The Definition of Healthy Living Vs Modern Medicine’s
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of “complete physical, mental and emotional well-being” and not just the absence of illness and infirmity. Different definitions have been applied to health throughout the history of the world. In many societies, health has always been seen as the norm, not the exception. In the United States, the best indicator of a society’s health is its level of life expectancy at birth. While this is higher than some other countries around the world, it still stands at the twenty-first century’s mediocre level. This has caused much research to be done on the subject and health insurance to become a major concern.
The definition of health as we know it today came from ancient Greece. According to this school of thought, the word “disease” actually began as a translation of the Greek term “kristos,” which meant “spiritually healthy.” Ancient Greece was a very religious culture and looked down upon any form of physical disfigurement or illness. This led to a belief that illness was a part of the punishment for sin and therefore, a way of punishing the soul for past wrong doings.
This view is not entirely unique to ancient Greece. In fact, many other civilizations before the age of contact with modern medicine developed very similar views on health and illness. The Egyptians, for example, had a very pessimistic outlook on life, viewing illness as a part of the path of evil and disease. Their approach to public health was more toward prevention than cure. While they did not always live in a state of near perfect health, their ideal was always maintaining a good health balance through diet and exercise. They also developed an effective system of preventive medicine involving plenty of fruits and vegetables and a good diet rich in fish, cereals, beans, and meat.
The Hippocratic approach to disease and illness had some limitations, however. For example, it did not include such illnesses as cholera and poliomyelitis, which were deadly contagious in the era. These two diseases were difficult to overcome for a society focused on prevention. In addition, Hippocrates did not consider heart disease, a common problem in the Mediterranean world, to be a serious matter and treated those with angina and heart problems with the same attitude he regarded as appropriate for persons with rheumatic pain. This limited his definition of good health policy to heart disease only.
The second major difference between Hippocrates’ philosophy and that of the medical profession is the emphasis on prevention. Hippocrates believed that illness was inevitable and was a part of the natural process of life, just as death was. Because of this, he advocated the adoption of a natural, non-medicinal lifestyle. He advocated an abstinence from food rich in fat and salt, from intercourse, smoking, and alcohol use. Though he admitted that some of these practices might cause temporary illness, he felt that they were injurious to the body and called for their total elimination.
The gaps between Hippocrates’ philosophy and modern medicine’s definition of good health are many. As a result, we often suffer unnecessarily, even when we are not physically ill. Though we may have different views of health promotion, the goals we share can help us achieve more in achieving better health for all of us. The definition of healthy living needs to take into account the reduction of illness and the improvement of health as a whole, rather than focusing merely on the absence or removal of disease from a single part of the body.