This may seem like a silly question, but given the pervasiveness of chronic illness around it’s worth reminding ourselves.
Our attitude towards health often appears to be one either ignorance we fail to notice just how good it feel to be healthy, a lack of awareness. Or it’s one of grudging acceptance when we realise were not as healthy as perhaps we desire to be.
Even when we acknowledge the benefits of being healthy: energy, happiness, resilience on the face of adversity and societal upsets like pandemics.
We acknowledge its role but we hate the idea, and the reality that we have to take care of ourselves to maintain our health.
It’s a distraction from other more important things in life.
Exercise, urgh, a bore. Cooking, a chore. Eating healthy, a practice in denial, and the choosing of unappealing foods.
Being healthy is sometimes seen as a burdensome exercise in asceticism.
All this comes from our cultural notion that health is only important once we’ve have lost it.
But being unhealthy has a way of focusing us on ourselves and our needs. I’m no exception here, having become ill due to neglecting my health in my youth.
So why do we fall into this trap of not valuing our health until it fails?
Why do treat ourselves with so little regard until it’s a little too late?
Why is health regarded as a peripheral to living well?
Why is there no ‘culture of health’ in society?
Like most things it’s covers many factors.
Most of reasons seem to be economic.
Profit, productivity, getting a paycheck are more important than personal health.
We think our work and the wealth it creates is more important. As such we over work ourselves into illness.
Granted, poverty is linked to ill health. But if we want money to pay for all the luxuries we desire, and forget to buy healthy food. Then we are placing wealth, and status before wellbeing.
Another problem is the industrialisation of our food supply. Cheap food is one thing, but at what cost? The foods we tend to buy have been refined to an extent that the good stuff has been stripped out of it. For example white bread.
Then there are those foodstuffs that offer little if anything towards our health. Sugar, a mass produced calorie we consume in vast amounts. Yet we know it contributes towards diabetes, tooth decay and more.
Our agricultural system has been organised and is run by those who think more in terms of the bottom line than our health.
Another major factor is ignorance, and it comes in many different forms.
Us and the environment. We don’t seem to realise that we are intimately connected to the world we live in. We don’t see that the pollution of the planet directly affects us. Air pollution causes millions to die prematurely. If we fully grasped this we would take better care of this planet because our health is dependent on it.
Ourselves and success. We don’t see that taking care of ourselves allows us to do all the others things we want. When we are healthy we will have more energy, more drive and motivation to do the work that matters to us. Everything else is possible because of health.
We don’t seem to know much about health. What affects it, and what’s necessary to get it. We don’t know to what extent or how the food that we eat affects us. Our information comes from the media, who may misrepresent the evidence and in so doing mislead us.
Most individuals know about diet and obesity. But few individuals I know understand that what we eat can affect our minds, skin, bones, muscles, joints and more. Our diet affects everything about us.
If we spent more time researching health from reputable sources we could make better decisions about it.
Society and culture
Social pressures to may also play a role. If the people around you are smoking, eating a poor diet then you will likely develop those same habits. This is particularly true when you look at the attitudes of your parents and what they ate, their lifestyle.
When we are young we are taught how to be a person by our peers, our family, the mass media, in short our culture.
Growing up in a family, a culture that doesn’t value health means we are not taught it’s importance, and we develop the same unhealthy habits.
There’s no ‘culture of health’. Our health has become second to economic concerns (see above). The health that does interest us are temporary fads that occupy our attention before the next fad comes along. Extreme diets, pills, surgery, all in an effort to look healthy and beautiful without making any deep and lasting changes to how we live (see quick fix below).
Our Own troubled minds
Our fear of death. I also think that being health conscious reminds us of our own vulnerability and mortality. Not something we care to remember or accept.
Being ill is to feel frail, having to depend on others for help and support. Also disease can be what eventually claims our lives. Being unwell can be the prelude to death.
Quick fix mentality. One psychological problem we face is that we we want simple, quick solutions to problem, including our health. We don’t want to accept that becoming healthy may involve significant changes to our diet and lifestyle habits. Health has become like so much in the world, a superficial exercise in popularity.
For those who do embrace such change the results can be significant. An event that eventually transforms health and their whole approach to life, even giving them new purpose.
These are just the ideas that floated of the top of my head, no doubt there are more.
But the point is the above problems mean we don’t take care of ourselves as much as we should.
We blindly accept the industrialisation of our food supply, we succumb to fads without doing any research to see how valid they are.
We take for granted our health until we have lost it, instead of valuing it whilst we have it.
All this is not to say we should become obsessive about our health, the occasional indulgence is fine.
But we need is a better way.
- We need to wake up and see why health is so important and what it takes to get it.
- To set our priorities right and put health at the core of our lives. Make it something we work on everyday, rather than neglect it until we can no longer ignore it.
- We need to remind ourselves how good it feels not to suffer a headache, or back pain. Not having cancer or arthritis.
- Remind ourselves that it helps us to be happier because our minds are not clouded by our suffering.
- We need to remember that we are connected to this planet and we should take care of it as well as ourselves.
We can’t be perpetually free of ill health, but to be healthy gives us so much. It underpins everything else we do. Our work, the connection to friends and family, a community we feel a part of.
It gives us the motivation and desire to do things. It give us the physical energy we need to act and do the work. Health allows us to enjoy being alive. With health, you can face the multitudes of life much better. You have more energy, more resilience, your mind is better poised to face stress.
Whereas illness, you don’t have the energy to try new things. You feel more fragile, and taking risks is not on the agenda. It can kill off your aspirations and joy.
The warmth of the sun, the breadth in your lungs. Snowflakes on your skin. All are possible, enjoyable more when we are healthy. It’s hard to do work, have a snowball fight, or a conversation if you’re feeling unwell.
Being also makes us more attractive, more desirable, we embody energy, and vitality.
We forget or ignore the fact that being healthy is what make all others things in life possible or at least a lot easier.
This is why we need to take health more seriously and take responsibility for our own health.
What are your views on health? Comment below.
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