The Nature of Health

Health is not a switch.

To most people, especially in America, health is some binary, finite thing. You’re either healthy, or you’re not. You have health, or you don’t. It exists in your life, or it doesn’t. On, off. Present, absent. Static.

Many people think of health simply as the absence of physical sickness, which isn’t necessarily wrong but isn’t necessarily right, either. When you look at it that way, with disease on one hand and health on the other, it’s all too easy to see health as a noun, as an idea that simply exists, unchanging, as half of a binary.

In reality, health is a measurement that allows us to assess how able we are to achieve our potential. Theoretically, everyone has limitless potential. Our minds can conceive of the wildest notions, our dreams transcend the realm of possibility, our courage overcome any fear, and our daring uncover any new horizon. So what holds us back? What anchors the vastness of our minds to the confines of reality? What keeps us from realizing everything we imagine? What limits us?

Our bodies.

Our bodies are incredible, but unlike our thoughts, they are physical. They are weighed down by gravity and slowed by the cold. Our brains, though miraculous, rely on countless chemical reactions in order to remain functional. Our cells, though unimaginably resilient, fall victim to pathogens and injury and mutation. Our bodies do not define us, but they connect us to the world and so we have to play by their rules.

The better our health, the better able we are to reach our goals, conquer our fears, and live a life that holds both meaning and happiness. Anything that holds you back from those ideals can therefore be considered a question of health, and it is worthy of attention and consideration.

There’s more to being healthy than not being sick, but I think most people don’t realize how much more, so I’ve put together some examples.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 1.05.38 PM.png

This diagram is actually fairly simplified and only gives a few factors from each of the major health categories, but you can still see that physical health is only one type and that it’s accorded no more or less importance than the others. This may be surprising, since we tend to consider health itself to be a purely physical thing, but all of these categories affect one another equally and rely on one another equally. Health takes into account all of these aspects, since none of them can exist independently of the others.

When visualized like this, health is far from the static binary that many people think it is. Instead, it is a complex web of factors that each depend on and affect the others. That’s good news for you, since it means that if you’re not satisfied with your physical health, you have an incredible variety of ways to improve it! You can always adjust your diet and your exercise habits, but there’s so much more to it than that.

You can start studying with friends instead of by yourself, thus improving your social health, which will help protect you from the effects of stress and anxiety. You can set aside an hour each week to clean your home, and address your environmental health by reducing dust and molds that could be making your allergies flare up.   You can open a savings account and start adding small amounts of money each month, which can improve your emotional health by giving you a sense of security for your future. You can seek counseling or other therapies for mental illness, and improve not only your mental health but also your social health by feeling better able to spend time with friends and family. You can go after that raise you’ve been thinking about asking for, and once you get it (which you will, because you’re a go-getter and you know your worth) you can afford fresher, healthier food that will lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease later in life.

Health is in everything we do, and that’s why it isn’t a noun. It’s constantly changing and shifting with each of our everyday decisions, which is so incredibly empowering because almost every single choice we make presents us with an opportunity to get one step closer to reaching our potential. Health isn’t something we need a doctor to give us – it’s in our hands, simply waiting for us to grasp it.

So go ahead. Make that choice. Take that step. Be the best self you can be, and dare the world to hold you back.

My money’s on you, every time.

-Anna Burns



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