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Week 4 - What is health?

pbrodfue's picture
In "Achieving Wellness, Whatever That Is," Abigail Zuger poses the question, "What does it mean to be well?"  How would you define health?
jpfeiffer's picture


I think that health should not be defined solely as one idea or thing. Inevtiably, health varies from person to person. To someone who rarely is sick, for example, the word health probably denotes a constant state of living. Maybe, they even take their health for granted because they are not use to living any other way. However, for a cancer patient, or to a person who may be fighting an incredibly invasive and debillating disease, health is probably a much more relished and cherished word. Health to them may mean simply posessing the ability to get out of bed each morning. To me, health refers to the state of being in which I find myself most active, most invigorated, and most refreshed. I feel the best when I eat the most nutritious food I can, when I exercise the most that I can, and when I sleep the adequate amount of hours per night conducive to my lifestlye. This is the meaning of health to me, and I greatly value my health.
Anne Dalke's picture

does more information make us wackier....?

From this morning's Science Times--
You’re Sick. Now What? Knowledge Is Power:
"For some people, more information makes them wackier,
while others get more relaxed and feel more empowered.”

Actually, today's whole special issue is about Decoding Your Health.
Of particular relevance to this class is another article,
Searching for Clarity: A Primer on Medical Studies,
which says that the problem in such studies "is not so much
the differences that are known. Instead, it is the differences
that scientists are not aware of."

kscire's picture

College Sustainability Report Card

I thought this website was interesting and it's relevant to our discussions about Dining Service-it talks about the take-out containers , local/organic food, composting, etc.

swhitt's picture


Just stopping by for a minute to quickly weigh in on Anne's questions about the influence of statistics on my personal choices. I've been a smoker for the past ten or so years, with occasional 6-12 month breaks.  My plan was to quit when I turn thirty (a doctor once told me that the mortality rates of smokers who quit by thirty return to normal - although emphysema rates remain higher). In both cases, the statistics reenforce my habit (I don't need to quit just yet and maybe not at all).  At the same time, there must be mountains of contrary reports I have forgotten or ignored or dismissed (who can really know the things these numbers claim? Surely there is too much room for error and personal bias :).  Just as my interpretations of coincidence tend to reenforce my life views, the statistics I choose to accept often support the choices I have made/want to make.
Anne Dalke's picture

Risk Charts

You can find the article--and associated charts--that we looked @ in class today (thanks to Peter :) @ Risk Charts: Putting Cancer in Context. How seriously do you take such data? What does it have to do with your own decisions? What influence might it have your deciding to smoke or not?

akaltwasse's picture

who knew my fifth grade health teacher was kind of right?

In every health class I've had (in the fifth, sixth, eighth, and tenth grades, and now, kind of, wellness), I've learned that health has three realms: mental/emotional, physical, and social.  Wellness, in turn, is the balancing of these aspects of health.  An unwell person, therefore, is imbalanced in these three spheres.  As painfully boring as health class was for everyone at my school (when we weren't making "health shields", we were being told how many diseases you would get if you ever had sex), I have to admit that our health teachers (gym teachers, really) were going somewhere with this theory.   If your physical health is poor, it can influence your mood and feelings.  If you aren't getting out enough or socializing as much as usual, it will probably affect your emotional health.  In the instance of severe depression, your emotional health can even affect your physical health.  So health is not just about seeing a doctor, eating right, and exercising-- it's also about staying happy and interacting with the world.

anonymous's picture

Too much information, not always

Health is being able to function well – physically, mentally and emotionally. Hence to a great extent each individual can decide whether or not they are ‘healthy’. If they go about their daily activities normally, have an active role in their immediate surroundings and are mentally ‘content’, they are probably healthy. It is when we begin to add in extra parameters such as eating a certain kind of food or doing a particular fitness regime that the issue of health becomes more complicated. Too much information leads to distorting our ideas of what ‘healthy’ really is. Yet, I believe that even if a person eats his fair share of fried food and goes out dancing once a week and is in that able to function optimally and is happy, then he is healthy. He doesn't have to worry himself sick about his living choices.

