The pursuit of health is one of life’s most basic needs. In most cultures around the world, the pursuit of health means a person has achieved something that others cannot: a sense of general health, complete well-being, complete emotional and physical well-being. Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “the absence of illness and infirmity in the present population.” Various definitions have also been used over the years for various purposes. One definition, from the WHO, defines health as “a system of values that guides health-related activities and promotes the best practices of health.”
The most commonly used definition, also from the WHO, is a “system of interrelated factors that facilitate the prevention of diseases.” This definition is most closely aligned with the National Health Service (NHS) definition of health as “the quality of life attained through good health maintenance.” However, many health professionals believe these definitions are too narrow and don’t provide a comprehensive picture of health.
In addition to using a broad definition, many health professionals use a life course approach. Using this approach, individuals are considered to be at higher risk for certain diseases when they reach certain ages or during certain life events. An example of a life course approach is the Framingham Heart Study which followed people over the course of their lives and found that those who had entered their golden years at a young age, but did not engage in regular physical activity, were at higher risk for heart disease than those who were active and maintained a healthy life course throughout their adult lives. These life course studies are important in the development of public health measures and the definition of acceptable health care practices.