Health seems to be one of those funny things, that when trying to gauge your own, a black or white answer isn’t aways clear. With disease on the other hand, if you’re not well, your body usually better defines that something might be wrong. That being said, people are often caught off guard, as they feel healthy, yet are diagnosed with a life threatening disease otherwise undetected. Given the blurry complexities between health and disease, if I feel good and think I’m healthy, how do I really know?
What Defines ‘Health’?
Firstly, for the sake of this article, we need to standardize what it means to be healthy. Generally speaking, being healthy can be defined as feeling well, energetic, happy, and without experiencing signs of obvious dysfunction or disease. As well, a degree of objective medical measure as to lack of disease and presence of health markers is essentially critical. If you were to ‘gauge your health’ out of 100, if you confidently rank (as objectively as possible) at 90 or more, then you may be considered ‘likely healthy’. Anywhere below a score of 90 (although extremely subjective), you have more of a potential to be ‘likely unhealthy’ or at much higher risk of ill health and disease. Subjective? Yes. However for the sake of gauging health, we need a point to start.
Health Is a Continuum
Let’s preface the answer to “I think I’m healthy, but how do I really know” with the fact that health falls on a continuum, and technically can’t be clearly defined. If you were unhealthy (with disease, illness etc) a decade ago, and you’ve somehow managed to overcome it, then by all accounts, you can likely consider yourself healthier today than you were then. But, of course, there’s much more to that conclusion than simply being ‘absent of disease’. If you felt ‘great’ last year, for example, but you’ve been experiencing an ongoing accumulation of regular fatigue, then by all accounts, you’re likely less healthy now verses one year ago. All in all, health and disease works within a dynamic continuum, so it’s crucial to understand that it is ever changing, and thus requires constant comparisons and continued efforts, as days, months, and years move on.
The Signals Of Stress
Ok, so you feel great; no aches, pains, fatigue, disease, illness or health problems that you are aware of. Technically, you feel like you’re on the top of your game as far as health is concerned, and can confidently state that you’ve “never felt better”. This is a positive when it comes to gauging your health. That being said, it’s often reasonable to allow your body to do the assessing, as it can, of course, be much more objective than our thoughts alone. In order to begin gauging an accurate measure of being healthy (or not), you must objectively determine how your body, mind, spirit and emotions respond long after a stressor has passed. For example, if you exercise regularly, does your body recover well? Are your workouts making you more and more tired, emotionally labile, or causing you to over eat? If so, then it’s reasonable to question your health. Have you had a life event occur, such as a death in the family, job loss, re-location, or even simple, ongoing issues within a relationship? At the time of the event, you may feel some stress, however what about months later? Are you still feeling as happy and energetic as before? Can you still say you feel at the top of your game? Any assessment less than this, combined with any sense of negative health impact (such as affected sleep, slower physical recovery, body pain, headache, labile emotions, etc) can point directly to the fact that your continuum of health is moving in the wrong direction. Because health is not simply black or white, any impact of stress can influence you months to years later, and any type of stress (be it positive or negative) may only aggravate an already ‘stressed’ system. And if not optimally healthy, any past or current stress can still create health ramifications into the future.
With a longstanding feeling of health and wellness, gauging whether you’re really healthy or not, it’s imperative to determine how you respond to stress support. If, when engaged with the proper stress supportive care, you begin to quickly feel ‘better’, then you know that you are more resilient and closer to your optimal point of health. If, on the other hand, the proper support and health intervention(s) create very slow or absent responses to better health, then you can clearly state that your health is further removed from where it needs to be. And how do you determine what support and/or intervention(s) you require? Naturopathic medicine is the ideal candidate to set the plan and get you there.
Objectivity Can Help You Win Out
Within an extremely subjective world of health, measured objectivity can often provide clarity in terms of your past, current and future health. Within the scope of preventative medicine and care, regular health screening can expedite at least a portion of whether you are healthy or not. Screening tests, such as for cancer (breast exams, DRE’s, PAP smears etc) can help to provide physical definitiveness as to where you currently are in terms of health. As continual and regular workups are completed (ie blood work), many more comparative and sequential objective results can help determine whether disease is present or not. It’s important to note, however, that just because you are ‘absent from disease’, it surely doesn’t define or confirm that you in fact are healthy.
So What’s Next?
It’s obvious that gauging your health in the face of feeling well, isn’t as simple as it may seem. Feeling great is largely subjective, so defining yourself as healthy or not, isn’t something that can be done in a day. That being said, subjectivity combined with objective medicine (and preventative health) is often the closest one can become in terms of either stamping a simple a ‘bill of health’ (which can often just mean ‘absence of disease’), disease itself, or true health at any one time. If you were ‘unhealthy before’, and now ‘much more healthy’ now, you are moving along the proper continuum. That being said, when it comes to real health as we all like to define it (‘optimal health’), confirming you are there is all a matter of keeping it simple, knowing what you’re doing, maintaining consistency, and calling in the experienced for support.
Dr Jeremy Hayman, ND is all about keeping your health simple. Although the complexities of health and disease can be many, when it comes down to it, optimizing your health to be happy, energetic, feeling well, and minimizing ill health risks, can often be left to a few simple, effective, and realistic approaches to getting you there.