Another aspect of this definition is the ‘absence or void of disease.’ This is slightly important to me because a person with say a certain kind of cancer could be doing all of the above but without his cancer being detected he will soon reach a stage where he is terminally ill. A dying person does not necessarily epitomise the best of health. Yet, to his mind he could be healthy, not knowing that he has a disease. It is at this point that I’d rather go with ‘knowledge and information’ than not.


cantaloupe's picture

power of the mind

I would define health as mostly emotional and mental.  I believe that "being well" is a state of mind.  Even if I have a cold, if I am still happy and enjoying life, then I am well.  On a more extreme level, if I have cancer, but I can still be with the people I love and do activities that I enjoy, then I am still well.  There is the obvious definition of health being void of diseases or viruses, but sometime I can't help it if I become sick.  Therefore, it is up to my mental health to bring me back to "being well."

A agree with Kate that being well is different for every person.  Some people might be able to function with a cold, while other people might think it is the end of the world that they are conjested.  That is where I believe that the mental health has a bigger role in the physical health than most people think.

Katie Merrill's picture

I think the definition of

I think the definition of health is different for each individual. Depending on what you are called to do throughout the day along with your ability to do it determines ones own definition of health. I also think there are different variations of health. What you do and the extent to which you do it can determine how healthy you should be. For example an olympian would have to be in top physical shape to be considered healthy enough to compete, where as a college student like myself would have a different standard to meet to determine my overall health.

lraphael's picture

Health to me

Health to every person is their ideal self. We compare each other to ourself all the time and want what we can't have. We want to exercise, to have no illnesses, to take all the recommended vitamins and minerals. We want to be perfect. The truth is everyone's health, in my opinion, is never like that. We always fall short in one aspect at least.  Health is physical, mental, emotional, neurological, and so many more well beings. There is only so far you can try to stay the ideal Healthy. In my opinion stress would be considered unhealthy, but to me it makes me try harder and makes the less stressful days more sweet. I try to exercise every day but there is only so much I can do and only so much will power I have in me to keep up with my goal. Emotionally, I am still a teenage girl, so of course I have the ups and downs. Neurologically, I feel fine. There are so many varying factors into health it is hard to pin all the aspects that go into it, let alone keep them all to their supreme standards. Many people struggle with all kinds of health, it is just important to main the best "you" that you can.


Eliza Brennan-Pratt's picture

A Personal Definition

Providing a definition for health goes to show the tremendous confusion and doubt that has popped up in our current world. Pinpointing the factors that keep us free from injury and maintain our sense of wellbeing, should seem relatively easy, shouldn’t it? This is part of our class’ constant struggle, but our present state of mind reminded me of a link to my Philosophy class. Socrates advocates reason and fulfillment through the life-long process of attaining wisdom. However, he warns against becoming a misologist, or hater of reasoning. With the constant contradictions presented to us, it is amazingly easy to lose any knowledge we once had governing health to become a “misologist.” Each person must sort through the muck to develop his or her own, personal ideology concerning health.

I think that wellness revolves around the beneficial, whole-some aspects of your life. Most of all, it refers to being free from disease, but it also determines our physical and mental condition on a day-to-day basis. Taking care of yourself is also crucial for health. I maintain my well being through eating a balanced diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep. As of the moment, I also know that I don’t have a serious condition impacting the condition of my body. This could potentially be very different for another person, such as Doctor Hadler in “Achieving wellness, whatever that is.” Overall, with the standards I’ve presented, I consider myself to be a fairly healthy human being.

Shoshi's picture

Health is the state in which

Health is the state in which you can function, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Mental and emotional health also effect each other and physical health. Being able to function normally and not be hindered by something, is the definition of a healthy state.
stephkim's picture

what is health

I think that health is relative to each person. Someone may smoke two packs a day, but consider themselves psychologically/mentally healthy, while someone with bipolar disorder can consider themselves physically healthy.

