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Redefining Health

As I lay here in bed nurturing a cold, I am realizing that as a part of redefining normal in my mind, I have redefined health.  From a small child through my young adulthood, I was sick very often.  A normal cold often turned into a three- month long disaster that ended in bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, mononucleosis, strep throat, or any number of things – often more than one at a time.

But this year, I went through almost the entire winter without a single cold, even as many coworkers and friends were sick time and again.  Why is that?

Ways of Redefining Health

  1. Emphasize Preventative Health.  As a result of eating local, seasonal, organic foods I eat a diet low in additives, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and other things that aren’t good for me. Instead, my meals are high in nutrients and amino acids that boost my immune system.  I also take extra vitamins, go to my doctor annually, and I take good care of the ailments I do have – like asthma.
  2. Nurture Yourself When You Are Well.  In the same way nutrition and health maintenance is important, so is emotional maintenance.  Nurture yourself, allow yourself time to relax and unwind, learn quick and easy destressing mechanisms like meditation or concentrated breathing.  Give yourself family time and self time often, and leave work behind when you do.  Spend your free time doing things that make you happy!
  3. Pay Attention To Your Needs.  Something I didn’t learn until a few years ago is to see the warning signs in my life and in my own body.  For instance, when I get stressed out I often clench my jaw or tense my shoulders.  Doing yoga a while back actually taught me to notice when I’m tense, and to then relax those muscles.   Also, I know that certain foods don’t make me feel good, so either I don’t eat them at all, or in the case of acidic or spicy foods sometimes I take an acid reducer beforehand.  Know your limitations, know when your body is telling you something, and know what to do to make it better quickly.
  4. Wash Your Hands.  Huge.  No need to be paranoid, but before you eat make sure to wash your hands.  If you’re in a public space or shaking a lot of hands or wiping kids’ noses, don’t touch your face or mouth until you wash your hands with hot water and soap.  So easy, but so often forgotten.
  5. Sleep Well.  Eight hours a day keeps the sickness away!  Your body needs to regenerate, so let it do its job.
  6. Reduce Stress.  Stress can make you sick or leave you more susceptible to illness.  If you think you’re doing too much, you probably are, so allow yourself to say no and set boundaries.
  7. Nurture Yourself When You’re Sick.  Rather than filling yourself up with pills and tonics and all sorts of things to make you feel “normal” while you’re sick, stop and relax.  Make yourself take the time to heal.  You will ultimately be more productive if you’re out for 3-4 days, rather than sick and in the office for 10-12 days.  Plus you’ll save your co-workers from becoming sick as well.
  8. Weigh The Pros and Cons of Taking Cold Medicine.  Your body rids itself of germs by fighting them internally and getting them out of your system with mucous.  When I really can’t sleep because I’m coughing all night, I sometimes take a decongestant to help my body sleep – so that my antibodies can fight off the germs.  But during the day, I often let my body do its thing without medicines.  As a result my colds are usually quicker!

The only thing that costs money here is #1: Preventative Health.  And only that costs money when you visit a doctor  for checkups and to take care of your chronic health issues.  Ultimately that is cheaper than ending up paying for the months of care you will need if you don’t take care of yourself in the first place:  for example, if you end up with bronchitis you’ll need multiple doctor visits, xrays, antibiotics, a humidifier, and any number of other things that cost money.

Redefining Health As A Society

As a society we still don’t value preventative health enough in my opinion.  And it is extremely unfortunate that many of us don’t have the money to pay for preventative care.  At the same time, I think we often don’t effectively prioritize our spending as a society:  we often value cable television more highly than preventative doctor visits, for example.

We also punish ourselves at work by having to take time off when we’re sick, which is a deterrent for taking time off.  Instead, it seems like we could be rewarding productivity, which might force people to take a few days off to get better so they could be more productive in the office.  Suddenly regenerative health would make sense from an economic perspective as well.

If you are an employer you can help redefine health at your office by encouraging people to take time off when they’re sick, and rewarding them with their level of productivity when they are healthy.  You can also keep people from becoming sick by helping them destress, encouraging them to nurture themselves, and providing preventative health care.

And as a family member and friend, you can help others to learn how to redefine health in a way that most benefits them.

What Ways Have You Redefined Health Over The Years?

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13 comments to Redefining Health

  • Many of the same things you mentioned, though I’ll say getting rest, allowing ourselves to be sick when we are sick, and reducing stress are three biggies. We homeschool, so I know that gives us a great deal of flexibility for our kiddo and I being able to take it easy for a week or longer when needed, without the added stress of getting a doctor’s note or exceeding “allowed” absences (from school or a job). We both have asthma, so a cold or even seasonal allergies absolutely need to be given their due respect.

