"Find out what determines the definition of physical health!"


Have you ever noticed that when you reach 50s on your birthday, people start greeting you“wish you health but more than wealth”?

They must almost always mean physical fitness. But what really is the definition of physical health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes a widely accepted definition of health, which states that "health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Lately, this statement has been modified to include the ability to lead a "socially and economically productive life."

The LaLonde report suggested that there are four general determinants of health which he called:

  • Human biology
  • Environment
  • Lifestyle
  • Healthcare organization
  • Thus, health is maintained through the science and practice of medicine, but can also be improved by individual effort.

    Examples of steps to improve one's health:

  • Physical fitness
  • Weight loss
  • A healthy diet
  • Stress management training
  • Stopping smoking and other substance abuse



  • Physical Fitness
    Physical fitness is the result of regular physical activity, proper diet and nutrition, and proper rest for physical recovery.

    Physical fitness often includes the following types:

  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Body Composition
  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Muscular strength and endurance
  • Speed
  • Many sources also cite mental and emotional health as an important part of overall fitness. You will often see in textbooks that this is represented as a triangle made up of three sub-sections which represent physical, emotional, and mental fitness.

    One may be physically fit but may still suffer from a mental illness or have emotional problems. The "ideal triangle" is balanced in all areas.

    Physical fitness means more than just the ability to do something. People who are fitter are healthier and lead better lives. Lifestyle diseases like heart disease, the number one killer last year, and Type 2 diabetes are directly related to lack of exercise.




    Mental Health

    It is difficult to come up with an absolute definition for mental health since there is a great variation in the level of mental faculties among people.

    When we speak about mind, we normally refer to one’s intellectual and reasoning faculties - the capability to perceive, comprehend, think, judge, and remember.

    Now stop for a moment and think.

  • Think about all the people you know, who have rather strange perceptions of people around them.
  • Think about the people around you who need to be told repeatedly before they understand you.
  • Think about the people who choose wrong decisions even when facts are against their decision.
  • And then think about the children at school who do not seem to remember anything.
  • And think about the housewife who looks for her specs while wearing them on her nose. (Sounds like myself sometimes!)
  • I do not consider that all such people are mentally ill. Each one can have a different level of mental faculty. Yet, these signs do show that these people are not in their best of mental health.

    My focus here is on the concept of mental health and not on mental sickness.

    Some of the basic signs of mental health can be:

  • Having a mental aptitude near or above social average.
  • Having the capability to perceive things as they are, and not as one thinks they are.
  • Having the faculty to understand the social structure and ability to figure out vocal and other forms of communication within that social structure
  • Having a reasonable ability to differentiate between what is good and bad or right and wrong.
  • Having the ability to remember and repeat information gathered through various senses or through learning to a reasonable degree.
  • It has been said that modern medical science does not consider a person mentally ill, if he or she can not be given a disease label to wear.

    Many of us fail to recognize when our mental health starts to fail. Our ability to reason and judge ourselves is also affected when our mind is impaired. And so people often do not realize that they are not in excellent mental health, until the things start taking bad shape.

    As we appreciate changes in the normal functioning of body parts as probable signs of disease, similarly, we should appreciate the subtle signs which reflect a change in our mental being.

    We cannot label many mental deviations as 'diseases'. They are at best 'variations' that need adjustment through social and medical therapies.




    Emotional Fitness

    Our brain controls both our mental and emotional faculties. Since these two are highly related, most of the people who suffer from some psychological disease are both mentally and emotionally ill.

    Our emotions are neuro-hormonal reactions that occur in response to some physical or mental stimulus. These in turn, affect our response to the same stimulus on the physical and mental plane.

    This may sound like a very unromantic explanation, but emotions do not come from our heart. They are generated in our brain. All the emotions we feel - love, joy, hate, anger, sorrow etc. are nothing but some primitive algorithms that are processed to generate response on the physical and mental level.

    As an example, suppose somebody abuses you. Afterwards you feel angry towards that person. The question is how is this 'anger' generated? And why only 'anger' is produced? Why do not you fall in love when somebody abuses you?

    Now with regards to the first question as to how 'anger' is generated. The moment somebody abuses you, your mind perceives it as a threat or attack based on its social learning. To counter this threat, the mind needs to prepare the body and itself for some reaction.

    Here is what happens:

  • Our mind produces negative thoughts towards the concerned person.
  • The concentration level increases and is focused on the current situation.
  • Our eyes become prominent.
  • The winking rate decreases.
  • The muscles in face and the other parts of the body become tense in anticipation of further action.
  • At this stage, we say a person is 'angry'. But this is the initial reaction occurring as a reflex phenomenon. There can be a secondary occurrence like you can also hurl abuses or hit the person, or just simply walk away. This secondary reaction is based on the intensity of emotions and the integrity of the regulatory mechanisms in our brain.

    The answer to the second question on what kind of emotional response is generated depends on two factors - our subconscious mental awareness and, through social learning.

    Our subconscious mental awareness is probably a mental reflex action that comes without learning. For example, a young child also shows reaction to anger and shouting. This is what is natural in us.

    On the other hand, through social learning we are taught the meaning of love, joy, hate, anger etc and we are taught to differentiate them.

    Based on the awareness of stimulus, some neuro-hormonal reactions are generated which create 'emotions'. What we sense as 'anger' is the after result of that processing.

    Other kind of emotions are also generated in a similar way. There is a primary stimulus which produces the 'emotions' based on the perception of stimulus, and which leads to appropriate physical and mental response.

    I have explored into the probable mechanism of emotions so that it becomes easy to understand how our emotional health can fail just as our physical health does.

    Our brain can produce too strong an emotional reaction for a small stimulus or it may produce a very weak response against a strong stimulus. The response may persist for too little a duration or too long a duration.

    It s normal to feel sad when somebody close to you dies. But if you try to kill yourself after that, then you are not emotionally healthy. If you always feel elated (not just happy) without any good reason then you are not emotionally healthy.

    There is no measurable way to define emotional health. However, an emotionally healthy person has the three basic characteristics.

    An emotionally healthy person is -

  • Able to show correct emotional response based on the stimulus
  • Able to express his emotions (actually, able to express the thoughts generated as a result of emotions)
  • Able to regulate the mental and physical response generated due to an emotion.

  • So far, I have discussed the three elements of health as separate entities to understand each one of them more thoroughly. But physical health, mental health, and emotional health are not separate entities.

    You cannot have a healthy mind without a healthy body or healthy emotions and vice-versa. The degree to which one of these components is affected can vary from person to person, but ultimately it is the person as a whole that is affected.

    The prevailing medical school still has to realize that just as the parts of a human body can not work in isolation, they also can not fall ill in isolation. There can not be a disturbed liver or a damaged lung unless and until there is a primary disturbance which affects the person as a whole.

    We can not forget that every part in our body and every cell in those parts has come from a single cell. A cell which had a life force of its own. How can any one dissociate the body parts which have all come from one single cell?

    Leave aside the composition of parts, even the classification of health as physical, mental, and emotional is not totally true. These are components which can not be separated - neither in health, nor in disease!

    Let me just end here on what physical health is according to yoga -- the body is one of the five sheaths/koshas of our being - physical body, mental body, subtle energy body, psychic body and blissful body. One can be healthy only if these areas are taken care of.