What is health?

By jeffmackinnon


This seems like a strange idea, you would think that "health" would be concept that everyone knows and agrees on. We "know" what healthy food is for example. Right?

I don't think we, as a modern society, have a definition of health. For example, if you visit the Health Canada Mission and Values page there isn't a definition of health. They compare it to lifespan, lifestyle and the cost of the public health care system.

Health Canada is committed to improving the lives of all of Canada's people and to making this country's population among the healthiest in the world as measured by longevity, lifestyle and effective use of the public health care system.

From the Health Canada Mission and Vision on February 25, 2019

So, Canadians will be "healthy" if they have a healthy lifestyle (not defined), don't spend too much money on health care (effective use) and finally live a long time.

Peter Attia prefers the term healthspan vs lifespan when coming up with interventions in diet, exercise, supplementation, etc. There are four areas that he focuses on, when he defines health:

  • Mind (cognition);
  • Body (physical capacity);
  • Freedom from pain; and
  • Stress tolerance.

This is getting closer to what health is, but is still relative. It is still "I will know it when I see it". This isn't easy for a policy machine, like Health Canda, to work towards especially when "healthy" becomes the mean of society when that society is unhealthy as a group.

Another resource that I've found helpful in my search on health is John Kiefer. He went so far as to create a podcast called Deconstructing Health, and wrote an article about why he thinks health science doesn't exist.

The main premise of the article is that we, as a society, don't have a scientific framework to test interventions with regards to making a populace healthy. It is something that he is developing, but I will wait and see if it ever makes it out into the world.

I give Kiefer the benefit of the doubt, for now, based on my personal success implementing his simple protocols and how well they have aged. The Carbnite Solution was written in 2005 and it still works. While the understanding of why it works is better understood today, the only thing I change when using it is the amount of caffine.

What is health to me?

I know it when I see it. For me, its personal. I am healthy if I "feel" healthy, and I do use something similar to what Dr Attia uses when defining health for myself.


How well can I concentrate on the task at hand? How long does it take me to get the work I want to do done?


Can I run up those stairs? Can I touch my toes? Do I have that "spring" in my step when moving from room to room?


How do I feel when I wake up in the morning? Is my back sore? What about the day after I run up those stairs, how do my legs feel?

Pain for me is all about recovery. If I do something physical, how long does it take for me to recover? If it takes a very long time, what do I need to do, health wise, to reduce that recovery time?

Stress Tolerance

Stress is common to everyone, and there are going to be stressful events that come up in my life. But like pain, how long does it take me to recover to a baseline after a stressful event? Is it weeks? Days? Hours?

This helps me calibrate my background stress a lot. If there is a stressful event that is still bothering me weeks after it happens, occupying my thoughts, I think that my background stress level is still too high and I need to create habits or intervene to lower it to a better baseline.

So what

The more that I learn about health, lifespan, etc; the more I believe that we need cycles in our life. The best example of this is building muscle, you don't build muscle in the gym bench pressing that huge weight; you build muscle during that rest in-between. I believe (don't quote me as knowing) that this can be applied to stress, thinking, and even pain relief. How fast you recover from a major stressor tells you something about your health.

Pain is the tricky one, because if you have cronic pain it is probably because you are doing something fundamentally wrong and need to move better, start with the free stuff at MoveU on instagram. Rest isn't going to solve the underlying problem. Its the same reason why "resting" graze land increases desertification. Your shoulder hurts, so you don't move it, but by not moving it at all (resting) you are not making it better. You are probably just compensating.

So health is personal, but that means that YOU have to define it and educate yourself. Don't rely on Health Canada, your doctor, or anyone else to define it for you. They are just comparing you to the sick majority, where average isn't very good.

Chat again.