As the aging process unfolds it becomes clear to most people that they have to change their concept of what good health means. Health is a relative concept, especially in connection to aging.
Humans have come to expect that they should be having good health most of the time. The wise ones realize it is something that you have to work at, that it does not come automatically. Others expect to have good health just because they believe that is the way things should be.
Some believe the human body should be able to endure constant abuse, meaning they should be able to eat three big Macs and loads of fries each week without paying a price.
The unabridged Random House dictionary defines health as, "The general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor." That leaves the door open for a range of states of health. It is a good definition as long as we all agree on what soundness and vigor mean.
A newborn baby is expected to be sound and vigorous from the first cry. Anything short of perfection is considered bad health by parents. Doctors and nurses might cut a little slack and allow for a few minor problems and still consider a baby sound and vigorous.
For the next few decades the standard of perfection is still something used to determine good health. Parents and children learn to roll with the punches but they still expect the body and mind to meet extremely high standards. That may account, in part, for the quick jump to medicating children for a variety of ailments, especially ADHD and related states.
As we begin to accept the fact that we are aging, one of the first things that we have to learn to deal with is pain in all of its intensity and complexity. Too many people think that pain should never exist and they are eager to take whatever drugs are available, either legally or on the street, to eliminate pain.
I would like to see a course in all schools about the nature of pain and how it relates to injury and the aging process. Teachers could provide a perspective on pain. They could bring in experts on pain and offer a broad understanding of how to cope with pain as a person ages. That would be one of the best ways to decrease the current opiate abuse epidemic we are now experiencing.
As the decades pass most people learn to roll with the punches and accept the fact that their 50 or 60 year body will not respond the way it did when they were 20. Joints wear away and it requires constant work to support them with strong muscles.
Baby boomers are learning this fact of life and many have developed daily exercise routines while working on lifestyle changes to minimize the effects of the aging process. But too many boomers and younger people are ignoring the wisdom of the body and that is when they start to wallow in unrealistic expectations.
Some believe the body should be nice to them without working at it. By the time they try to do something about it and come to accept reality they may be facing the need to lose 100 pounds while struggling to pay for $1000 a month of medications that they would not have needed if they had taken care of themselves for the previous 20 years.
We will never have the soundness and vigor of a 20 year old at the age of 70 but we can create a level of soundness and vigor that will allow the daily struggle to be free from as much self-inflicted misery as possible.
That is my definition of good health.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at email@example.com.