of effort into working on each. Each individual will differ in how much energy they need to focus on each; but regardless of personal proportions, I think focusing TOO much energy on either of these areas can be detrimental to health, rather than beneficial. Focusing solely on physical health may be damaging to mental health, as it can cause temptations, guilt or negative body image, for example. On the flipside, if you’re only focusing your time on caring for your mental health, your physical health may decline. A decline in physical health will likely drag your mental health down further, causing a vicious cycle. I know for me, if I’m not looking after myself both physically and mentally, my overall wellbeing completely crumbles.

I came to my definition of health through my own learning curve. For many years I really struggled to keep myself happy and healthy, and I’m sure it’s because I was not taking a holistic enough approach. At times I focused completely on my mental health, and thus my physical health suffered. On the flipside, there have been times when I’ve believed that taking care of my physical health was the key to my overall wellbeing, and this was another mistake. At my lightest weight, and at the point I probably physically looked the ‘healthiest’ I’d ever been, I actually wasn’t, because my life was fuelled by guilt and constant worry over how I looked.

In a nutshell, everyone’s definition of healthy is different, but I think it’s important to figure out what your personal definition is. From my point of view, it’s all about balance and loving yourself. Love yourself by working out a few days a week and eating your veggies, but also love yourself by having that amazing looking cake or pizza, or taking a day off when you’re ill. Love your body and your mind, and don’t let one overshadow the other. Eventually you will find your perfect balance.

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