  • This is a great post and all points are important! I am very protective of my time for sleeping as I know it’s crucial for my good health.

  • Great article – get well soon!

  • The most important thing I have done is to become aware of the warning signs my body sends out, and listen to them. Get more rest when unusually tired, increase my vitamins and herbs at the first sign of illness. This has shortened the length of my illness or prevented me from becoming sick.


  • Christina

    I second what Glenda said – allowing yourself to be sick when you come down with something! In my opinion, a certain level of sickness is part of good health. It maintains the body’s good immune responses and so forth.

  • Thank you for this post!!! Nothing kills me more than seeing people who are sick throwing back dose after dose of Dayquil, thinking it’s making them “better;” meanwhile they’re at work or the grocery store or out to eat, shedding virus all over the place. I always figure that if I get sick, it’s my body’s way of letting me know I need a major time-out…plenty of fluids and rest are best.

  • Yes to everything you said! May I also add that our maternity care system in the United States is one of the worst among the developed nations. Seeing pregnancy and birth as a sickness that needs to be treated, monitored, and controlled has led us to have a C-section rate of over 30%. The WHO(World Health Organizatio) recommends that it not be above 15%! Many European nations are doing maternity care much better than we are. Care should include preventive care (many of the things you mentioned healthy diet, exercise, enough sleep), access to midwifery care, support services such as doulas readily availabe, and a careful use of interventions. Birth is a natural process, and in the majority of woman progresses best with the least amount of intervention. We need to have a system that balances a respect for that process and also knows when careful/limited intervention is needed.

  • The latest addition to my health regimen is daily use of a neti pot. And the sleep thing. After reading about how getting enough sleep may help with weight loss, I suddenly found it much easier to get to bed on time.

  • Rob

    My mom says that as a child I was always sick at christmas time, While I don’t remember always being sick, I did have numerous bouts of pnuemonia (a couple of hospital stays). Today I define Health as someone who needs fewer than 6 prescription meds per day- only because I am old and have hit the meds bonanza!

  • Tim Pearson

    Hi Melinda. Great article, I agree with it all but the most important is the medicine we eat. Hypocrates said let food your medicine be. The hypocratic oath is what doctors swear when they become doctors but of course there’s no money in prescribing good quality food is there? Good nutrient dense food is the key to good health, of course along with the other things you mention, I would add in relation to sleep that every hour of sleep taken before midnight is worth two after. So how do I know if my food is nutrient dense, you don’t really and it’s not necessarily nutrient dense if it’s organically grown. You just have to test, if its fruit and vegetables that is by doing Brix testing using a refractometer. Wow this all sounding too hard but a refractometer costs the same as a visit to the doctor and by testing the Brix levels you will soon get to know which suppliers are producing nutrient dense food or if you grow it yourself if you are. The other thing to do is to have a hair analysis to see which immunity enhancing minerals you are deficient in and so can suplement to boost you immunity. Here in Australia our soils are deficient in Selenium so supplementation is essential for immunity.

  • becky

    another great post Melinda, and i hope you are feeling better quick. i also agree strongly with the comments by Glenda and Brenda because they describe my family’s experiences so well. besides the thoughts they shared i’d like to mention the overall cost effectiveness of healthy eating. people often tell me they can’t afford to pay extra for organic foods, but at $20/$35 co-pays for each doctor visit, our family can’t afford NOT to eat well. (and we’re among the fortunate who actually have health insurance.)

  • Very well said! Under preventative care I also would add hygiene stuff like oral care. Keeping your teeth clean and your gums flossed has huge importance for your overall health. And I also would add decreasing exposure to environmental health toxins. Cutting down on chemicals in the environment and using more natural substances allows your body to remain in a more natural state instead of at war with its surroundings. And also maintaining a clean home is of importance too, especially in terms of allergy and asthma reduction–taking shoes off at the door, vacuuming and dusting on a routine basis, etc.

  • As someone who also gets really sick, I know *very* well how much more work I get done after resting in bed for a few days than fighting it and trying to keep going to class when my head can’t do anything. I’ve gotten SO much done after a few days of being sick – sometimes those are my most productive days, since I spent a few days being bored.

    I’m trying to take care of my emotional/mental health lately too! For me I think that means: talk to people, have fun, laugh.

    By the way, Melinda, I’ve really been missing the “subscribe to comments” feature. I never know if there’s an interesting comment after mine. Is there a specific reason why this is gone? (P.S. if you answer in a comment, I probably won’t see it…)

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