| By Dr. Jameel Audeh |
Every society has depicted the image of health according to the prevailing ideals of beauty and strength. Diadumenos, a young male athlete form the Greek city of Delphi, was sculpted in marble by the famous Greek sculptor Polyklitos. He is depicted as lean, positioned somewhere between standing and walking, and flexing his left biceps as he ties a fillet around his brow. Polykleitos considered this work an expression of “organic vitality” although he doesn’t elaborate on this. All we can say is that in the eyes of this artist, the figure he created embodied his idea of health.
Sanitas, the Latin term for health, emerged as a concept thousands of years ago. Actually, one of the earliest public health systems was during Roman times when Rome was built with “flush toilets” which were really dedicated rooms where running water was directed from the aqueducts to run beneath the toilet holes and into septic tanks. They knew that healthy living in a growing city required public health as well as personal health initiatives. In pre-industrial times, physical activity was the norm. The statues and artwork from those times show little evidence of obesity; tobacco, of course, was not known to them. Entertainment consisted of athletic competitions. One of the great monuments to health are the Baths of Caracalla, a Roman complex started by the emperor Caracalla, continued by his cousin Heliogabalus and finished by his son Severus Alexander during his reign from 222-235 AD. The bathhouse was fed by an aqueduct called the Aqua Antoniniana, built in an X-shaped configuration with cold and hot pools and steam baths. Once he assumed the role of emperor, Severus Alexander summoned thousands of slaves, prisoners and tradesmen to construct additional facilities, including a running track, sports fields, pleasure gardens and music pavilions. The Romans, at least the relatively affluent ones, took their health seriously.
During the Dark Ages, more importance was placed on survival than on personal health. But even then, much before medicine was a science, public health ideas began to re-emerge. During the periods of the plague, city officials began to note that that the most involved areas were those of greatest population density. When those areas were burned down, the spread of the disease slowed as well. Since Greek and Roman times and for many centuries subsequent to those calamities, population growth has changed the focus from the individual living a healthy lifestyle to one directed at keeping populations healthy.
Fortunately for us, since the beginning of the twentieth century, a new concept, “health promotion” began to take shape. Many acute problems, especially infectious diseases, have been brought under control. Average life expectancy has increased quickly since the beginning of the antibiotic era, and development of health education and vaccination programs. The new health problems, at least in the developed world, are the chronic diseases: diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, alcoholism, and drug addiction. It is obvious that a great number of these are due to lifestyle choices.
The World Health Organization’s definition of health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” There is indeed joy in healthy living because this translates quickly into the physical, mental and social well-being we mentioned. So get healthy by eating smarter and living more actively. You are blessed to live in Asheville, so get out and enjoy your surroundings.
Dr. Jameel Audeh may be reached at Medi-Weightloss, 1550 Hendersonville Rd., Asheville. (828) 771-4750