I’ve been thinking a lot about how society tries to conceptualize health. We’re in many ways constantly seeing health shown as a black and white property-that we are either alive and well or on a quick path to death. When we look at the definition of health, we actually see it referred to as measurement of various components. Health isn’t a state, it is a score. It’s a combination of a million of individual data points that interact and create a state of health. In fact, your health could be better or worse when you wake up than it is when you go to bed. It’s a measurement of constant fluctuation and variance. You can be more or less healthy, but not just “healthy.” Yes we are encouraged to walk around trying to categorize people as healthy or not by a single component (weight, activity level, diet). Health isn’t that simple.
The data points that make up health are broad because they encompass several types of data: such as states of being, your actions, the actions of others and your accessibility to certain resources. Plus those types of data correspond to different types of health: mental, social, and physical. For example, I could choose to never drink beer again, that might affect my physical health positively while negatively affecting my mental and social health. Furthermore there’s no universal guideline as to how an individual’s health will be affected by each interaction. For example, if I develop an allergy to strawberries, they suddenly become an unhealthy choice for me. Sure there are things that are likely to be healthy, but there are no universal rules in classification.
Now lets make it really messy. Some of these factors are completely within your control, others are a product of the environment and social class you were born into, the genetics your parents passed to you, and the people that you interacted with that day. You can spend every waking hour trying to optimize every choice you make for an optimal score of total health. You can turn your life into a pseudo video game- always trying to up your life bar. Even then, though you may have tried and worked hard to make the best and healthiest choices possible at all times and in all circumstances, you could find some unknown variable (such as hidden genetic predisposition) that could significantly and suddenly affect your health.
The best you can do make healthy choices. Making those choices isn’t as easy as reading a bunch of fitness magazines; even the top experts don’t agree on what the healthiest choices are. Instead, we should learn to listen to our bodies, and with feedback from our doctors make changes that over time increase our total health. But those changes shouldn’t focus on one type of health. Often physical health is elevated diminishing just how important mental and social health are.
I am an unhealthy weight. I have a healthy activity level. I make healthy choices in whose opinion I value. I have a healthy respect for others. I have a healthy home-life free of disease. I believe the positive choices I make daily greatly outweigh a single data point when it comes to evaluating my total health. Sure, it’s hard to deal with the fact that my negative health data points are more socially taboo then other peoples, but that’s life. Regardless of how much people try to simplify the composite picture of health into a single imperfect measure, I refuse to accept that as a reflection of who I am, my health and how much living I can do.