Health span – the meaning of health

“Health span” is a relatively new idea. Related to the concept of “life span”, health span is not as easy to define, not so concrete and final; less measurable.

Health span can be simply defined as the length of a life that is “healthy” or that one is in “good health”. But what is that? Well it does NOT just mean the absence of disease or chronic dysfunction in your life! (Except if you are a government or academic statistician calculating future societal healthcare costs or worker productivity impact for large population data sets!).

So what DOES health mean then?

The first problem with measuring health is that it also embodies very subjective concepts beyond the realm of objective bench marks. Health originates from the word “whole”, inferring it is something complete in itself, as an encompassing and “holistic” state of being.

Each person then can have an opinion about what his or her own health means. But its meaning is very complex, unique, and not always tangible. We cannot realistically measure what one person values compared to another. Vitality or happiness, satisfaction, or the sense of essentially belonging, or the very meaning of one’s life; paradoxically, these critically important and real dimensions of human health are not usually predicted from a person’s longevity or “disease-health” status.

Another problem with measuring health is that values change over a lifetime. Each person uniquely comes to cherish different aspects of his or her life/health to different degrees at different times. Priorities and abilities and experiences evolve and change – so the very idea of health changes for each of us over time.

What starts out to be about strength, working hard, fitness and looking great, can become more about mobility, being pain-free or just having enough mental, emotional and physical energy to get through the day!

The depth and very meaning and value of health is often shaped and defined by how each person faces misfortune, loss, unfairness, and the unexpected challenges unfolding over a lifetime. The words human and humiliation both come from the same Latin word “humus” – meaning the earth, or low and humble. The word passion – any powerful or compelling emotion, such as love or hate – literally means “to suffer”, from the Greek word “pathos”. Indeed, through suffering we become more human.

When we are younger most of us take our health and our days for granted. When we have health issues, we act as if we will have more time to get it right later. Over the years, many realize that the important stuff only really happens today. We have to make it right today somehow. Maybe there never is enough time to wait for what is important, for what it is to be in “good” health?

So, what does health mean to you ….. now?