Health can be divided up into so many categories that the question of being healthy isn't a yes or no answer. Ultimately, I think it comes down to someone determining health for themselves. If they consider themselves happy with what and how they are, they're healthy, but just in one way. A doctor, of course, could have a second opinion.

No one can be 100% healthy. I feel that humans work towards being as healthy as possible, but potentially, it is almost impossible to satisfy health in all parts of your body.

eolecki's picture

Health is individual

Health is actually a pretty complicated concept. Most people would just think of it as being in shape, not getting sick, eating healthy, basically just being alive and being able to function. Really health is totally an individual thing. In the articles we read about the test being done and how certain drugs affect people differently shows how individualized health really is. Different things make different people healthy, but we try to zero in on the things that make most people healthy, like eating vegetables and exercising. I can’t really think of a situation where those would be unhealthy for someone, but those are pretty broad. Eating vegetables can be narrowed down to eating mushrooms and it certainly wouldn’t be healthy for someone allergic to mushrooms to eat them even if it makes everyone else healthier. So really, when we try to define health and healthy habits we are focusing on generalized health, what is good for most people. But health isn’t what is good for most people, it is about what is good for every individual.
msmith07's picture

Your Own Definition of Health

In my opinion, health is a very simple concept: do what feels right for the body. The human body is a product of evolution, and everything that occurs in your body is a direct result of some other factor. Some of these factors (genetic mutations or gene-based diseases) are out of your control and, yes, you could and should seek medical attention. But too often people look for easier ways to treat their problems that could be fixed with a change in diet or lifestyle. Or, perhaps, people will magnify problems that aren’t truly life threatening because of some unreliable or misconstrued third party information. In either case – pill popping can’t solve all of our problems. But living a lifestyle that is comfortable and healthy for you and your body can certainly help. This means: exercising when you feel you need to, drinking as much water as you must to satisfy your thirst. If you listen to your body and do as it asks, you will find your own definition of health.
Yellow's picture

Hypochondriacs and the Placebo Effect

Health is subjective. Hypochondriacs, though tests show nothing is wrong with them, feel awful. On the other hand, people who take placebo pills--thinking they are real pills--feel better even when no chemicals exist in the pills to make them feel better. So what causes this to happen?

Apparently health is correlated to mental state of mind. This could mean that someone who has cancer could feel perfectly healthy if they aren't healthy, and not realize it until something in their body stops working.  

This leads to questions about the power of "yes"--does positive thinking make someone feel healthier? Does looking for something wrong with our diets, sleeping patterns, exercise make us unhealthy because we are looking for something wrong?

In my opinion, every person has the power to stay healthy by taking care of themselves and not worrying about one's health every second. I guess I'm in Hadler's boat. 

yhongo's picture

Being well primarily means

Being well primarily means being emotionally and mentally stable, in addition to being physically fit. I believe an individual has the control of being healthy or not. The mind controls the body, after all, and not vice versa. With a strong and optimistic mind comes a healthy living habit such as getting exercise, getting enough sleep, and making healthy food choices. On the other hand, however, someone with an unstable mind with rocky emotions will have a hard time being motivated to work out, sleeping, and maintaing a healthy eating habit. Therefore, I believe that being "well" and "healthy" is a choice that every individual has to make, and that choice comes from the mind and how it decides to perceive life. Achieving wellness is maintaing a strong and optimistic mind. 
Yuri Hongo's picture

The Mind Controls the Body

Being well means being emotionally stable and physically fit. There are various meanings of how people consider themselves "well", but I believe that human beings cannot be healthy unless they are mentally and emotionally stable. The mind controls the body and everything starts from the brain. For example, if you are severely depressed, chances are, you will not exercise, you will not socialize, and your eating habits may be completely off - either eating a lot or nothing at all. On the other hand, however, if you are a very optimistic, you may be motivated to go out for a run, you may call your friends up and make plans, and you may set yourself a healthy eating schedule. Of course it is not anyone's fault if they catch a cold and get sick, but it is up to how "healthy" the mind is at that point because a healthy mind would tell oneself to do whatever it takes to get better, while an unhealthy mind would be indifferent about the sickness. In the end, achieving wellness comes down to maintaing a strong and optimistic mind.

lwscott's picture

Health means being healthy, done!

