I keep hammering on this question and have probably lost half of my audience because of it. I don’t care because the question is simply just too important.
What is health?
See, half the people reading just closed the window. Those who are still with me, however, are embarking on a journey that is going to, literally, change the rest of your life.
The question really should be: what is health, to you?
Culturally, a very fucked up definition of health exists both in scope and definition. The scope of what we perceive health to be is so narrow, so exclusive, and so wrong. Always, ALWAYS, health is equivocated to the appearance of a person’s body. How big we perceive it to be, how lean, how fat, how muscular, how skinny. The fact that this is a completely arbitrary observation and totally subjective to the viewer is irrelevant to everyone.
What a person looks like cannot tell you about their overall health. You getting skinnier does not mean you will be healthier. Just ask those who have suffered from anorexia. Oh, but that is too skinny you say, that isn’t your goal at all. Well, how do you know when you go from skinnier than you are now to too skinny?
Any definition of health is hard to discuss. I have been asking people for weeks to define what health is to them and I have received one response. It is good response and from of my favourite people.
To me, “health is true happiness and feeling your very best.”
I like it. There is truth in. But could this serve as a definition of health? I am not sure because how to define ‘feeling your very best?’ How do you define ‘true happiness?’ And without definable outcomes how can we ever answer the question, what is health?
Yet it is a course that must be pursued because without a greater understanding of what health actually is it will be impossible to ever help people move towards improving the quality of their health.
This is why it IS SO DAMN IMPORTANT that you ask yourself this question and spend time putting together an answer. The definition of what this means to you is what will guide and shape the future.
So let me take a stab at it. Let me share with you how I currently would answer this question. Note my use of the word ‘currently.’ Why that ambiguous little descriptor? Simply, because I believe that this is a subject and a topic that will be continually evolving with new information and the wisdom that only time can teach.
What is health to you, Coach Taylor?
Health is the ability to move well in order to do the things you dream of doing and to fuel yourself in a way to minimize the risks of chronic disease while maximizing the full potential of your body.
To be more concise: Health is the ability to move well, while you eat well.
Even this definition has a wide scope of what could be included. And this is precisely the point I am trying to make.
Health, and better health, doesn’t have a definition. It can only have a definition of what it means to you. This is why the topic so engrosses me.
What you probably think of as health right now is actually a culturally mediated image that has been rammed down your throat the majority of your life in a purposeful effort to keep you just unhappy enough to buy more products and buy into a fictionally created ideal. The supermodel and the rugged masculine athlete are not actual objects of health by all objective means.
I have watched real health for two decades with my clients. And guess what? Hitting a new one rep max or completing a marathon have never led to long term happiness, contentment, or good health for a single one of them. And I have trained thousands of people.
Those achievements improved their health for about as long as the last failed diet attempt. It was fleeting and in the long run left them with new feelings of stress as they compared their everyday abilities to the pinnacle of their abilities in the past.
Health is changing and evolving. It ebbs and flows as we age, as we deal with traumatic life events, or even as our personal goals change.
There are constants when it comes to our health, however, that are just behind everything else that we do in this unending quest to take care of ourselves as best we can.
How well can you move?
Without being able to move well everything becomes harder. Opening doors, shovelling snow, caring for a sick loved one, hiking on vacation, enjoying a day at the cottage, cooking a meal for your family, competing in a sports event, or playing with your grandchildren and all predicated on how well your body can move.
So why isn’t our fitness focus on improving peoples quality of movement?
I can tell you this very definitively: if you improve how well you can move you will improve a host of actual objective measures of the health of your physical body. And it isn’t just squatting, rolling, flexibility, and jumping when we talk about the quality of your movement. How well blood moves through your arteries and veins, how well your digestive system works, and how well your internal organs are able to function are part of your movement. I bet you never considered those aspects before when you thought about movement.
What about food and nutrition Coach Taylor? Aren’t they important to your health?
Absolutely. The quality of the food you eat is directly linked to the health of your body. And guess what? This can be seen in the quality of your movement. Eat a processed diet of pseudo-food that was packaged in a remote factory and has a shelf life of a decade and it will negatively affect your health. Your body’s tissues and function will be impaired.
I am not saying never again eat an Oreo or indulge in a bucket of Haagen-Dazs because if these things bring you pleasure then that is a component of maintaining good health. But ensuring that your body has access to high quality nutrition is vital to your health.
What is high quality nutrition? Yeah, you know. Vegetables. Fruits. Nuts. Seeds. Whole grains. Legumes. You know, stuff that grows in the ground and then you eat it. And when you eat it, it still kinda resembles the thing that grew in the garden. What about meat? For sure adding some animal protein in your diet can be healthy. Ethically raised farm animals, eggs, butter, and some cheese can all be included. Necessary? No. Nutritious? Yes.
That is high quality nutrition in a nutshell. As Michael Pollen succinctly stated: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
As you ponder this question of what health means to you, try and focus not on some audacious objective in the future. Think instead of your everyday. What would you like to feel like? What would you like to be able to do comfortably? What would you like to eat?
Once you know that you will find making decisions to serve your health becomes completely different.