Webster defines health as follows: “The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially: freedom from physical disease or pain.” The World Health Organization defines health in these terms: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Both definitions define health as a state rather than as a process.
What are the elements of good health? A strong physical presence, including optimal levels of balance and flexibility, speed and strength? The normal functioning of all senses and organs? Normal values for body-mass index, resting pulse rate, and recovery time after exercise? Normal lab values including glucose, hemoglobin, and triglycerides? The capacity to maintain optimal levels of health over long periods of time? All of the above?
It seems clear that good health is both a state and a process, and includes at least two components—learning and healing.
Learning. Learning is an essential component of good health. It pertains to the body’s ability to respond, change, and adapt to one’s surroundings. This is what biologists might call “adaptive behavior.” Never changing, or being incapable of change, is a classic sign of ill-health.
Healing. Healing is another essential component of good health. The ability to recover and grow stronger in the face of illness or injury characterizes a healthy person. This is what biologists might call “regeneration.” Healing slowly, or not at all, is another classic sign of ill-health.
These two qualities—learning and healing—involve process. The standard definition—“The condition of being sound in body, mind, and spirit…”—neglects to include process, and thus is incomplete. In fact, it can be argued that the process by which the body achieves and sustains good health is a necessary component for any reasonably complete definition of good health.
Good health, of course, includes more than just the physical. It also includes the mental, the intellectual, the spiritual. And it’s not a stretch to see how good health of one’s body and mind carries over into the good health of society in general. Microcosm rules macrocosm, just as macrocosm rules microcosm. This seemingly contradictory statement is not a paradox, but a simple statement of nature’s law.