Health is difficult to define unless you break it down into the different types of health. There is physical health, mental health, emotional health, and psychological health. Health is a condition of overall well-bring. A healthy person is able to meet the ordinary demands of everyday life. An unhealthy person is incapable of properly functioning in society. Health is all encompassing. You can fit and thin and still be depressed. 



swhitt's picture

Whole Health

While I tend to associate "good health" with being free from discomfort and disease, my actual definition is more nuanced.  I believe that mental, physical and emotional health are interconnected and that good health can be measured by functionality (i.e., I'm extremely near-sighted, have asthma, and am prone to bronchitis but I consider myself healthy).  Likewise, I have diabetic friends who I likewise think of as extremely healthy, perhaps out of necessity.  I was struck by Anne's reference in class to her friend who found out too late that she had cancer.  While I also fall more into Dr. Hadler's camp (perhaps because I don't really want to confront my personal bad habits), it is an interesting to consider a life-threatening disease existing without making itself known through physical ailments.  You feel healthy, but, as your life is under attack, are you? And  are we compromising our mental health in this culture of turning to doctors for a pill to cure every ailment? Are social skills a component of health - is a recluse "healthy"? Perhaps the definition of "health" is as individual and relative as the definition of "normal."
aybala50's picture

Did you mean health or health?

What is health? This answer depends on what type of health we are talking about. Physical health? Psychological health? etc. In my opinion health in general encompasses all of these, so in a way health is separate, but together. To some people physical health isn't as important as psychological health and for others the opposite is true. The question of health goes back to the broader question of "What makes us happy?" The answer to this question will differ according to the person who answers it. For me, for example, there is no point in having good physical health if psychologically a person is unhealthy. If one is depressed and has perfect physical health, then what can that person do with the health they have? Will they be willing to get up and run around? Go and kick a soccer ball for the pure joy of it? What I'm trying to get at is that even though we can define different types of health, we really can't define "health" because the definition depends on who the question is being asked to. 
Marisa La Piana 's picture

Personally, I believe that

Personally, I believe that health has mental and physical aspects to it. I believe that physical health can be measured by one's body's ability to fight off disease and successfully perform day to day activities. To maintian good physical health one must sleep 8 hours a night, exercise an hour each day and eat a varied diet including all the food groups. Mental health is one's ablitity to manage anexity, depression etc... To maintain good mental health one must engage in acitvities that they enjoy, connect with other humans and reflect on experiences. Achieving and setting goals also keeps one happy and motivated.

abhattacha's picture

It is utopian to expect that

It is utopian to expect that one will not ever have physical discomfort of any kind . For me , being well/healthy is being able to go about my business without undue physical discomfort . I go with Dr. Hadler's view that health/wellness is " the ability to cope with all these common physical problems without transforming oneself from person to patient " . I believe that it is easier on the nerves ( and the pocket ) to adopt a firefighting approach to health - tackling health issues as and when they arise rather than trying to pre-empt health problems that might never have arisen . Finally , true wellness in my opinion is a sense of well-being : a feeling of happiness at being alive ; in having good habits and working towards ones goals .
pbrodfue's picture

fair trade coffee

Yes, yes, I know. We have stopped talking about eating / sustainability, but an article on fair trade coffee, sustainability, and starbucks is in our local paper today. Take a look!

Using their bean, sustainably

Michelle Smith's picture

Re: Fair Trade Coffee

Oh, cool! Where was that article when we were writing our papers, I wonder...?

