The pursuit of health has always been associated with self-image building and personal confidence. In our culture, the struggle to stay healthy seems more than just a matter of saving vitality; it’s a way of life. Health is a condition of mind, physical and social well being where infirmity and illness are absent. It is associated with freedom from pain, bereavement, and hopelessness. When one talks about “being healthy,” we speak not only of healthy diets, regular exercise, and nutritional foods, but also mental exercises like seeking refuge in a warm bed, or thinking optimistically of future events.

For those who study public health, the definition of “being healthy” can be seen as a state that is influenced by both internal resources and external threats. Internal threats refer to environmental causes that have an effect on the mental wellbeing of a person. For example, some psychoanalysts believe that trauma, abuse, or poverty can leave indelible scars that can create a barrier to healthy functioning. External threats come from pathogens, contaminants, and other agents that affect the physical state or environment of a person. A perfect example of an external threat is the spread of HIV. This virus has become one of the most threatening aspects of the ever-changing mental health landscape.

The definition of “being healthy” has become blurred in today’s cultural context; it describes a range of conditions that people might not associate with one another. It does not have a definitive answer for those who are grappling with mental illness or health complications. However, understanding the meaning of “being healthy” can illuminate the journey toward wellness for many.

Public health professionals can clarify the meaning of the term to include different concepts related to disease prevention and public health. These include mental health and clinical research. For instance, clinical research involves determining the efficacy of new pharmaceutical products in treating a specific illness or symptom. A recent study found that breast cancer drugs had little effect on patients diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, but were highly effective in women with Stage I breast cancer. These findings are encouraging for researchers who are developing new treatment options for breast cancer patients.

Perhaps the most useful way to explore the definition of “being healthy” is to consider what it means to be “healthy”. Healthy ageing is associated with the ongoing research on the human genome and the process of ageing itself. Studies on the role of genes in disease processes have also shed light on this definition. Similarly, public health professionals have begun to understand the connections between diet, behaviours and infectious disease. The connection between diet and obesity has now been fully explained by the Mayo Clinic in a comprehensive report.

The definition of “healthy lifestyle” now includes a component that considers both the physical state and the attitude of a person towards his or her own health and well being. This approach is often seen as an alternative to current approaches to combating obesity. In recent years, physical fitness has been seen as an essential component in an overall plan for healthy ageing and prevention of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. Health education programmes, including exercise programs, are now part of the routine medical management of many complex diseases.

By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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