It has been said many times that we don’t fully appreciate good health until it’s gone. This is true enough, but how exactly would you describe good health?
One definition of health is the absence of disease. This may be good enough if you’re applying for health or life insurance, but is the absence of disease accurate enough for you? It’s not for me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about good health lately. At the end of March, I had the opportunity to hear Alex Tiberi speak at the Great River Symposium. The Great River is the annual acupuncture conference held in Minneapolis. Alex is a teacher and lecturer on Oriental Medicine as well as one of the earliest pioneers of acupuncture in the United States. At the Great River Symposium, Alex spoke on a wide variety of topics around the theme of spirituality. He was eloquent and fascinating.
During his lecture, Alex spoke about what it means to be healthy. He presented a list of qualities that describe good health, which I’ve been thinking about since. His list (from my notes; apologies, Alex, if I misquote):
- No pain
- Appropriate expressive emotions
- Good sleep
- Good appetite
- No fatigue
- Good sex drive
I like this list. However, as I said, I’ve been thinking about this list since I heard Alex speak, and I’d like to nitpick and add a few ideas of my own.
- First, it is possible to be in ill health and not have any pain. High blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer—all serious threats to your health, may not produce any pain. In fact, these conditions may not produce any symptoms at all until they are very advanced. Furthermore, there are a number of symptoms, such as dizziness, tinnitus, depression, and anxiety that are not painful, but have the potential to really decrease the quality of your life.
- Beyond appropriate expressive emotions, I would add that good health or good emotional health encompasses much more. Emotional health includes a life with meaning, joyfulness, gratitude, resilience, an open heart and loving relationships. Moreover, emotional health means that you possess the tools to deal with the stressful situations that come your way.
- I heartily agree that good sleep is an essential component of good health. We heal, recharge and rejuvenate while we sleep. It’s crucial to get enough. I would add that mental rest is an important consideration, too. I’ve had periods in my life when I was completely consumed by some project—school, writing a book, my acupuncture practice, etc. These were times when there was no emotional break, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that I was exhausted and not very healthy.
- Beyond having a good appetite, I would add that good digestion is also vital to being healthy. You may have a hearty appetite and eat the most nutritious food in the world, but if your digestion is funky, it’s difficult to be in good health. This is because your digestive process transforms food and liquids into your life energy (Qi) and blood. Without abundant Qi, it’s difficult to be truly healthy. So, if you’re reaching for antacids after every meal, suffer from gas, bloating, stomachaches, diarrhea, constipation, or any other unspeakable digestive ills, your health could be just a little bit better.
- Furthermore, without good digestion, it can be hard to have really good energy. I believe that good health goes beyond a lack of fatigue. I say this because I have seen many patients who get through their day because they have no choice. They’re driven by all they have to do, not good energy. So, in a perfect world, my definition of good health includes good energy plus enthusiasm and engagement.
- I’m on board with Alex on the good sex drive item. Just keep in mind that what was normal when you were twenty may not be normal at fifty. Okay, probably won’t be. Adjust for age.
Beyond Alex’s list of what is considered good health, I have a couple of items from my own list:
- I think that good health also includes some element of movement. This may mean physical movement in the form or exercise or a Yoga class, however to me, movement encompasses much more. In Chinese medicine, good health is all about flow—the flow of blood through your vessels, food through your digestive tract, and even the smooth flow of emotions. Good health through flow is also external, in the form of your ability to change, try something new, and be flexible. Like the element of wood, the ability to bend without breaking is a sign of good health.
- I routinely see patients who when asked, list ten or twelve prescription medications that they are currently taking. This can’t be healthy. I understand that there are some health conditions that are greatly helped with medications, but often one drug is prescribed to offset the side-effects of another, many drugs are prescribed out of fear or greed (statins, flu shots, etc.), and patients are routinely prescribed drugs for the rest of their lives with no alternative. Again, this can’t be healthy. So in my opinion, good health is taking a minimum number of prescription medications.
- Last, but perhaps most important is how you feel. Good health feels good. You have events you look forward to. You have things you want to do and the energy to do them. If you have good health, appreciate it now.