But I like that this article encompasses everything -- fair trade coffee, recyclable materials, energy-efficient light bulbs.... there's even the mention of corn-based coffee cups! It's like our class syllabus, condensed into a single newspaper article.

hwiencek's picture

In class Aybala and I broke

In class Aybala and I broke health up into two categories: physical and mental.  But, we said that the two were deeply connected.  When I think of the word health, the first thing that comes to mind is the medical view--whether a person's immune system is working to its fullest.  However, I believe an extremely important part, maybe the most important part, is mental health.  I would define mental health as a person's psychological ability to cope with everyday stresses.  I think because I know that there are medicines and treatments out there for many diseases and bacteria I fear physical ailments less, but I deeply fear mental health ailments because I (for some reason) see them as being without cures, and thus I am helpless.  Also, the physical consequences of bad mental health seem unavoidable.  Thus, I put more stress (no pun intended) on maintaining mental health.  And, because of this, I see health as subjective/individual.  Only you can know when you are feeling your best (especially emotionally, as opposed to doctors/tests/machines which can tell you if you are at your best physically).  So then what does it mean to be well?  I think that it's up to you.  But, to me, it is when I feel best about myself, rather than when I am least ill.
mcchen's picture


In order to be well, we need to be able to function in order to get through daily tasks.  By having a peaceful state of mind and a positive attitude is just some ways we can get through any physical or emotional tolls on our body.   Everyone has their own definition of what makes them feel well, so it is more of an individual preference on how we choose to lead our own lives.  Health is being able to balance all aspects of your life (social, physical, mental, emotional) and enjoy it along the way.  Physical health is only one component of being well because without stable mental health having a functional body can still make us miserable.  Being healthy is also monitoring each aspect of our lives and making sure that everything we do is in moderation and our focus is not just on one part. 
ihe's picture

In my opinion health is

In my opinion health is achieving a balrance in all aspects of you life: social, mental, physical and emotional. To be healthy you need to know your body's limits and attending to its needs. Health is in a way self defined, becuase no one knows your body better yourself. Who are experts to tell you if the way you are living is healthy or not? Again this goes back to the original question of "Expert" or "native" knowledge when judging our health. If i feel good about the health choices i'm making, and i'm not stressing my body or mind in anyway, i am in my opinion healthy.

Everyones body is different, for a health expert to say that a certain method of living will work for everyone is absurd. Ofcourse we need to intake vitamins and other nutritions, exercise, and other things to maintain a well balanced life style, but  how much exersise we get or how much we eat depends on our personal needs.

xhan's picture

to be healthy

I think being “healthy” entails achieving a stable emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. I think that a “healthy” lifestyle constitutes, but is not limited to exercise, a well-balanced diet, positive interaction with others, adequate sleep, and a good attitude towards life. I think that it is important for one to meet all three aspects of health, to truly be healthy.  For example, while it is important to exercise and maintain a balanced diet, one must not sacrifice sleep, or withdraw oneself from human interaction to function at his or her best.  I believe most of these habits and behaviors go hand-in-hand with one another, and so one is more likely to exercise if one has healthy eating habits versus someone who pays no attention to their diet. I also think that individuals have different outlooks on what it means to be healthy, thus one person’s daily activities, interactions, and behaviors may be vastly different from one person as opposed to the other, but both may be deemed healthy.

Paul Grobstein's picture

health in different classrooms

Interesting question/intersection. See "Mental Health?"
emily's picture

healthy body healthy mind

As mentioned in class, I believe that being healthy means feeling physically and mentally good to the extent of being functional. For example, I like to run and exercise because it makes me feel good. Physically, stretching my muscles, being outside, and sweating make my body feel better and mentally I feel happier and lighter. However, sometimes I find myself in an unhealthy mindset. If I am in a habit of exercising and I do not get to exercise one day I feel really gross and unhappy. However, I just have to step back from the situation and fix my mindset in order to feel good and get out of this unhealthy state of obsession. I just remind myself that it is good to have some off days and give my body  a rest and that I don't have to exercise every day to feel healthy. In this example, it takes having a good mindset to feel physically good. I may not or may not be having the best day ever, but if my body is not in great pain and my mind is in a good or even neutral place, I can feel good. And even if I may be anxious about one thing or another, as long as my thoughts are not being dominated by anxiety and I can function in every day life (class, conversations, practice, doing work, etc.), then I feel that I am healthy. Similarly, I think health is a personal thing. We can look to experts to give us advice, explain things we do not know much about, and help look out for big diseases and serious problems. But it is up to the individual to do what is best for him or her self in order to feel good and functional.
nmackow's picture

Experts aren't always right.

