Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “an optimal condition of total health and not just the absence of illness and infirmity”. Various definitions have been employed over the years for various purposes. A common definition of health is the ability to attain and maintain optimal health or the ability to cope with life’s challenges in a healthy way. Health is a state that can be achieved by healthy practices, and unhealthy practices can be corrected through appropriate therapy and attention. It also covers issues such as good nutrition, regular exercise, and appropriate exposure to diseases and its symptoms.
A more inclusive definition of Health that includes all the dimensions of good health is the perspective of the WHO. It defines health systems as “systems that are designed to provide services to communities, individuals, groups or the population at large so as to ensure the greatest possible access to health services and community protection.” One can draw a distinction between health systems and frameworks for health, especially when one focuses on the concept of comprehensive health.
A framework for comprehensive health is the Universal Health System (UHS), which is a part of the European Union’s Common Health Program. The UHS provides a comprehensive definition of what constitute the various risk factors and healthy environments that affect humans. An interesting feature of the definition is that the focus is not so much on defining individual health but rather on the whole of the population and how they can be expected to meet and exceed the requirements of universal health care. This approach has the merit of being more realistic and therefore less abstract than the definition used by the WHO. By contrast, the WHO uses a simplified approach called the Surgeon General’s Guide to Health, which it claims is the sole source of information on the subject.
On a more theoretical level, the definition of Health emphasizes the need to develop a balance between achieving and maintaining a level of physical fitness, in order to maintain a balance of mental health. The importance of physical education and the teaching of good sport and healthy behaviors extends beyond mere physical health. Mental health includes but is not limited to, issues relating to stress, depression, anxiety, psychosis and other psychological or emotional illnesses. Therefore, the definition of Health also takes into account both physical and mental aspects of health.
Finally, there are two definitions that have direct bearing on the subject of health: one is that disease is any bodily condition causing death or debilitating illness. The second is that disease is a set of symptoms, which may be physical or non-physical, indicating an overall loss of health. Thus, the disease can be considered as an aspect of the definition of Health that is problematic in terms of assessing quality of life. These definitions parallel the two approaches taken in determining the level and extent of a person’s well-being: the extent of his physical existence and the extent of his interaction with other individuals.
The major point to remember when considering the definition of Health in the context of aging is that the disease has many definitions; most definitions rely on a range of parameters to define its presence. Because aging affects every part of the life course, even though there are some exceptions, the definition of Health will necessarily include a framework of criteria by which aging adults may be categorized. These classifications are based on a combination of a person’s history and his physical environment. While age 65 means the end of a long period of age, the definition of Health continues to evolve based on the definition of Disease.