What Does It Mean to Be Healthy?

Something different to everyone

“Just as peace is more than the absence of war, health is more than the absence of illness. To be genuinely healthy is to be genuinely empowered.”  - Claire Fay

Before I begin training I always ask a new client, “What are your goals?” The vast majority include, “I want to be healthy” in the reasons they want to begin training.

We all want to be healthy. Yet we may have very different ideas about what that means. Is being healthy having a lack of symptoms? Is being healthy feeling good most of the time? Is health being able to generally function in life? Do we take our beliefs about health from advertisements, peer pressure or insurance weight charts? Or is there something else going on when we talk about what it truly means to be healthy?

The dictionary defines the adjective “healthy” as having or indicating good health in body or mind; free from infirmity or disease. Synonyms include: sound, fit, robust, well, wholesome, able-bodied and flourishing. The definition includes the mind as well as the body. The word “healthy” is used everywhere by everybody. We are bombarded with pictures of healthy bodies, encouraged to eat healthy foods, and told to have healthy attitudes. But when I thought about it, I wasn’t sure I knew what being healthy meant.

When I asked my friends, colleagues and health professionals what being healthy meant to them, they all agreed – being healthy is complex and it is constantly changing.

We all think we know what being healthy is. We all strive to get healthy and stay healthy. My health begins with my senses. I listen to my body and I am aware of my emotions. I make sure I hug my dog often, talk with friends daily, exercise and eat only food that tastes good to me. I am pain free most of the time, am free of medications and deal with issues as soon as they come up. I get preventative and restorative treatments regularly. Massage is not a luxury but a monthly necessity for me. It’s daily fine tuning, adjusting and re-adjusting. Being healthy to me is feeling good and being able to do anything I want to do. One of my mentors expressed her belief in how she wants to live her life. It so resonated with me that it has become my mantra as well. “I want to be happy, healthy, happy, healthy, happy, healthy, dead!” In other words, I want to feel good, be mobile and stay relatively happy until the day I die.

What is Health?

Health is much more than looking good, working out regularly or eating good foods. It involves the intangible emotional and spiritual aspect of a person’s life.

“There is no good definition of health,’ said Dr. Joe Tarantolo, psychiatrist, herbalist and nutrition counselor. “Contentment, happiness, equanimity are all hopelessly entangled in a very subjective matrix. We tend to think of health only in physiological terms. Are all the organs of the body functioning in a homeostasis?

“But we're not even good at measuring that. In one study at least half of those who died from a sudden heart attack had been given a clean bill of health at the doctor's office within the previous six months. I know of a perfectly healthy 60-year-old naturopathic physician (who lectured on how to keep healthy) who died 12 hours after losing his 29-year-old son to a sudden heart attack. Was he perfectly healthy?”

Dr. Tarantolo said he judges health in relational terms. “Are your interpersonal relationships healthy? Is your relationship to your body healthy? Is your relationship to God/universe/community healthy? Is your relationship to food healthy? Do you have a healthy relationship with life itself, yours and others? Do you know yourself? Have you accepted yourself? Do you love yourself?”

Dr. Wanda Dyson, a physician who practices integrative medicine and aesthetics on the Hill agrees. She said there is more to being healthy than just the physical. Dr. Dyson can treat patients’ illnesses, but if they don’t also bring their emotions into balance they usually don’t recover. “I was treating a friend physically who had cancer, but she couldn’t get well because she didn’t feel she deserved to be healed. Another friend with a much more severe stage of cancer did work to balance her emotions and spirit in conjunction with the physical medicine. She lived longer although she was much more physically ill.,” said Dr. Dyson.

Elizabeth Brooks, co-owner of Effervescence Personal Training Studio, also said being healthy transcends the physical body and includes the mental and spiritual aspects of who we are. “To be well means to think correctly about my overall well being from the thoughts I have about myself to the way I treat my body. Once we think correctly about our lives and how what we do impacts others, it's easier to make choices about exercising regularly and eating nutritiously. When I think correctly, I live a healthy life so that I can be productive, serve and love others.”

What You Can Do

Because being healthy is not a static state, there is always something you can do to feel better. Where you are determines what plan of action you choose. If you need some fine-tuning, then maybe a short-term detoxification and tweaking of your nutritional supplements are what you need to get back on track. Each of the health professionals I talked to has his/her unique method of addressing a person’s issues. Claire Fay, who has run a health counseling practice on the Hill for seven years, helps motivated individuals reach their health goals through a variety of disciplines. Dr. Tarantolo draws on his expertise in psychiatry and his skills as an herbalist to uncover the underlying issues.

For some it has been so long since they felt well they don’t remember what it is like. “They have nothing to measure it by. Health is like an onion. It has many layers,” said Dr. Dyson. She works with patients to peel away the layers to find the underlying causes of why they are not healthy.

Dr. Dyson uses precision medicine (analyzing data more specifically than traditional western medical practices to discover exactly what is happening in one’s body.) Tests may include examining digestion, biologics, nutrition that considers vitamins, minerals, amino acids, toxins, essential fatty acids, metabolic pathways and cardiovascular risks. Then she designs a unique program tailored to meet an individual’s needs.

She often starts with examining a patient’s digestive health. “If it’s not in balance it interferes with everything else. Even if you are taking good quality vitamins and eating organic foods, if your digestive system is not functioning properly it won’t be able to absorb the nutrients.”

The first step to improving your health is recognizing that you can make a positive difference no matter where you are. Then you need to be open to change. You also need to be open to hearing what your body and your emotions are telling you. You may need to slow down your mind (not your productivity!) in order to be receptive to the signals. “Being healthy is multi-faceted and very specific to an individual,” explained Dr. Dyson. “You have to figure out what it means to you.”

Ellen Boomer, a freelance writer on the Hill, recognizes the importance of listening to her inner guide. “I strive to feel good about myself, regardless of how I may look in pictures or how I may appear to my friends and family.” She also accepts the volatility of a healthy state and the need to continually balance. “A healthy, diet means being aware of the food I'm eating and making smart choices, most of the time. If I eat a rich, indulgent dinner one night, I'll balance it with lighter meals the next day. I feel healthy when I'm eating well; being active and exercising at least three days a week, getting enough sleep, and having my jeans feel just a little roomy. Being aware of how I feel during and after a meal helps me make healthy choices, and aware of when I'm making an unhealthy choice!”

Years ago, when Claire Fay was a researcher, she became fascinated with exploring the ways that our health is impacted by lifestyle choices that we can control and change.” What we do now will impact our future.

“Just as peace is more than the absence of war, health is more than the absence of illness. To be genuinely healthy is to be genuinely empowered.”

For more information contact:

Dr. Joseph Tarantolo – 202- 543-5290

Elizabeth Brooks – ebrooks@thinkingcorrectly.com, 202-398-1909

Claire Fay – www.feelinggreatfeelsgreat.com, 202-437-4167

Dr. Wanda Dyson – Change for Life Wellness and Aesthetics 202-575-4660


Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness coach who trains people in their homes, gyms and offices. She has been writing her health and fitness column for more than 20 years. She can be reached at: fitness@pattiecinelli.com.

Being healthy

It is an agreeable fact that exercising helps in balancing body weight, regulating the hormonal system and prevents body pain that often arises due to stiffness.
Eric B.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.