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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is defined as: “A state of optimal well-being, not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”
Optimal well-being requires a balance that comprises the whole person. When you hear the word optimal you may associate it with the word perfect. I think you’ll agree that no one has perfect health.
What is Optimal Health and How Do You Achieve It?
Many health professionals’ metrics on how they judge your well-being may be very different. As a result, their path to optimal health generally differs also.
If you consult an internist he or she might consider optimal health as weighted against a person’s age and sex. A 21 year old male’s optimal weight, blood pressure, muscle mass and percentage of body fat are very different than those of a 60 year old woman. The internist may recommend changes in diet, exercise and social behavior such as not drinking or smoking as a pathway to better health.
For a chiropractor the reference point for optimal health may be focused on a person’s spinal alignment and posture. Chiropractors see a person’s spinal alignment as integral to the health of the entire body. The chiropractor’s solution would probably focus on physical adjustments of the body to align the spine to reduce pain and allow the body’s natural healing mechanisms to bring about optimal health.
A nutritionist may base a person’s optimal health on their blood levels for various nutrients and toxins. The nutritionist may focus on eliminating refined foods, drastically revising the patient’s diet, and recommending supplements to replace certain nutrients that the patient’s body may be deficient in.
Each of the suggestions described above can benefit the patient in some way, but who’s right, and what’s best for you? How much effort are you willing to put forth to achieve your optimal health?
For a professional athlete optimal health may be defined by strength, speed and physical prowess. To them maintaining optimal health may involve a rigorous training regimen, strict diet, and a variety of nutritional supplements. Obtaining their optimal health may require an extraordinary amount of work and sacrifice, but the athlete has probably already made that commitment.
We all know someone who has gone on an exercise program or diet to improve their health. Some have succeeded, most have not. For someone who is generally healthy, but may be slightly overweight they may have seen the path to their optimal health as exercising more and watching what they eat. They may still see their optimal health goal as attainable, or it may be something that they have tried for years to reach and have already given up on.
For someone who is suffering from a chronic condition or disease their health goal might just be freedom from pain. The definition of optimal health as seen by a generally healthy person may appear as unreachable to someone who suffers from chronic pain or a serious disease.
Obtaining optimal health as defined by various health experts may not be practical or even possible for you, but you can set and live within your own personal goals when it comes to nutrition, exercise, and taking care of your body. I would argue that for most of us the goal of optimal health may seem unobtainable. I submit that’s because most people have never thought about defining what optimal health means for them personally.
Everyone is entitled to their own health goals and definition of optimal health for themselves. It’s a balancing act. Think for a minute about how you would define your optimal health. What weight is comfortable for you? I’m not talking about your perfect weight according to your doctor or some fitness chart. I’m talking about a weight that you would like to attain and believe that you can maintain.
Think about your diet. What healthy foods can you eat and consistently make a part of your daily routine? You know yourself. You know how much time you have available to go grocery shopping. You know how dedicated you will be to cooking your meals and how much time you have to eat during the day. What positive goals can you set regarding your diet that you believe that you can maintain?
How much physical activity is it practical for you to do in a given week? Let’s suppose that you don’t exercise at all now and your doctor recommends three hours a week. You can still set a personal goal that you can use to get started on the path to a healthier you. How about starting with a goal of 30 minutes every other day? If you’re starting at zero that may not only be doable, but actually sustainable.
My suggestion is that each person should set their own definition of optimal health and the lifestyle that will enable them to maintain it. Your personal weight goal may be 10 or 15 pounds heavier than what your doctor would recommend, but that’s OK. Your activity level or diet may not be optimal by someone else’s standards, but if it makes you a little healthier, makes you feel better, and is sustainable then go for it!
Think about what will fit into your lifestyle. Set goals for yourself that you know you can maintain. Determine what you feel is sustainable then start living your life around those goals. Don’t let the experts’ definition of optimal health keep you from making positive changes in your physical and mental well-being.
Take the steps today that will allow you to be your optimal you.