What is good health?


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as ‘a state of perfect physically, mentally and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease’. This is a very broad definition, and according to WHO; ‘Many believe this definition is unattainable’.

We take a closer look at how health has been defined in recent years, and how experts define it today?

Distance from death

Jan Helgerud, says WHO´s definition of good health is too extensive.

Jan Helgerud, says WHO´s definition of good health is too extensive.

In 1936, A. H. Steinhaus made the connection between health and physical fitness, and defined health on the basis

of how far away from death a person was. In 1961 however, C.E. Willgoose defined good health as the capacity to sustain physical activity. These two definitions are still supported by several people today, also by many experts.

Professor of Medicine Jan Helgerud has done a lot of research on training and health benefits, and he is one of

those people who does not quite agree with the WHO’s comprehensive definition. He prefers to use Willgoose and Steinhaus´ definitions. He says that if someone manages to carry out exercises that keep their physiological age low and thereby has a longer lifespan, you can say that they are in good health.

“When I say someone is in good health, I mean that they are able to conduct four by four strength and endurance training, the professor says.” He can point to internationally known research results concerning these exercises to back him up.

He also adds that he agrees with the general medical definition: Good health equals a life with the absence of disease. 

Stay 20 years old

Jan Hoff, says good health is closely related to the physiological age.

Jan Hoff, says good health is closely related to the physiological age.

Helgerud’s colleague, Professor Jan Hoff, agrees and says that good health is closely related to the physiological age one has. The two professors say that if you conduct two effective sessions a week with intervals and strength training, along with a day spent outdoors, you will maintain a low physiological age and continue to be in good health.

“I believe that good health means staying 20 years old physiologically for as long as you can, Hoff says.

The two professors also rely on research showing that physical activity can provide both a better and longer life.

Regular physical activity prevents a total of 30 diseases, and can even cure mild depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol (…) Training versus sitting still means an average of an extra15 years of living, Hoff has previously stated.

A personal question

According to WHO, health is also a personal question, you define whether you are healthy or not based on how good a life you feel you are living. They believe health is not only a medical issue, but also a social and spiritual one.

“Health, and especially good health, are such subjective concepts that I think the only choice we have is to define it from our own point of view, Martin Rasmussen, from the department of Psychology at NTNU, says.

“I would think that this is something we do based on how our current health compares to our previous health, but also how we view our own health compared to the health of others,” he continues.

Comprehensive, but nationwide

Rasmussen likes WHO’s definition of health, and believes it covers the most important factors.

Martin Rasmussen says the only choice we have is to define our own good health.

Martin Rasmussen says the only choice we have is to define our own good health.

“It covers many important aspects that fall outside the definitions that only focus on illness, or absence of it.”

However, the psychologist says that he understands people’s scepticism to WHO’s comprehensive description of good health.

“I can agree that according to this description, it is almost impossible to achieve a complete top score in the health category, but I do not see it as a problem,” he explains.

Positive, either way

There is one thing though, that most experts, past and present, agree on; to prevent lifestyle diseases and gain a more fulfilling life, you have to be physically active! This also gives you more energy to cope with problems you face in everyday life.

“Exercise has been shown to have many positive effects on the psyche. What I have done research on is happiness and mood, and then specifically on how training in childhood and adolescence has long-term effects. Other effects I can think of is the relief of mild depression, stress reduction, improved self-esteem and increased creativity,” Rasmussen says.

So whether you have your own definition of what constitutes good health, or you agree with Hoff, Helgerud, Steinhaus, Willgoose, Rasmussen or WHO: you must get off the couch and move to achieve good health – both mentally and physically.