I was taught in health class that "health" encompasses one's physical, mental and social wellness. That to be "healthy" one must excercise and eat well, manage stressors efficiently, and have social interactions with friends and family. For the most part, I believe these are strong components of one's overall health. Yet there is not one specific way for everyone as a whole to be healthy. The lifestyle for one person (in terms of eating or managing stress) may not be the best lifestyle for another. Certain stressors in an individual's life may affect that individual much differently than they affect their neighbor.

Thus it annoys me when Doctors, reporters and experts of all kind impart their knowledge on us in such a way as to imply that we must follow their new ways of life. A few years ago it was reported that the average individual should drink 8-10 glasses of water a day. It was thought that lack of water may trigger fatigue and that by increasing the amount one consumes, one could increase short-term memory and decrease one's risk for cancer. This may be true in some respects but it has now been discovered that the amount of water necessary for every individual can be widely variable. And the liquid intake for every person doesn't have to come from water (in fact about half of the liquid our bodies need in one day comes from the foods we eat). 

kscire's picture


The contradictory information in health care is better for the general public, people not in health related professions. If there is no right answer or no correct way to follow then people are forced to evaluate their lifestyle on a very personal basis i.e. "i feel better when..." "whenever i eat that it makes me feel sick...",etc. This is great for people's health because even if something is true for the majority of people, everyone's body is different. There are lots of guidelines out there for proper diet and exercise regimens it'll only take some trial and error for individuals to come up with a custom system. 
msmith07's picture

I suppose I'd agree that

I suppose I'd agree that people should figure out their own diet and exercise regimen (my own post supports that idea)... but I don't know that all of the contradictory health information helps this at all.

Most of the health information out in the media comes from "the latest study" and a lot of them say the same thing -- whatever the most recent and most popular view point is. This just has people flipping back and forth: carbs, no carbs, carbs, no carbs! I would feel better if the media collectively waited for all relevant information before spouting out the latest "facts" and confusing all of these non-health professionals trying to sort out their daily exercise regimen on their own.

lwacker's picture

A hormone injection a day keeps the doctor at bay...?

According to results from varied epidemiological studies it is the people who are educated, wealthy and living in developed countries that are most healthy. They are probably thinner, exercise more and are more "health conscious" than those in lower socioeconomic brackets. Poor people living in third world countries or underdeveloped countries are less educated, smoke more and weigh more than healthy people. Poor people are often more likely to suffer from the physical, emotional and mental stresses associated with living in environments with noise pollution and environmental pollution. Poor people are also less likely to care about preventative health practices because of their lack of education and will probably suffer more greatly from disease and illness. However, I feel that this representation of health is not at all mirrored in American culture. Affluence allows rich people to eat more foods of higher quality, thus leading to the obesity epidemic among middle class and upper class Americans.  On the flip side, the obesity epidemic is still able to pervade the ranks of poor people because there is a lack of understanding that comes from health education about what is the right food to eat. Poor people, based on their needs for survival, may be forced to buy food with a lesser quality in a greater quantity. For example, McDonald's and other fast-food chains offer "poor people" the opportunity to eat a large quantity of food, mostly unhealthy, for very little money.  Also likely, is the idea that poor people will not have enough money for sufficient amounts of food and will constantly be thin or under-nourished. To me, this example serves as the primary contradiction of what is health and how it is wrongly represented in polar opposite socioeconomic groups