Health is a condition of physical, mental and emotional well-being where infirmity and illness are absent. Various definitions have been applied over the years for different purposes. The dictionary definition of health is “a healthy body, mind and spirit in combination with the ability to cope”. In other words, it is inclusive of all the three aspects mentioned above.
Environment also has a large role to play in overall health. For example, poor diet, hygiene, exposure to physical injury and toxins, smoking and air pollution all put a tremendous burden on health. Emotional stress and behavioral disorders also add to the physical condition of an individual. This is further compounded by the fact that many people do not realize the links between environmental factors and health. They attribute changes in lifestyle to changes in the economy or to the power of the subconscious mind. While these may be true for some people, there are several health conditions that are related to environmental factors only.
A proper balance of all three aspects of health is necessary for overall well-being. The fact that a person is emotionally healthy is only part of the equation. A balanced mind and body also require a good physical health. Mental health is closely associated with physical health and vice versa. It is important to note that mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder often co-occur with physical illness. While depression can lead to weight gain, a bulimic can shed pounds without having to resort to medication or unhealthy lifestyle choices.
The connection between the environment and physical well-being is further strengthened when looking at those who suffer from serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. These conditions are highly preventable and treatable if diagnosed early and treated adequately. In fact, research has shown that those who suffer from chronic heart disease, diabetes and asthma have a higher incidence of poor self-health, memory loss and a reduction in their sense of well-being. Similarly, those who participate in laborious occupations are at greater risk of osteoporosis, kidney disease, back pain and other health conditions common to those in jobs involving repetitive motions. Those who participate in physically demanding jobs are more likely to suffer from stress, insomnia and depression.
Our culture places an enormous amount of emphasis on appearance and image. Unfortunately, this attention to physical appearance has led to unhealthy eating habits, a lack of exercise and an increased use of prescription drugs to combat stress. A reduction in physical activity can result in a number of health problems, including a reduction in physical well-being. Stress can also negatively impact on personal relationships and cause a high occurrence of divorce. Those who are more stressed are also more likely to smoke, consume alcohol and have a history of depression and substance abuse.
While we do not want to take away the benefits of work or the positive aspects of those activities, the bottom line is that prolonged exposure to unnecessary stress can be physically and psychologically unhealthy. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the negative effects of stress on the body, and there are a number of excellent occupational safety programs designed to protect employees from injury and illness. The first main article in this two-part series focuses on the preventive measures undertaken by employers to prevent illness and injury in the workplace. This includes creating a safe work environment by avoiding distractions, keeping hazards information and informing employees of their rights and responsibilities. There are also numerous health and safety programs now in place for workers who suffer from illness or injury.