Health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being.
It involves more than just the absence of disease. A truly
healthy person not only feels good physically but also has
a realistic outlook on life and gets along well with other
people. Good health enables people to enjoy life and have
the opportunity to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
To achieve and maintain good health, people must have basic
knowledge about the human body and how it functions. Only
then can they determine what will or will not help or damage
their health. Therefore, learning about health should be
a part of every person's education. Current knowledge about
health, together with good living habits, can help almost
everyone maintain good health and improve their quality
Society as a whole benefits from people's good health just
as individuals do. For that reason, many government and
voluntary agencies strive to preserve and improve the health
of all people. The World Health Organization (WHO), an agency
of the United Nations, works to promote better health throughout
Elements of physical health
All parts of the body must work together properly to maintain
physical health. A person who is in good physical condition
has the strength and energy to enjoy an active life and
withstand the stresses of daily life. Proper nutrition,
exercise, rest and sleep, cleanliness, and medical and dental
care are all essential to healthy living.
Nutrition. A balanced diet provides all the food substances
needed by the body for healthy growth and development. Nutritionists
use the term nutrients for these substances and classify
them into five main groups: (1) carbohydrates, (2) fats,
(3) proteins, (4) vitamins, and (5) minerals. Water is also
essential for life, but it is often considered separately
A balanced diet consists of a wide variety of foods. Fruit
and vegetables provide important vitamins and minerals.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and nuts are
rich sources of protein. Bread, cereals, and potatoes furnish
carbohydrates in addition to vitamins and minerals.
Good nutrition also includes eating the proper amount of
food each day. Overeating can lead to obesity (fatness).
Excess weight puts extra strain on the heart and increases
a person's chances of getting such diseases as diabetes
and heart disease. Many people try to lose weight quickly
and easily by following one of the many widely advertised
fad diets. But these diets can be dangerous, especially
if used over a long period of time. The safest way to lose
weight is to consult a doctor and follow the reducing programme
he or she prescribes. Most programmes combine moderate daily
exercise with a balanced diet that contains a limited number
Exercise helps keep the body healthy and fit. Vigorous
exercise strengthens muscles and improves the function of
the circulatory and respiratory systems. Physical fitness
benefits both physical and mental health. It enables the
body to withstand stresses that otherwise could cause physical
and emotional problems.
To achieve fitness, a person should start an exercise programme
slowly and build it up gradually to a level that maintains
a healthy heart and strong muscles. Daily exercise provides
the greatest benefits, and so it is important to choose
exercises that can be performed every day. Such popular
activities as bicycling, jogging, and swimming, and even
taking long, brisk walks, furnish the vigorous exercise
necessary for fitness. Participating in golf, tennis, or
some other sport only once or twice a week cannot develop
and maintain fitness.
Rest and sleep help overcome fatigue and restore energy
to the body. Everyone needs rest and sleep, but the amount
required differs for each individual. Most adults sleep
from 7 to 81/2 hours a night, though some need less sleep
and others need more. Young children may need more sleep
at night plus a daytime nap.
Nearly everyone has trouble falling asleep occasionally.
However, frequent insomnia (inability to sleep naturally)
can indicate various physical or emotional disorders. Therefore,
it is best to consult a doctor about any persistent sleep
problem. Some people take sleeping pills to counteract insomnia,
but such drugs should not be used without a doctor's prescription.
Rest and relaxation are as important as sleep. After strenuous
work or exercise, a person may need a period of total rest.
At other times, only relaxation or a change of pace is necessary.
Any activity that differs from the normal routine of work
or study can be relaxing. Pleasurable and relaxing activities
help the body shed tension and remain robust. If rest and
relaxation do not relieve fatigue and tension, the individual
may have a physical or emotional problem.
Cleanliness controls the growth of bacteria and other germs
that can cause disease. A daily bath or shower keeps the
body free from dirt and odour. In addition, it helps prevent
skin infections that may develop if bacteria grow and multiply
on the skin. The hair should also be washed regularly.
Daily dental care is another important part of personal
cleanliness. Brushing the teeth properly and using dental
floss keep the teeth clean and help prevent decay and gum
Medical and dental care. Regular checkups by a doctor and
dentist play an important role in safeguarding health. Doctors
recommend that people have medical care at the first sign
of any illness. Early care can result in quicker cure. Treating
oneself for more than a day or two is unwise unless the
condition improves steadily.
Prevention of disease is an important part of medical care.
Parents should make sure that their children receive immunization
against diphtheria, German measles, measles, mumps, polio,
tetanus, and whooping cough. See IMMUNIZATION.
Elements of mental health
Physical health and mental health are closely connected.
