Blog Post

Health is More Than the Absence of Disease

By Jesús Martín, Researcher and Wellbeing Ambassador

Health should be seen as more than simply a life without illness. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges this in its definition of health. WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Yet, this can leave us with further questions, such as: What more health does involve, and what can we do to support more holistic health and wellbeing?

You could see a full picture of personal wellbeing as involving a complex balance between hedonic (pleasure-seeking and avoidance of pain), eudemonic (full realisation of one’s potential) and evaluative (subjective assessment of life satisfaction) elements. In this way health and personal development can be seen as existing together, much like the Eastern Yin and Yang. In this post, I will share resources on many aspects of health (physical, mental, social, environmental), and in a follow up post which will be shared in the coming weeks I will look more closely at resources specifically on personal development.

This is the ninth post in a series highlighting the best resources from each of the ten categories in our Wellbeing Database. The series has so far explored wellbeing in relation to the environment, education, food, economy, community, family, work and ethics. This post follows with a summary of some of the best resources relating to health and wellbeing.

Films and Videos

There are some fantastic and freely available videos out there which offer an overall picture of health systems. For example, Human Health and Global Environmental Change is an interesting talk given at the Stockholm Resilience Centre by Elisabet Lindgren. It describes how we are connected to the natural environment, and explores the effects this has on our health and wellbeing. Another great video is Ancient Healthcare and Modern Wellbeing, by Exeter University, which offers insights into how ancient Greek healthcare can address modern problems.

From a more community-based perspective, I found two engaging videos that provide useful practices for use at the local scale. Health and Wellbeing boards have been introduced in various localities in the UK and they have collated evidence of decreasing inequalities in health. The Young Foundation has created a video for highlighting the potential and impact of this approach. Another useful video on community health is created by Glasgow Centre for Population Health, and introduces us to the importance of resilient networks of support for sustaining good quality health care, through sharing a short video animation.

From a more personal perspective, the videos How to Practice Emotional Hygiene and The Scientific Power of Meditation offer us some personal insights for improving our health and wellbeing. Plus, a video we have recently shared here at NOW, is an interview with Karen Downes on the importance of seeing personal health as part of a wider picture of flourishing and meeting our potential.

This selection of videos shows that there is lots which can be done at the individual, community and societal levels to help ensure more holistic approach to health care.

Reports and Research

The following list is a wide selection of reports and research related to health and wellbeing from different perspectives, exploring a range of approaches relevant to health care.


Guides and Toolkits

The above reports and research will hopefully help you to learn more about different aspects of health and wellbeing. This section introduces more practical resources, guides and toolkits which show how we can engage actively in the improvement of our health.

The Search for Wellbeing: A Primer on Integrative Medicine, by Humanmedia, is a guide of different techniques in integrative health. The central idea behind the movement towards an integral paradigm is to move the focus away from disease treatment, and towards disease prevention.

For those interested in a more place-based approach to health, Health and Wellbeing: A Guide to Community-Centred Approaches by Public Health England, provides a guide to the case for change, the concepts, the varieties of approaches that have been tried and tested and sources of evidence.

For a more personal approach to health care, Mental Health Foundations offers us two guides, How to Look After Your Mental Health, and, How to Look After Your Mental Health Using Exercise. Meanwhile, for help with caring for the health of the elderly Age UK have produced a guide entitled Healthy Living: Maintaining a Healthy Body and Mind. These types of guides can help us take our health into our own hands to some extent, as well as supporting others to do the same if possible.  

Overall, one realises the importance of focusing on a healthy lifestyle from a personal level and community level, as well as clearly needing good societal health care systems. There is much we can do to care for ourselves, as some of the resources shared above show. Moreover, we see there are many activities we can take on in our communities which have a positive impact too; for example, spending time in the natural environment (ecotherapy) and connecting more with our food (gardening and farming). Evidence has shown that when these more proactive approaches to health are taken people not only get ill less often, but also feel more well overall.

Feel free to explore the Wellbeing Database further, and if you have resources you would like to propose including then please submit your suggestions.

Photo credit: Image 1 - Lazellion, image 2 - Vincent Angler.

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