Mental health plays an important role in both the way people
behave and the way they feel. Emotionally healthy individuals
accept themselves as they are--with all their weaknesses
as well as their strengths. They remain in contact with
reality, and they are able to deal with stress and frustration.
They also act independently of outside influences and show
genuine concern for other people.
Emotional development. Experiences during childhood strongly
influence a person's mental health throughout life. An infant
is completely helpless at birth and must depend on its parents
for all its needs. Children remain dependent for many years,
but they slowly mature and learn to do things for themselves.
They make many mistakes during this long period of growth
and maturation. Children thus develop the knowledge necessary
to deal with difficult situations in life. This knowledge
helps them maintain good mental health.
Emotional development does not end when a person reaches
adulthood. Similarly, an individual's mental health continues
to change from time to time. These changes result from daily
circumstances that cause either pleasure or pain for the
Handling stress is essential for avoiding both mental and
physical illness. Feelings of stress are the body's response
to any threatening or unfamiliar situation. Most severe
stress results from such serious events as bereavement,
a divorce, or loss of a job. However, stress can occur even
in pleasant situations, such as watching a football game.
If not handled properly, stress can lead to physical or
emotional illness. It may produce only mild symptoms, such
as a cough, a headache, or a rash, but severe and prolonged
stress can contribute to serious health problems, including
high blood pressure and stomach ulcers.
No one can avoid stress, but a person can lessen the danger
of becoming ill from it. Regular exercise and sufficient
sleep strengthen the body's resistance to stress. Everyone
should learn to relax by resting, taking a walk, meditating,
pursuing a hobby, or by any other method that he or she
Social relationships have an important influence on mental
health. Close personal relationships with friends and relatives
provide opportunities for communication, sharing, and emotional
growth. Such relationships can also provide strength and
support for dealing with challenging situations or personal
An individual's entire social environment also affects
his or her mental health. Such social problems as poverty,
racism, and overcrowding contribute to situations that influence
emotional health. As a result, social and economic changes
are needed to help reduce the rate of some types of mental
The nature of health problems in the industrialized nations
has changed dramatically during the 1900's. Until then,
most people died from infectious diseases, such as diphtheria
or pneumonia. Today, however, infectious diseases are no
longer the main killers. Improved sanitation, immunization
programmes, and the development of antibiotic drugs have
brought these diseases under control. Today, health specialists
are concerned chiefly with diseases related to the aging
process, unhealthy lifestyles, and environmental hazards.
Tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse. Cigarette smoking is
a principal cause of unnecessary and preventable illness
and early death. Heart disease and lung cancer and other
lung diseases occur at a much higher rate among smokers
than among non-smokers.
Many individuals use various drugs in an effort to solve
their problems or to improve their alertness, mood, or self-confidence.
However, the regular use of alcohol, narcotics, or sedatives
can lead to addiction and also serious damage to the body.
People may become psychologically dependent on a wide variety
of other drugs, including amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, marijuana,
and tranquillizers. These individuals may harm themselves
further by neglecting their health and nutrition. In addition,
drugs can distort a person's judgment and so increase the
risk of accidents.
Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the western world.
About a tenth of all drinkers become alcoholics. There is
no cure for alcoholism, but the condition can be treated.
An alcoholic who gives up drinking can return to a healthy,
Environmental health hazards caused by modern technology
can produce serious problems. Air pollution can worsen the
condition of people who suffer such respiratory diseases
as asthma and bronchitis. It may even help cause some diseases,
including cancer and emphysema. In some areas, insecticides
and industrial wastes contaminate food and water supplies.
Excessive noise can also threaten people's health. Noise
coming from aeroplanes, construction projects, and industrial
plants can cause hearing loss as well as emotional damage.
Occupational health hazards threaten the health of many
workers. In some cases, substances involved in a person's
job may cause long-term damage that appears only after many
years. For example, many coal miners develop a lung disease
called pneumoconiosis from inhaling coal dust. Dust also
causes lung diseases among workers in the asbestos and cotton
industries. Some industrial chemicals, including arsenic
and vinyl chloride, cause cancer. People who work with X
rays and other forms of radiation also face a health hazard
unless proper precautions are taken.
Public health includes all actions taken to maintain and
improve the general health of a community. Government health
programmes provide most public health services. In addition,
many voluntary health agencies receive contributions to
combat specific diseases, such as cancer and lung disease.
These agencies provide medical services, campaign for health
legislation, and make important contributions to health
In many countries, health departments provide a wide range
of services in most communities. For example, they work
to prevent and control disease by providing proper sanitation,
conducting immunization programmes, and enforcing quarantine
regulations. Another important function of public health
agencies is to provide health education for individuals,
groups, and organizations.
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